Get out your Web-shooters, we're reviewing The Amazing Spider-Man!
Peter Parker(Andrew Garfield) is distresed by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his parents' deaths. He's brought up by his Uncle Ben(Martin Sheen) and Aunt May(Sally Field), and has a crush on the nerdy girl at school, Gwen Stacy(Emma Stone). When he finds a clue to his parent's death that leads him to a Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), he begins a journey that will ultimately turn him into the Amazing Spider-Man.
Holy crap. I can't beleive I'm saying this, but I loved it. I was really expecting to hate this, or at least find it sadly mediocre, while hoping against hope that it would be marginally good. Green Lantern-esque fears of terrible CGI, bad story-telling, and douchey representations of beloved characters flooded my mind, But I. LOVED. This. I loved it. I'm not going to say it's better than the original trilogy but I will say it's different than the original. In fact, ASM accompanies the original well. It covers a lot of things I felt the Sam Raimi version did wrong, and vice versa for the original to this version. Considering how close it is, how about we say this is the Ultimate universe of Spider-Man while having the other films in the regular marvel universe to keep it all in continuity?
The absolute best thing this movie gets right(and one thing I didn't liked about the Sam Raimi versions) is Peter Parker. Even before he puts on the costume, even before he gets bitten by the spider, they establish that Peter is a nerd, a science whiz, a loner, a thinker, a snooper, and most importantly, a hero. Peter is always fixing things or making gadgets in his room, already showing how much of smarty pants he is. He's not just a dork like he was in Spider-Man; he's a brilliant yet troubled genius.
Here's the scene that made me fall in love with this movie: Ten minutes in I notice Peter isn't wearing glasses. I'm worried, "did they get rid of his bad eyesight? That's one of his key weaknesses and geekiness!" But no, he wears contacts. He finds an old pair of his dad's glasses, takes out his contacts, and decides to wear those instead. Have you thoroughly lost it like I have? His Aunt and Uncle who love him get him contacts because that's the best option, but he chooses to wear glasses becuase he's proud of his father and becuase he's a scientist. He CHOOSES to wear glasses! He CHOOSES to have a handicap and look like a nerd! That is amazing and a brilliant look into his character!
They do change up his origins with the spider, the crook, his uncle's death, and his subsequent change into a superhero, and it's true that they don't ever say the famous line, but man you guys, I don't even care. I've been thinking about it, and I think I like this origin better. I don't want to ruin anything here so I'll save it for a sketched discussion, but I feel it's more appropriate to his character. And really, it's different, and that's something you should see in a reboot. If it was exactly the same, why would we even need it? This telling is much closer to the Ultimate version of Spider-Man rather than the classic version, so keep that in mind.
Then there's the costume, which I've been hating on since we first saw pictures. And man, I don't even care anymore. See, I don't really care that they changed the costume design becuase they got the silhouette of the character so right. The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, while iconic as all hell, was super muscular and a bit more stillted. Andrew Garfield is a tall lanky kid with skinny limbs. He looks like a spider. And when he crawls around, you can feel he's acting like a spider. This is another reason of how it's closer to the Ultimate version; he's super strong, but he's small and kind of skinny. I like that. Even in the superhero world, Parker is still the scrawny guy of the bunch. And while I wish they had more of the costume creation on screen, they had more than the first Spider-Man, which Tobey Maguire just designs a suit with his mad drawing skills and then a perfectly detailed suit just suddenly appears.
And oh yeah, he has web shooters. FINALLY. THANK YOU.
And one more thing Andrew Garfield has on Tobey Maguire: acting! I'm sorry Tobey Maguire fans. I'm sure he was great in Sea Biscuit, but in the Spider-Man films he was hammy at best, comatose at worst. I liked him in the first Spider-Man and thought his hammy lines wokred with the material, but as soon as they tried to get real, it broke down. That's the key reason I couldn't get behind Spider-Man 2. It's a great movie, except for Tobey Maguire's acting. He always sounds tired, or bored, or jsut bland, or looking off into space, and the man can't cry worth shit. Enter Garfield, and holy shit what is this strange thing you call emoting?! He has a wide range of emotions from pouty to giddy, to rebellious and has a wonderful way of make it work subtlety. He has a more awkward and withdrawn Peter Parker, which I accept from a closet loner nerd. One of the only problems I had with this Spidey is he didn't have a lot of great quips, but I'm willing to let it slide that he's still learning how to become Spider-Man, and hoping there will be more quips to come.
I guess I should start talking about the rest of the movie. Let's start out with Gwen Stacy and how perfect she is. First of all, while I initially imagined Emma Stone as the perfect Mary Jane because she's already a playful fiery red-head, she's perfect here as the cute and intelligent Gwen Stacy. But it's more than how well she plays her or Emma Stone vs. Kirsten Dunst. This version of Gwen Stacy makes so much more sense than Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man. See, with Mary Jane, it's played that he likes her becuase she's just this incredibly pretty girl who happens to live next door and then proceeds to stalk her. Which is typical movie logic but still poor logic. But with Gwen, Peter likes her becuase she's smart(top of her class, even ahead of Peter), she's got a good heart, and she's pretty. And she likes him for all the same reasons! They're a perfect match for each other. Plus, she likes Peter for Peter, not Spider-man, and since her dad's a cop, there's this interesting dynamic of her knowing what it's like to wonder if a loved one will come home or not.
