Ten years ago, I was excited as hell by the release of the first Spider-Man movie. But while enjoyable, it lacked something (I’ll explain later) and Spider-Man 2, despite how people praised it, seemed to be lacking that something too. And then there was Spider-Man 3 which was really lacking that something along with a lot of other things.
Okay, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films were meant to be like the Superman movies in both in terms of goofiness and in terms of the only films people like are the first two. But the films didn’t feel like I was watching Spider-Man on the big screen (Again, I’ll explain later). Instead, I was watching some guy in his late twenties in a silly costume whose basic character traits lend well to cliché jokes about being kicked out of poetry slams. In short, that Spider-Man for the first two films needed Prozac. And then Spider-Man 3and “Emo Spider-Man” came along, meaning now I needed Prozac after watching it. So when they announced the reboot, I was really sort of indifferent to the subject, but I’m not sure if indifferent is the right word.
You see, Spider-Man stories can ultimately fall into two time periods:
1) Spider-Man at High School.
2) Spider-Man as a grown-up.
The Sam Raimi films glanced over the first category and went straight to the second. Okay, that most partly because, to his own admission, Stan Lee made the mistake of having Peter graduate from High School early on in the character’s history, but it was still stupid of Raimi to just glance over such a big part of Spider-Man mythology.
So I was happy when they announce what we know The Amazing Spider-Man was going to be set when Spider-Man was in High School. Being a big fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic (And considering it one of my favourite comic book series), this new made me very happy. What didn’t make me so happy was the fact they were going to go over the origin story again.
Why? By the time the movie came out, it had been ten years since the first Spider-Man movie which had the origin, and just five years since Spider-Man 3 which also dealt with parts of the origin story. Why did we apparently need to see another movie that retold the Spider-Man origin story? In fact, why did we need to see a Spider-Man film that told the origin story at all? Spider-Man’s not like Daredevil, Iron Man or Blade, everyone from America to Japan knows the origin story. The only origin story, in my opinion, that should be in the film is that of the villains. Okay, I am a comic book nerd, but it just felt like it was unneeded.
So, I wasn’t going to lose much sleep if I didn’t see this, especially after being bored by the first trailer (Though the next two were a lot better) and one newspaper review called it “Twilightin Spandex.” Let see, emo superpowered, stalkerish men who have suffered a bite or two that enter into houses via bedroom windows. Wow, it really is Twilight in Spandex.
Eventually I went to see it and you know what? Like Iron Man and Thorbefore it, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Its characters were believable, interesting, likeable (Even the villain) and well acted. And while the more darker tone and look of the film made me at times want to rename this film Spider-Man Begins, it felt more like a Spider-Man film than the three Spider-Man films before it.
Let’s start off with Spider-Man himself, as played by Andrew Garfield. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Andrew Garfield to be any good. Mostly because I didn’t think Tobey Maguire was any good, and the only time I had ever seen Andrew Garfield in anything was in Daleks Take Manhattan/Evolution of the Dalekstwo-parter from Doctor Who.
But Garfield’s Spider-Man is simply better than Maguire’s simply because he looks more like Spider-Man in his costume and, most importantly of all he finally, finally makes jokes. That was my biggest problem with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, and what they were lacking, namely a good portrayal of Spider-Man. Yes, Spider-Man goes into melodramatic “My life is so horrible, boo, hoo, hoo” fit all the time, but it’s never constantly partly because he also makes wisecracks. I can’t remember single wise-crack that coming out of Spider-Man’s mouth, mostly because there were none.
Yes, Garfield’s Spider-Man is as every much a winey little sod as he is in the comics, but at least it’s never the near constant moaning that made Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man just plain weird. Part of that comes from the fact there are wise-cracks, and the rest I think comes from the age of the characters.
Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man is a very winey, melodramatic adult that is hard to take seriously because he is just so weird in his love of melodramatic moaning. Garfield’s Spider-Man is winey, but his version of the character is meant to be a teenager. Teenagers are supposed to be, to quote Power Rangers, “Overbearing and over-emotional.” Therefore, the winey attitude comes off as more believable than the twenty-something year old man Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man was.
The character arcs he goes through are also very believable. As Peter Parker, he starts off as an unsocial loner that’s basically trying to keep a low profile (By skateboarding through the hallway. Sure, why not). By the end, he’s slightly more outwards going and even has a girlfriend in Gwen Stacy. A lot of this, of course, comes from the fact he’s become Spider-Man, which gives him another character arc.
