Back when it was first announced that Sam Raimi would not be directing Spider-Man 4, you’d think Sony collectively torched the comic collection of every single Spidey fan, because the Internet exploded with rage. Funnily enough, some of the same people coming out of the woodwork to defend Raimi were also raking him over the coals just a few short years ago when Spider-Man 3 came out — damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess.
Then came the news that Sony would not continue with the existing franchise — instead, they were going to reboot it and keep the films with Peter Parker in high school. More nerdrage followed. The casting of Andrew Garfield in the title role, again met with hatred and disdain. When the first images of the slight redesign of Spidey’s classic red and blue costume, my god, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who was bitching about how this movie would completely ruin Spider-Man. People even complained about the freaking texture of the suit, saying it looked too much like a basketball and that this meant Spalding must be a sponsor on the movie (which I thought was particularly amusing, because the texture is pretty much identical to the texture of the suit worn by Tobey Maguire in the original films).
Throughout all of this, my comment was the same as it is about every comic book movie that hasn’t even come out yet — you’re being premature. Just wait until you get the chance to actually see the movie before you start hailing it as a harbinger of the end times. It’s something that I’ve found increasingly annoying about the fan culture — particularly comic book fan culture — and it’s why I’ve pretty much backed away from the comic book forums I once frequented (and in one case, even worked for). In the past (and I’m not an old guy, mind you), comic book fans were people who loved comic books. Today, comic book fandom seems composed of people who hate comics, but can’t stop buying them. I don’t get it, because it’s not as if Marvel and DC lace the pages of their comics with opiates (although that would be one way to boost sales — if anyone from Disney or Time-Warner is reading this, I’ve got a patent on opiate-laced comics but a price can be negotiated if you wish to use it).
What was I talking about? Oh yes, The Amazing Spider-Man. Well, I’ve finally gotten the chance to see it (for once, Japan gets a movie slightly early as opposed to getting it a few weeks before it’s due for a DVD release in all other countries — we’ve still got about another month before Avengers comes out here). And I don’t want to say I told you so, but… I freaking told you so!
This movie improves on the Spider-Man franchise in virtually every single way — the only place it falls short is the exclusion of J. Jonah Jameson (and if they do have Jonah in the inevitable sequel, I hope they get J.K. Simmons to reprise the role, because I doubt anyone else could do it). My major criticism of Tobey Maguire in the first three films is that he made a great Peter Parker, but he could not handle Spider-Man. Maguire is a great actor and he plays the nerdy aspect of Parker extremely well. But when it comes to the sarcasm and the wit of Spidey, Maguire looks like a poor amateur at a stand-up open mic night. Pretty much every joke he attempts to deliver in those movies falls flat on its face.
Garfield, however, completely embodies every aspect of the character. He’s got the teen angst thing going for him, he’s got the shy awkwardness, he’s got the slight selfish streak that Peter’s been known to display, and he’s also got the sharp, witty tongue. When Garfield makes a joke or a witty comeback, it’s actually funny. Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben was one of the best things about the first Spider-Man, so that would be a difficult role to top. But when you’ve got the great Martin Sheen, you’re on the right track. I wouldn’t say Sheen is better, because he plays a slightly different Uncle Ben than Robertson. He’s a lot more stern and gruff and it’s a great way to handle it. Sally Field’s Aunt May is also a bit more stern, but we don’t get to see enough of her in this film, so it’s a bit hard to compare her to Rosemary Harris.
The rest of the supporting cast is similarly on-point. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is pitch-perfect casting. I’ve loved Stone ever since I saw her in Easy A. And if there’s one person who can keep up with Garfield’s wit, it’s Stone. The two have wonderful chemistry together. And unlike Kirsten Dunst, who fell into the screeching damsel role in the first three films (and I say screeching because that’s virtually all she did — I do not like Dunst at all, it was the one time when I rooted for the villain to kill the damsel), Stone’s Gwen is actually capable in her own way. She doesn’t play the damsel role, she’s proactive and helps out. Whereas Maguire and Dunst’s interactions were driven by cheesy dialogue and overdone melodrama (try watching those movies again and not cringing whenever these two have a heart to heart), Garfield and Stone feel like real people when they interact. Even when they’re talking about the strange circumstances they find themselves in, they still feel real.
