Much as was the case with The Cabin in the Woods, I missed The Amazing Spider-Man when it was released in theaters last year. There are a bunch of possible reasons for this, but the most obvious was that it just felt too soon to reboot the Spider-Man story. Sam Raimi’s trilogy had only ended 5 years ago, and the first movie was only 5 years before that, and I just felt that if they weren’t continuing the story that they’d be better off leaving Spider-Man alone for a while. However, over the weekend I watched it (thanks to a free weekend of HBO) and I generally enjoyed it. While it’s too far removed from the film’s release to give it a full review (though I’d generally give it a B+), I thought I’d do another “Not Exactly a Review” filled with my disorganized thoughts.
I’ve always believed that films should be appreciated on their own merits, and that it’s unfair to judge a film either positively based on the reflected glow of other films (The Dark Knight Rises benefitting from the praise for The Dark Knight) or negatively simply because it is being compared to something universally loved. However, it is fair, and in this case unavoidable, to compare this film with the Raimi trilogy, given the close time frame and wide appeal of the previous films. The Amazing Spider-Man tries to blaze its own trail, succeeding in some ways and failing in others.
– I feel like Andrew Garfield makes for a convincing Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He does a good job selling Peter as a geeky loner who stands up for other people. He has a very different style from Tobey Maguire, which works in the film’s favor. Garfield makes Parker feel much more indie (helped by having Mark Webb as the director) than Maguire/Raimi’s interpretation. Garfield also has a slim build, giving him a sneaky and acrobatic look as the superhero, which was also a nice change. Maguire’s Spider-Man was more of a brawler (remember the scene of Peter waking up to find he has lots of muscles?). However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way Parker was written. His parental issues made him a bit unlikable. I realize that may be a more “realistic” portrayal of a teen, but for me that doesn’t necessarily make him likable as a protagonist. I thought the wise-cracking while he was in the suit was very fitting with the comics, something that was largely missing from the Raimi trilogy, but when the suit was off I found Peter a bit annoying. Perhaps he’s changed by the end of the film and we’ll see him as more mature in the sequel.
– Emma Stone was great as Gwen Stacy, and she and Garfield had a great chemistry (even without the help of offscreen rumors). She wasn’t given a lot of depth of character, but I didn’t have high expectations in that regard either. I hope the Stacy/Watson/Parker triangle in the sequel is handled well and not like something out of Twilight simply to appeal to teens.
– The rest of the cast was generally solid. Sally Field was especially good as Aunt May, and Martin Sheen was decently gruff. Denis Leary surprised me in a positive way. Rhys Ifans made a sympathetic villain, even if his motivations as the Lizard weren’t particularly well explained. It helped tie things together, however, having the hero and the villain motivated by the feeling of being an outcast. Lizard wanted to remake the world where everyone was equal, while Spider-Man has always been about defending the outcast.
– Mark Webb handled directing duties very well. He obviously has a gift for awkward romance, as (500) Days of Summer will attest. He gave the film as much of an indie vibe as a $230 million superhero film can have. The soundtrack accompanying Peter’s discovery of his powers was especially fitting. Webb also made some interesting choices with the action, giving us some cool first-person shots which I can only imagine looked awesome on the big screen. The effects in general have improved a lot in the decade since the first Spider-Man film, and it was evident even on my TV.
– I was/am not a fan of the Parker parents conspiracy storyline. I felt like it was a distracting and unnecessary invention for the film. If we had spent less time on shadowy flashbacks and mysterious briefcases we could have had more character development for Peter, Gwen or Connors. I realize that these days people expect a larger narrative than just one film, but I don’t think an origin story needs to overcomplicate itself.
– (Side note: It’s hilarious to me that someone would cast Irrfan Khan in a role where he would have to talk about a character called “Richard Parker.” I’m assuming whoever made that decision had not seen/read Life of Pi. It’s almost impossible to imagine that they weren’t aware of it, and I just hope he wasn’t cast solely because of the humor value of that. He was the best part of Life of Pi.)
– I really enjoyed James Horner’s score. I’ve always liked his work, but his music stood out to me in a way that the music from Raimi’s films (by Danny Elfman, someone else I’m a fan of) never did. In particular, his heroic theme was very good. I’m not going to rush out and buy the soundtrack (despite owning a plethora of soundtracks), but it was a definite plus for the film.
– This might have been my favorite Stan Lee cameo in all of the Marvel films. It’s near the top at least.
– Having Peter invent his web shooters (like he did in the comics) was a nice touch, and a good way of distancing this film from the others. It didn’t make a big difference for the story, but it was a little thing that helped the film stand out.
– I LOVED that this movie continued the Spider-Man tradition of New Yorkers helping the hero out in a time of need. Spider-Man started the trend with citizens throwing things at the Green Goblin from the bridge, saying “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” Spider-Man 2 continued it with one of the greatest scenes in all of the superhero films (and for my money, one of the scenes with the strongest pathos of any film out there), with the brilliant runaway train sequence, and that moment when the passengers catch the exhausted hero. And even the mess that is Spider-Man 3 gave us a crowd of onlookers genuinely fearful as our web-slinger’s death seemed imminent. Having the construction workers maneuver their cranes to help an injured Spider-Man save the day was awesome. Of all superhero characters, Spider-Man always seemed to have the best relationship with his city. He is, after all, “your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man” and seems to be genuinely appreciated by the citizens. He’s as much a New Yorker as he is a superhero, and it’s great to see the film reflect that partnership between the citizens and the hero, even if the press and the authorities don’t like him.
– Overall, while the film was fun and entertaining, it never felt special. Sure, some of that could be attributed to Spider-Man fatigue (and superhero fatigue in general), but it’s more than that. The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t really do anything to set itself apart. It followed the Hollywood trope of taking a well-known story and making it darker (seriously, it felt like the entire film took place at night) and more angsty (see also: Man of Steel). But Sam Raimi’s trilogy was quirky and different. And yes, the third film was something of a disaster, yes they may have been targeted at a younger crowd, yes Peter Parker was one weepy fellow, but the films were still distinct. That’s what this film lacked, something unique. Not every film needs to be bright and colorful, even if it is a superhero film, but I feel like this one could have benefitted from something as brilliant as J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. It was enjoyable but not memorable. I’ll possibly go see the sequel, but it’s not the sort of film that would make me stop if I was flipping through the channels. Dark does not equal interesting for me. In a world where superhero films have been brought to us by creative minds like Raimi, Singer, Whedon, and Branagh and Favreau, The Amazing Spider-Man just doesn’t feel that, well, amazing. Solid, fun and entertaining, sure, but just not special.
What do you think? Do you prefer The Amazing Spider-Man to the Raimi trilogy? Andrew Garfield to Tobey Maguire? Emma Stone to Kirsten Dunst (or Bryce Dallas Howard)? Who’s idea was it to cast Pi and force him to say “Richard Parker” repeatedly? What do you want to see in the sequel? Let me know in the comments!