As Spider-Man, Peter has to learn to deal with issue of morality. Before the whole incident on the bridge, we see Peter doing things partly because he can. He’s a decent bloke, but he’s not overly interested in using his gifts to help the world, despite what his Uncle Ben tells him and often does mildly illegal things just because he can. When he becomes Spider-Man, he’s not interested in helping people, he’s just a vigilante focuses solely on finding his Uncle’s killer. But when he hears Captain Stacy’s opinion of Spider-Man, namely how he doesn’t help his victims but seems to be on a vendetta, and he helps out at the bridge incident, something that has nothing to do with his Uncle Ben’s killer, he finally understands what Uncle Ben meant with his “Power and responsibly” talk. He finally becomes the Spider-Man that we all know and love.
Furthermore, this film does place more emphasis on the fact that Spider-Man is a very intelligent bloke than the Raimi films did, and actually spends more time on the consequences of Peter’s double life, with Peter constantly coming home tired, bruised and making Aunt May worry. Plus, for a character that probably would place all the blame on himself for the whole issue of Global Warming if you gave him the chance, you really do understand why Spider-Man feels this particular foe is his fault.
There are several things I have to nickpick about the character though. I can let the whole dumb camera in the sewer thing go because I did find the character to be slightly too sure about his abilities, and having a camera there with his real name still on isn’t totally out of character. But first of all, he goes to the police as Peter Parker and tries to warn them about Curt Connors. Okay, pretty smart. But it almost doesn’t get investigated because, like a moron, Peter doesn’t bring the Lizard Mouse with him. I think that’s pretty good evidence that Connors is up to something.
Then there is the crane scene which is slightly silly, but no more than the civilians throwing stuff at the Green Goblin back in Spider-Man. But it’s the fact they do it because Spider-Man has been shoot. Okay, it’s not so much the literal interpretation of that, because unless this suddenly took place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(And God do I wish it had), Spider-Man probably is the world’s only superhero and, let’s face it, an injured superhero has more chance of stopping a monster supervillain than you or I do.
No, it’s the fact that Spider-Man doesn’t seem to get treated for the bullet wound at all. Okay, it’s just his leg, so it’s not totally life-threatening. But it’s still a bullet wound. How does he get it treated? Is it on the scene after the battle? Does he sneak into a hospital as Peter Parker and get it treated? Does he walk around with a bullet in his leg? It just seems a kind of a big thing to leave unexplained.
And then there’s his costume. Okay, when you get into the movie it isn’t too bad, and it does look like the comic Spider-Man costume enough for it to work. Plus, seeing where Peter does get the costume from does make the reasoning behind the look a lot of sense. But just looking at a still picture it makes me really wish it was the traditional Spider-Man costume. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man costume was one of the most convincing superhero costumes in a film ever. Sure, it looked a little bit silly, like all superhero costumes do really, but it looks just so damn close to the comics. I get that the producers want to make their Spider-Man different, but why did you need to redesign the costume that much?
Finally, just where did he get his web-shooters? Okay, he probably built the actually shooters, but then there is the actual web fluid itself. It’s “Bio-cable” from Oscorp produced by those genetically enhanced spider that bites him and co. He could have bought them, but then where would he have got the money? Web fluid has never been cheap in any continuity that doesn’t have it coming out of his wrists, and he doesn’t seem to have a job and Uncle Ben and Aunt May have never been overly wealthy in comic book history (Asides from however much a nuclear power plant can bring in for you yet never seems to). Unless he got them off Doctor Connors, the only way he could have got them was by nicking them.
Villain wise, this time with have Curt Connors/the Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. This is another brilliant character from this film’s collection of brilliant characters. Mostly because the character doesn’t feel like a villain but more of an anti-hero.
Connors, at heart, is a transhumanist. He believes that the limits of the human body can be overcome through science and because of that seeks to make a “World without weakness” by making everyone stronger. He even considers himself to be one of the weak ones thanks to his missing arm, and is interested in regenerative serums because he wants it back. He isn’t a bad guy (Though he Connors may have had something to do with Richard Parker’s death), it’s just that having the Lizard serum in his system makes him crazy. The minute it’s out of him, he’s saving Peter and horrified that he killed Captain Stacy and because of Captain Stacy’s death, he surrenders himself without a fight.