And speaking of match, you may think the Lizard is a weird choice for the first villain that Spidey fends off agaisnt, but I think it's perfect. The best part about his fights with the Lizard is that it's not just two super-powered guys wailing on each other, it's two super scientists with super powers. They're both smart and they both fight smart. And while I do still love the original lizard head, I still love all the detail they give his body and character.
People have been making comparision's to Normal Osborn in Raimi version, and while I will agree some of the talking to himself stuff is similar, he's a much more sympathetic character. Osborn I thought was always kind of a dick, even before he goblined out, but Conners is a generally good guy. He doesn't start injecting himself with lizard serum right after they get the formula working(like every other interpretation ever), he's smart enough to know they need months or even years of trials before it's safe. When the upper management gives him the obvious ultimatium to start human testing or they'll cut his funding, he STILL refuses. It's only after they threaten to start harming people that he reluctantly uses himself as a guinea pig. And yes, he does wear the tattered labcoat some of the time. And having Conners and his "cross-species" research in the first movie can set up any number of animal themed villains in subsequent sequels.
The fighting and action here is great. I don't know if it's Avengers-level action sequences in which you pee your pants at them pulling of all the craziest moves, but Spidey still pulls off amazing feats with his webbing and all of it is super enjoyable to watch. There's more of an emphasis on him fighting like a spider and using his webbing in smart ways. The luchador fighting lends itself well, and it's very reminiscent of the fighting he did in the Ultimate Spider-Man videogame. In fact, I was quite giddy when he did the web-zip movie, which they've had in videogames since Spider-Man 2: The Game.
The whole visual tone of the movie is nice. I don't dare say it's darker, but it does feel more intense and serious. I don't know if I can recommend the 3D though. 75% of the movie doesn't even use it, but for those few shots that do, they're pretty spectacular. They feel like the first time you played Spider-Man 2, diving down the city then catching a line and swinging away at the last minute. ANd the score is very good. Not as iconic as the original Danny Elfman score, but still enjoyable.
I mentioned Spidey was less quippy in this version. But really, the entire movie was less talky. Director Mark Webb really hit one out of the park with a much more subtle and indie feeling Spider-Man movie. While Peter doesn't constantly narrate, he doesn't need to as he's constantly emoting and lettign his actions speak. This is not the same as Whedon's great quotable-a-minute dialogue, it's much more moving, but still as funny. I mean, it's weird, even Flash isn't all that bad a character, which I love. I love the way he approached the feel, and I love the journey he gives Peter to become Spider-man. While in the original, it was very straight out of a comic, his uncle dies and now he is instantly Spider-Man. This version of Peter has to learn through trial and error of really how to beocme a hero, and you can really see his arc of figuring out how best to use his powers and how to be a hero. That's kind of the core of Spider-Man; he has to learn the hard way of why he needs to be a hero and what kind of a toll it takes on his loved ones.
Ok, super quick other things I loved about this movie: The pace is perfect with no boring parts. Peter goes out and does Spider-Man stuff even thoguh he doesn't have a costume yet. Peter is a skateboard enthusist, and I think that factors into the creation of his costume. Flash has a reason for beign flash. Captain Stacy sets up a perfect foil for Spider-Man's vigilante, and actually has some good points aginst him. You can see Peter struggle and get hurt; he's fast, not invulnerable. The Stan Lee cameo is beautiful. The awkward dialogue between Peter and Gwen reminds me a lot of the teenager talk in Ultimate Spider-Man written by Bendis. Martin Sheen is a perfect uncle Ben, and Sally Field is an interesting younger Aunt May. Peter Parker actually uses a camera with film. WHAT A HIPSTER. Also ladies, Andrew Garfield's butt in his spidey suit.
One thing I didn't like is that I didn't see a lot of the financial struggle that Peter and his aunt would normally go through. That's kind of a big part of Spider-man, that he's a kid who has to worry about adult things. But I'm hoping there will be more of that in the sequel. Also there's a half-hearted mid credits scene that's vague as all hell with nothing after the credits, so don't worry about it.
All in all, this is a Spider-Man movie I loved. This is the X-Men: First Class of the year. I have this idea that a Sony exec made Mark Webb director of The Amazing Spider-Man becuase his last name is "Webb", and I'm sure that exec is as surprised as everyone else that it turned out to be the perfect choice. The Amazing Spider-Man does a lot new and a lot right.
THE GOOD: Peter Parker is smart and can act, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is perfect, funny, Lizard has great effects, great acting and cast, funny and touching, very subtle approach to story, great action scenes, great score, new enough origins that it necessitates the reboot, feels a lot like the Ultimate Spdier-Man, overall fun and enjoyable.
THE BAD: not as quippy, doesn't struggle financially, doesn't say the line, lizard's head design and spider-man's costume.
THE VERDICT: $$$$$ Go see it multiple times! This is a great movie if you give it a chance. If you have to, stop trying to expect this to be better than the original and settle for different, because that's what it is. It's a wonderful Spider-Man film with the best Peter Parker yet.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Kick Ass, X-Men First Class, Batman Begins
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: He. Chooses. To wear. Glasses.