The way the first Spider-Man should’ve started out
When Spider-Man first hit the big screen it hailed the first surge of good to great comic book based films. It may not have been the best film of the genre, nor was it one that would influence how future comic book films would be made, but it was a good start. Sam Raimi was a skilled enough auteur to be able to take a film with three strong leads in a romantic triangle of sorts and weave it around tights and super-powers. But the one thing that Spider-Man couldn’t get right was the fact that it was bloated; there was too much going on. Marc Webb has taken essentially the same film and crafted a sleeker, more stream-lined version of it.
And in the process he’s created what should be the definitive origin of Spider-Man.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a nebbish high school student who has a bit of a traffic back story. As a youngster he was abandoned by his parents to the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), eventually perishing in a tragic plane accident. Stumbling into some information on his father’s research, he goes looking for answers to his father’s best friend Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) at OsCorp. They both worked there, as does Peter’s high school crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and Peter goes in looking for answers. A radioactive spider bite later and he has powers beyond his wildest dreams. A flawed decision later and Peter is left with a dead uncle and rage.
It’s a significant moment and emotion that it defines Parker’s desire to become a costumed vigilante.
It’s rage enough to want to find the man who killed his Uncle Ben. Rage enough to find anyone who looks like the man who shot him, desperate to exact his own brand of vengeance upon him. Rage enough to take bio-cable from his father’s former employer and develop a method to use it as a weapon and functional tool, as well.
It’s a visceral response and one that helps to set up what becomes the foundation for his desire to be a costumed vigilante. He doesn’t start preventing crime and helping the police arrest criminals because of some altruistic desire to do the right thing; he wants revenge. He wants to hurt someone in only the way a teenager who’s been wronged would react: with pure hormonally influenced rage. Peter is essentially a good kid, and it shows through his actions, but the foundations of his actions are from a purely emotional place.
Webb has really done a great job exploring this particular notion; Peter just doesn’t start saving people and beating up criminals because it’s the right thing to do. It’s born of emotion and culminates in one of the film’s best moments. Saving a child from a burning car about to fall from a web he’s spun on the bridge, ostensibly battling Dr. Conners as a bad science experiment in The Lizard, he returns a son to his father who had lost all hope of seeing the child again. Having lost both his father and the father-like figure of his uncle, Peter stares on at this tearful reunion. He had let the villain go to save the child and as he watches them something changes. All the things that his uncle had told him about the nature of responsibility, a gussied up version of the “with great power comes great responsibility” often used by the character in other mediums, come to a point where they make sense to a teenager.
It’s a similar moment to the one in Kick-Ass that explores the nature of why someone would want to be a costumed vigilante.
It’s the key to the film and from everything else follows. Webb has crafted a Spider-Man with the viewpoint and reactions of a teenager; it feels more authentic and genuine than Raimi’s version 10 years ago. Webb admittedly had more time and more films in the genre to look at craft his version of the hero, as Raimi didn’t have the volume of origin stories that have been told cinematically to work from, but his version of Spider-Man feels closer to a teenager who views his power as a calling and not a curse. Andrew Garfield has the same problem that Tobey Maguire did, in that he’s pushing 30 and trying to play a teenager, but Garfield eases into the character as easily as he did a college sophomore in The Social Network. Peter Parker has two personalities: the nebbish, awkward high schooler and the wise-cracking, super confident superhero. It’s interesting to see him as both and do both quite well for what’s essentially a genre picture.
Webb also does something much better the second time around for a Spider-Man origin: he crafts it as a singular love story. Peter and Gwen may not be destined for one another but as high school sweethearts they make sense. Peter’s main love interest in the comic books is Mary Jane Watson but leaving her outside of all of this gives the story a potential arc; Gwen may be disposable but there’s plenty of promise between them. Garfield and Stone have remarkably on screen chemistry, buoyed by the fact that they date in real life, but they don’t have a sophisticated adult romance. Both may be too old for their roles as high school seniors but there’s an innocence to it that Kirsten Dunst and Maguire never had. It feels like a teenage romance, with the rest of their lives and the people they will eventually become in front of them, not a more mature adult romance.
The Amazing Spider-Man has all the requisite action sequences, including a final battle between the Lizard and the hero, but it’s not in the action where it earns its mettle. It’s in the emotionality of youth that allows a deeper connection than anything else. In a year where The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises will most likely dominate critical acclaim and box office revenues, The Amazing Spider-Man has a chance to be a better film than either of them.
Director: Marc Webb Writer: James Vanberilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves; based on the Marvel comic book character 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
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.