Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Let’s talk about Spider-Man.

There are actually two ways to do that: discuss the new film–the reboot–The Amazing Spider-Man on its own merits, or compare it to the Spider-Man film that was made just ten years ago.

I wish we could just discuss the new film on its own because that’s frankly what it deserves. The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie. It is a better movie than the Sam Raimi version from ten years ago, which is saying something, because Raimi’s Spider-Man was a commercial hit and a critical success. I wish the Raimi version had never been made, because then this newer, better Spider-Man could shine for the great film that it is, rather than just subjected to article after article asking the question, “Why was this made?”

But really, why was it made?

It probably shouldn’t have been. The story goes that negotiations for Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 (and maybe 5 and 6) fell through and Sony decided to reboot the whole franchise rather than risk losing the rights to Spider-Man. So The Amazing Spider-Man was a financially motivated move, not something produced because the public was crying out in need of another movie. In fact, after the really unfortunate display of Raimi’s third movie, we all could have probably gone at least another decade without seeing the superhero swing across our screens.

With that in mind, The Amazing Spider-Man was set up to fail, at least critically. Commercially, no question, it’s already making people very happy. Bringing in $35 million on its opening day, the film broke the box office record for opening on a Tuesday (we really do have records for everything, don’t we?). But no matter how successful this film was, it’s an origin story movie, which means it has to follow basically the same template of the origin story movie made ten years ago. It wasn’t time for a reboot, so this film was destined to be plagued by critics and bloggers whining about the state of Hollywood commercialism today.

I can’t deny that it was similar. Even though they threw in Gwen Stacy (played by the spectacular, usually red-headed Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane, the Lizard instead of the Green Goblin, and set the whole thing in high school instead of a post-grad lifestyle, you still have the same story. The same spider bite, the same dead Uncle Ben, the same spandex suit (although hey, he had to make the webslingers this time)…the same story. You had to. It’s an origin story.

But there’s some good news. This new series can now go wherever it wants. It can tell whatever story it wants, and it’s going to do so in a much better way, with a much better tone because this reboot made changes that seem subtle here but are actually going to completely reshape the franchise. Don’t believe me? Take a look.

1. Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield as “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

I won’t be shy in saying that not only do I love Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), but I really dislike Tobey Maguire. Maguire’s face could only do half the things that Garfield managed on screen. He could look awed, but mostly he looked vacant. His eyes were blank when the character was supposed to be sad or angry. Peter Parker is a sad and angry kid. The shaky vulnerability with which Garfield plays him is believable and real. He feels abandoned by his parents, distraught and guilty over his uncle’s death, and angry at the circumstances of his life. One moment he is completely accommodating to his aunt and uncle, the next moment he lashes out at them. Garfield does all of this with heart and realism. He is instantly more likable than Maguire ever was.

2. Gwen Stacy

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.

Emma Stone, as I have already stated, was brilliant in this movie. Some reviewers are labeling her the next Julia Roberts. She is funny, beautiful, approachable, smart, and talented. I’m convinced there is nothing she can’t do. She went from holding her own in an Apatow film (Superbad) to starring in a box office smash that also won her a Golden Globe nomination (Easy A) to an Academy-Award nominated film (The Help) to Spider-Man’s girlfriend (also, let’s not forget her scene-stealing performances in Crazy. Stupid. Love. and Friends with Benefits) . She could fit in any genre. As Grantland writer Zach Baron put it, “just put Emma Stone in all the movies.” She, too, is better than her predecessor, Kirsten Dunst, but that is not the point of all of this. It isn’t Emma Stone who will make this franchise, it is Gwen Stacy.

Let’s all remember Mary Jane for a second. In Raimi’s Spider-Man, she was kind of pathetic, right? She dated abusive guys, she had to have a boyfriend (she said yes to Harry Osborn over Peter just because he asked), and she wanted to be an actress. Peter impressed her with his new abilities by…catching her and her lunch tray when she fell. Not exactly a love of equals here. Gwen is a science intern, first in her class (which she asserts by informing Peter that he is number two), capable of helping out during the fights. She doesn’t need saving, she does the saving. Let’s get more women like THIS.

The possibilities with Gwen are endless. Mary Jane can be brought into the sequels to establish a love triangle, which is more added interest all around, but Gwen is an interesting, dynamic woman. After her father’s death, she comes to Peter. She is the strong one. Oh, and did I mention that Stone and Garfield have unbelievable chemistry? Because they do.

3. The Tone

I’ve already mentioned Garfield’s success as portraying Peter Parker with more angst. Part of the reason he was able to do this was the writing of this film. In the same vein of Batman Begins, it places more of an emphasis on the loss of parents and what that does to someone. Christopher Nolan rebooted that Batman franchise as something much darker and more sinister, and that can definitely be done in this round of Spider-Man. You have an angry kid that is constantly having to deal with death and loss, much in the way that Christian Bale’s Batman does. I hope that this franchise doesn’t back off that darkness. Nolan didn’t hesitate to kill Rachel in the second film, and director Marc Webb (or whoever is calling the shots with this series) shouldn’t back away from real loss. The death of Captain Stacy at the end of this film was a good step in that direction.

Sure, there were missteps. Some of the dialogue was heavy on the cheese. The “I’ve been bitten”/”Me too,” exchange was absolutely horrific. Did no one think to cut that out? But this franchise is doing all the right things with essentially a perfect cast, so I think it can go the distance. Hopefully, when it makes it to a third film, then it will have the opportunity to shove its superiority down the original’s throat.

Verdict: A-


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