Denis Leary plays her father, Captain Stacy, and Leary is always a joy to watch. And now we come to the bad guy — Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors/the Lizard. He plays both roles perfectly, going between friendly and good-intentioned Connors to the vicious and twisted Lizard. Plus there are definite openings for sequels, which I’ll get to shortly. Even Flash Thompson, played by Chris Zylka, gets more development here than he got in Spider-Man. Whereas in Spider-Man he was just a meathead bully, he gets a little bit more here. After Uncle Ben’s death (that’s not a spoiler, everyone knows Uncle Ben always has to die), Flash has an interaction with Peter in the school and you think it’s going to be another bullying incident — but it turns out not to be. That one scene gives Flash more depth than he had the last time he appeared in this franchise and it hints to the future of the characters in the comics where they eventually become close friends.
The way Spidey moves in this movie reminds me a lot more of the Spidey from the comics. He’s quick and agile and no contortion is too difficult. He’s got very insect-like movements and it’s thrilling, especially on the big screen and in 3D. They’ve also got an interesting way of linking his back-story between the past and present by having his father a former scientist at Oscorp. I thought Oscorp would just be used as a nod to the comics, but we do get a bit more insight into Norman Osborn, although he remains an off-screen presence.
And now, to get into some spoiler territory. Continue on to read the rest.
While this is the best Spidey film in my book, it’s not perfect and there are still problems. I understand this is a slightly different origin for Spidey, but it still takes a bit too much time to get to the web-slinging. Like many first movies in the franchise, this film suffers from the Origin Syndrome in which most of the movie is developed to setting up the origin. I really wish more comic book movies would adopt the approach taken by The Incredible Hulk and The Punisher: War Zone — no more than a few minutes devoted to the origin done in flashback. Most people know these origins already, we don’t need to devote half the movie to it.
Also, the scene when Ben does get shot seemed a bit too coincidental the way it was set up. And I was a little upset we didn’t see enough irresponsible Peter, trying to use his powers to make money. Garfield does show the selfish aspects of Peter, but there didn’t seem to be enough of that to drive home the power = responsibility angle. And the voicemail message Uncle Ben left on Peter’s phone felt tacked on and cheesy. Part of the problem is I’m not quite sure when this message was left. Did Ben leave it when Peter didn’t pick up Aunt May or when he was out looking for Peter after Peter stormed out of the house? A bit more clarification on this part would have had the message make more sense.
Speaking of cheesy moments, this movie does lack them, they aren’t as prevalent as they were in the original films. But there is one. When an injured Spidey is going after the Lizard as Oscorp Tower, a crane operator whose son Spidey saved earlier in the film sees this on TV and gets all the crane operators to set up their cranes to create a path for Spidey to swing from. This scene annoyed me in the same way the train scene in Spider-Man 2 annoyed me. It’s just way too much forced sympathy.
I mentioned the lack of Jonah — there is one shot where you see the Daily Bugle headline and there is a hint that Peter will end up at the Bugle later. He’s already a photographer at the school and he uses a camera to get a shot of the Lizard presumably to collect the Daily Bugle’s reward money. I was half-expecting there to be a post-credits scene where Peter takes the photos to the Bugle and there’s Simmons sitting behind the desk in a surprise cameo reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson. Of course, that turned out to be a pipe dream.
But we do get a post-credits scene (or rather, a mid-credits scene). After Connors has been subdued and captured, he’s put into a cell and we hear cackling. There’s another man in the cell with him, hidden in the shadows, and he’s asking Connors if he told Peter what really happened to his parents. Connors pleads with the man to leave Peter alone and then the man is gone. This “Man in Shadows” is played by Michael Masse and is pretty obviously meant to be Norman Osborn. If so, I hope Masse comes back for the sequel and plays Osborn. He’d make a great addition to this stellar cast.
But more than anything else, bring back Simmons!