So with the year 2012 behind us, I’ve finally got a chance to revisit nearly every big comic book film from the comfort of my own home. I firmly believe that a little distance and time always enhances a viewing experience, so six months after the initial release of the questionable Spider-Man reboot a mere ten years after the last Spider-Man origin tale, here is my ultimate review of “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
I’m a firm believer that a good comic book movie does multiple things right and this film makes good on that promise. Some of the best written Spider-Man comics have moments of pure, awkward life, delivered from the perspective of real-life, that is: the ones the readers live outside of the comic book realm. Peter Parker awkwardly responding to a date invitation in the wake of a moment of triumph over high-school nemesis Eugene “Flash” Thompson or being found in the bedroom of the teenaged daughter of a police captain, despite the innocence of it, by said police captain are perfect examples that this film does particularly well. These scenes elicit a well-meaning chuckle from me, as well as the movie-going audience with which I originally viewed the film, because we can relate but any avid reader of Marvel comics will tell you that these are a common occurrence in the pages of a Spider-Man book.
While this entry in the franchise did tread on well-worn ground, for comic and film fans alike, it provided enough new information as well as a fresh take on the source material that in fact yielded two outcomes: it was a new hook for film fans to draw them into what would otherwise be a simple remake but also a wink to eagle-eyed comic fans who’ll recognize it as a reference obscure plotlines during a time when Marvel was playing with new directions for the character. A third, possibly unintended but certainly welcome (to me anyway) was that it took previously unlikely coincidences, like Peter’s intellect and innate ability as a scientist, and gave them context.
This brings me to my biggest point and why I find this adaptation the best Hollywood has managed to do so far: for the first time in the franchise the characters were true to their four-color counterparts. Peter wasn’t just an outcast at school, he was a nerd, a geek, a dweeb, pick your perjorative for an intellectual recluse; he embodied it. He did the things he enjoyed, did well in school and got mistreated for it, but most importantly, he was a science enthusiast. I’ve heard the argument made that in this film Andrew Garfield’s Peter was the loosest interpretation of the mild-mannered half of the character and that the previous films captured Peter’s awkwardness and insecurity better but I think the greatest misstep the previous trilogy made was the almost complete omission of Peter’s genius-level intellect and his powerful desire to be a scientist. I would argue that Peter, even in the oldest day’s of the comic, even in the Ultimate Marvel Universe (where this film seems to take some inspiration) may have been awkward but not insecure. Even before being granted his amazing abilities, Peter always showed a comfort with who he is, despite the way others may have felt about him or treated him while his awkwardness was simply a result of his prioritization of his mental health over his physical fitness. Here we see Peter stand up to a bully and lose, well aware of the implications this event might have on his standing in the high-school hierarchy. The on-point characterizations don’t end their though.
Unlike the third Raimi film, Gwen here is an amazing intellect herself who just so happens to be an attractive young woman and not a damsel in distress who’s really only just a plot device by which to generate more conflict between Eddie Brock and Peter. She’s not only intelligent, she’s a strong woman and really a role model, heroic in her own way without super powers. Denis Leary gave one of the best performances as a passionate law-enforcement officer I’ve ever seen in a film about superheroes, himself also true to his comic book persona. Dr. Connors, though the “baddie” of the film was actually a sympathetic and compelling character in his own right; someone who did the wrong things but for the right reasons. Plus, in a delightful change of pace, not only was he not killed in the third act, he attempted to redeem himself, but only he put himself in a place that would be key to bringing him back later, again, like a good comic book would.
To continue, in what I would call some of the most genius casting since Robert Downey, Jr. became Tony Stark, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as the venerable Uncle Ben and Aunt May couldn’t have been better! Though only brief, we got to see them as concerned relatives, playful parents and passionate caregivers. I cried when Uncle Ben died because I knew how much hurt Peter was going to have in his life without him. I wanted to hug May when she tried to argue for Peter after he missed his responsibility because that’s something my Mom has done for me. As a parent I have a whole new respect for those two because it’s never been more clear to me how frustrating it can be to want to help someone who keeps refusing it. Finally, in the most pleasant surprise of the piece, watching Flash go from being a bully to a decent human being and witnessing the start of his Spider-Man fandom, another wink to long-time readers, was fantastic.
I quite enjoyed the first trilogy of Spider-films that Sony gave us, despite my massive distaste for the three biggest names attached to them but it was pretty clear that by 3, audiences could no longer relate to Peter or Mary Jane and if Joel Schumacher showed us nothing else it’s that too many villains in a film just can’t work. A recommended listen for any who are so inclined would be the Spider-Man 3 episode of Earwolf’s “How Did This Get Made?” podcast. A point they make very early on in their review was that any adolescent Spider-Man fan would have no reason to pay attention to most of the film that doesn’t feature characters in colorful costume, and likely irritated by those scenes. Perfect examples would be the work-place tension between Peter and competing photographer Eddie Brock, the scenes detailing the failing broadway career of Mary Jane or the love triangle between Peter, Mary Jane and Harry. I’d also like to point out that a love triangle featured into all three Raimi Spider-films. I’m not saying that the director didn’t know his characters or conversely didn’t know his audience, but when a Spider-Man movie features a bad Saturday Night Fever homage where the characters in the movie itself are making fun of Peter Parker (watch the women he passes as he walks down the street if you don’t believe me), perhaps you’re no longer right for the job.
My criticisms of the old films aside, this time around, even Spider-Man was more Spider-man-ey than before, actually being quippy and funny, taunting the Lizard as he actually lost the fight. Spider-Man might be strong and fast and able to sense danger early, but Peter Parker is still a kid who gets things wrong and therefore, Spider-Man gets beat up, repeatedly.
All in all, I’d say it was brilliant and regardless of the reason Sony approved, produced and released it, I’d say it was a fantastic effort. I look forward to the next one. My only fear, and it’s likely to be justified, is that eventually more corporate nonsense will muddy up a future effort. I’ll withhold judgement until that time comes however.