It’s an issue of money. That’s the easy answer for Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise ten years after the red-and-blue superhero webslinged his way into theaters with Tobey Maguire as the star and Sam Raimi at the helm. After the story catastrophe that was Spider-Man 3, which tried to shoehorn too many characters (read: villains) in its two-hour runtime, a fourth installment for the profitable franchise looked like a forgone conclusion. But Sony Pictures being anemic when it comes to creating and maintaining franchises would rather hold on to the rights to the Spider-Man character than see it revert back to Marvel Studios. So what we have now is The Amazing Spider-Man.
The big question is if this reboot is even warranted. By now we know the story: high school kid gets bitten by a scientifically modified spider that gives him newfound super powers (like being able to scale walls and spider-like reflexes), which he uses to be a vigilante crime fighter on the streets of New York.
Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man repeats all this, but it makes subtle changes so it isn’t just Peter Parker being bitten while on a class field trip to Oscorp. He does visit Oscorp but the purpose of his visit is to get some answers about his parents, who he last saw when he was just four years old.
The opening prologue has Peter Parker as a young boy being passed off to his aunt and uncle by his parents, who would later meet their demise in a plane accident. At least that’s what the newspaper reports. And newspapers are always right. Right? We bypass the elementary and middle school years and pick up with him in high school. Andrew Garfield, looking like he’s a member of the police division on Jump Street (the guy is 28 after all), is Peter and he’s still taking those photographs. He sticks up for the weak against sports jock Flash Thompson, and this impresses Flash’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone going from red-hot red to platinum blonde), because no one ever walks tall when Flash is doing his bullying thing.
Garfield and Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a night and day difference. Maguire’s Peter Parker was scrawny and insecure. But after the spider bite he got buff, ditched the glasses and gained confidence. Garfield’s Peter Parker is a bit of an outsider with a Twilight-inspired look (seriously, wash your hair) who doesn’t like bullies. He’s like Captain America in that way; he’s a restless soul with a lot of spirit, though his Spider-Man is far more reckless. This is evident in how he reacts to his newfound powers. He doesn’t quite have a grasp on them yet and shows how destructive he can be by breaking windows, faucets and plate-glass backboards.
Judging from the advertisements you might expect that we would be presented an origin story that’s never been told before. That’s a total misnomer. The emphasis of Parker’s parents is there, but we’re mostly repeating the same steps as we did in Spider-Man. Regrettably, Marc Webb, who gave us the winning romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer some years ago, has the misfortune of seeing his Amazing Spider-Man open in the wake of this summer’s colossal hit The Avengers and in a post-Dark Knight world which changed the landscape of superhero movies. So of course expectations are higher. But that could be said for any production where millions of dollars and jobs are on the line.
In all likelihood, Webb is in the same boat as Sam Raimi: a gun for hire. But the hiring decision is a unique one. He certainly didn’t get the job for being able to stage extravagant action. Here the sequences are perfunctory and lack a certain pizzazz, though one includes the single best cameo from Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. Webb’s real talent is shown in the quieter, non-threatening moments. This is something that Raimi had difficulty conveying with his direction. Where Webb’s touch is evident is in scenes shared between Parker and Stacy. With Parker being a math whiz and Stacy as a science geek (and a cute one at that), their relationship isn’t as easy as e=mc². When we get the moment where he finally asks her out without really asking her out it’s cute and awkward, and a nice touch overall.
Rather than repeat Green Goblin as the villain in this reboot, Spider-Man’s origins is tied to Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans). Conners was a colleague of Parker’s father, and with Peter’s help the doctor is that much closer in developing a regenerating serum. Unfortunate for him, the human testing doesn’t work as planned and he’s left roaming the sewers of New York as a giant lizard. The Lizard is as good as any villain I guess, and a short scene during the end credits suggests that Norman Osborne (aka the Green Goblin) will play heavily in the eventual sequel.
Though that will all depend on how audiences will react to this Spider-Man. Will they find it all that Amazing? Most will probably be in agreement that Andrew Garfield was a great casting decision. A die-hard Spider-Man fan he is able to convey an edgier Peter Parker as opposed to Tobey Maguire’s interpretation, looking like his character from Pleasantville had walked onto the set of Spider-Man. And Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is a far more interesting character than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson, whose signature moment was receiving a kiss from an inverted Spider-Man while her blouse soaked all the way through.
With a solid supporting cast that includes Denis Leary as Gwen’s police captain father and Martin Sheen providing such gravitas as Uncle Ben that he doesn’t have to say the words “With great power comes great responsibility,” we at least know that casting didn’t hold back on the hiring decisions. Another nice touch is Spider-Man’s use of mechanical webshooters, instead of having them shoot out organically, as well as his arsenal of wisecracks. There’s a sort of douchebag arrogance about him when he’s wearing the outfit that is more in line with his comic-book character.
The Amazing Spider-Man may seem like déjà vu for many seeing Sony’s reboot of the famed comic character, but Andrew Garfield makes for a far more interesting Spider-Man. So that’s a major plus. It’s clear that Marc Webb doesn’t have the skills to take on a project of this size and scope, but the film overall succeeds in its depiction of Peter Parker. This is a far better representation of the character, and it pushes the superhero franchise in a new direction.
Director: Marc Webb
Writer: James Vanberilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves; based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Notable Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz