THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, eh? More like THE YOU KNOW TO BE HONEST I KINDA LIKED THIS ONE SPIDER-MAN if you ask me.
Over the years I’ve gained a rep as an anti-Nerdite, due to some of my challenging of online conventional wisdom and use of insensitive terminology (some people get mad when I use “nerd” instead of “geek”). But the truth is I rarely miss a comic book movie, and I even like some that you all hate (SPIDER-MAN 3, X-MEN 3, MAN OF STEEL it seems, probly something else I’m forgetting). Not to mention the whole issue with STAR WARS prequels and CRYSTAL SKULLs. Face it, geeks – I like this shit more than the people who like it do!
That’s why it surprises me that I never got around to seeing THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN until now. I mean I had intended to see it in the theater in 3D and everything. But everybody said it was bland and they confirmed that they really were re-doing the original story already so I lost the urgency and never got to it.
Sure enough it does feel a little redundant, but I think they did a good job of making it different from Raimi’s version. They seem to speed through the stuff he covered (spider-bite, guilt over the criminal who kills his uncle, making a costume, and especially learning what his abilities are) to make room for some new wrinkles about his parents being killed (or fake killed, I’m gonna go ahead and predict) in a plane crash because his dad was a scientist at Oscorp who was maybe on to something. His colleague Kurt Connor (Rhys Ifans) continues with the study of genetic crossbreeding, which of course is gonna later turn him into a lizard man, the supervillain of the piece. But it happens as a result of the boss at Oscorp pushing him to do unethical human trials (on war veterans, the son of a bitch!) and it’s some bullshit just like what must’ve happened to his dad. So it all ties together.
While getting bit by a spider, discovering his new abilities and figuring out how to fight crime, Peter also accidentally gets the attention of his school crush Gwen (Emma Stone) and starts awkwardly courting her, which becomes very relevant because she works for Dr. Connor at Oscorp (they really hire high school kids?) and her dad (Denis Leary, DEMOLITION MAN) is the police captain who is trying to catch The Masked Vigilante Known As Spider-man.
This is the stuff that makes the movie work for me. Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker as a cartoon of a nerd (that’s correct here, right? Not geek?) probly in keeping with the old comic books. But Andrew Garfield’s Peter is a more naturalistic portrayal of awkwardness, a shy kid who has a hard time making eye contact, who mutters and stutters. He’s a good looking kid, they don’t try to cover that up, but he’s socially inept enough that you can believe he’s not the fuckin prom king.
Then when he becomes Spider-man he can confront people, he can be real sarcastic (sometimes joking too much for my tastes, but it fits the character), it makes sense. These two have a really good chemistry, seeming to be genuinely into each other. Gwen is funny and smart, contributes to the heroics within her established abilities (and against Peter’s wishes), but also can be dorky just like he is, not knowing how to talk around him.
There’s a moment where Peter gets in a Spider-man argument with her cop dad at dinner, Peter and Gwen go out on the balcony to discuss it, he clumsily reveals to her that he’s Spider-man, and spidermanwebs himself off the roof to chase after a monster. She’s left there and suddenly she laughs and says “I’m in SO much trouble!”
God damn it, I’ll say it, it’s charming. I kinda liked how seriously Raimi treated the melodramatic relationship stuff in his trilogy, since that was kind of out of fashion at the time. But this is much lighter on its feet. It fuels the movie instead of slowing it down.
The traditional super hero shit is more of a mixed bag, though. I gotta assume the budget is lower because the computer animated stuff is alot phonier looking than at least my memory of the Raimi stuff. I mean the surfaces and textures look good but there’s way too much weightless characters flying around. There’s a big jump between the real-world-ish live action and the exaggerated animated stuff that is kinda distracting. On the other hand I noticed some of the spiderswinging is animated with some clumsiness to it, with him flopping around a little and not always able to strike the awesome comic book poses, and whenever they do that it’s cool.
The weakest element is the villain, but that could also be said about the Green Goblin in Raimi’s. I don’t like The Lizard – he’s an interesting character when he’s a scientist, but then he just turns into a bad guy when he’s a lizard. Just like Franco in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES he’s a well-meaning researcher who gets fired by a greedy corporate boss and then unethically continues the experiments on his own. He builds a mad scientist lab in a sewer and starts injecting himself, which is a pretty jarring leap into un-groundedness. And then all the sudden he’s a growling monster that wants to kill Spider-man.
I don’t know why they didn’t go a little more subtle, play out the relationship they’ve already set up between Connor and Parker. It only becomes important again when he switches back to human form. I think it would be cool to see the lizard monster struggling with the idea of fighting his friend’s promising young son.
It is nice when he turns back, he gets to be tragic again. His personal stake in the research is that he’s an amputee, so when he’s mixed with a lizard he gains their power to grow back a limb. Then when he’s cured of lizardism he’s slowly morphing back and you see him watch sadly as one of his lizard claws melts back into a stump. Kinda felt sad for the guy.
Another case where I could picture the more nuanced version was in the end (SPOILER IN MY OPINION), where the police captain is dying but has been won over to the side of Spider-man, and gives him a big speech about it. The other cops are about to arrive so he hands Peter his mask back and tells him to put it on. Wouldn’t that have said it all? Just shut your mouth and hand him the mask. It could’ve been great.
That’s not the only inspirational speechifying either. President Martin Sheen plays the late Uncle Ben, who not only gives Peter pep talks and sincere Racer family style apologies when he’s alive, but even leaves him a profound voicemail that he can replay for an emotional voiceover from beyond the grave at the end. (I hope he doesn’t accidentally delete that.)
Corny as it is though I think Sheen is really good in the role, as is Sally Field as Aunt whatever. She comes off looking better actually because alot of her role is in her expressions as she worries about Peter and is figuring out what’s going on without coming out and saying it.
I was impressed that at the end I was more concerned about whether Peter and Gwen were gonna get together than about if he was gonna climb a tower and defeat a lizard monster. At the end of one of the Raimi movies, part 2 I think, Peter had decided that he had to break up with Mary Jane to protect her from getting attacked by mad scientists and space monsters and shit. It was an effective bit of soap opera, but AMAZING has a better twist on it, I think. He has a more interesting reason to break it off and the last part of the movie is about us hoping he’ll change his mind. Your mileage may vary but for me it didn’t feel like the boring relationship epilogue, it felt like the actual climax.
I definitely don’t rank this among the top comic book or super hero type pictures, but I like these characters. I’ll probly remember to watch the next one in a theater.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.