Hell, he only becomes the Lizard when his lizard-based serum is slated for public testing without his consent and to save anyone from a possible horrible fate, he tests the incomplete serum on himself. But even the Lizard isn’t that much of a villain. His motivations are basically he thinks humans are weak and must be enhanced in order to achieve their true potential, and it’s an understandable motivation. It’s just how he executes those motivations that make him villainous.
This movie goes into the effects that science has on human nature, but it doesn’t say you shouldn’t play God. If anything, it’s a morality play on the ethics of drug testing. Let’s start with the Lizard formula itself. The Lizard formula is said to create regenerative abilities but also cause increased aggression and general craziness. But that might have just been an expression of Curt Connors personal neuroses and ambitions. Think about it, people when drunk or on drugs sometimes become almost completely different people to how they usually are sober. And plus, when the SWAT team were exposed to the formula, they weren’t rampaging through the streets of New York.
Plus, Curt Connors didn’t test the drug before he decided to force it on the public outside of using it on himself. And really, testing it on yourself and seeing what happens isn’t irrefutable proof that something isn’t dangerous. Mostly because the information you hand out will now bias and no one would really know about any possible health side-effects of the serum because, let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t know about them.
Furthermore, the long-term side effects weren’t known at the time. Let’s say the movie takes place over a couple of months. Okay, Connors has been working on that formula thanks to Peter for all that time and he might have been using the Lizard formula for, let’s a say, a week at most. Even if Connors’ findings about the formula weren’t biased by the fact he was testing it on himself, that wouldn’t be nearly enough time to seriously prove the formula’s long-term side effects.
In the end, despite his intentions, he was just a guy trying to force onto the public an untested poison under the delusional belief that everyone could be as strong if they were just like him.
Anyone who just has a passing acquaintance with Spider-Man will probably be wondering where that redhead girl he’s always saving is in all this? Well, she ain’t here. Instead we have a much earlier Spider-Man girlfriend Gwen Stacy, as played by Emma Stone. I like Gwen Stacy and don’t miss Mary Jane at all. Mostly because, unlike the Mary Jane of the last three movies, this love interest is awesome.
Gwen isn’t the helpless damsel in distress that Mary Jane constantly wants. She’s smart, she’s brave; she helps Spider-Man out several times during the film, and even attacks the villain a few times. The Mary Jane of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies? Um, she gets kidnapped by the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Venom; gets blackmailed by Harry Osborn; and then gets punched in the face by Peter Parker.
Gwen also seems to be quite fond of her knee-high boots, with thigh high socks and skirts. To the point where I’m wondering “Is that really something you would wear in a lab?” But honestly, this is such an awesome character that you won’t care at all that Mary Jane isn’t in the film. Just a shame she’s probably going to die sometime during this series, isn’t it?
As for the other main Stacy character, Captain George Stacy (Portrayed by Denis Leary) comes across as another believable and likeable character even if he is sort of in conflict with Spider-Man. In private, he’s a family man if slightly over-protective of his daughter. In his professional life, he’s a very, very capable police officer that puts a lot of his faith into the law and what the police force can do.
Because of this, Captain Stacy starts off hating Spider-Man since his vigilante-style form of punishment is interfering with the cops’ methods and techniques to uncovering bigger operations. And to be fair, the cops, for once in a superhero film, are actually competent at their jobs. As Captain Stacy says “Do you think we just sit around and eat doughnuts all day?” Hell, they’re even able to chase down Spider-Man, knock him unconscious, surround him completely on the ground, handcuff him and unmask him. Even if they are way too aggressive for their own good in this movie. Let’s see, they open fire on Spider-Man for fleeing a scene. Okay, he’s a fugitive, but then there was that time they opened fire for just talking.
But that said Captain Stacy is pretty reasonable. He mocks the idea that Curt Connors in the Lizard (Understandably) and order Peter to be escorted out of the building before getting another cop to find out everything they can about Curt Connors to see if Peter’s fears are justified.
When he discovers that Peter is really Spider-Man and what his motives are, he becomes more tolerant of Spider-Man and accepts him as more than just a masked vigilante and learns that there are some jobs that that the police can’t do but superheroes like Spider-Man can. Therefore, he not only lets him go after initially capturing him, but proceeds to take on the Lizard all by himself with a shotgun to both assist Peter in city and risk his life for him. Ultimately he loses his life buying more time for Spider-Man to save the day and but as he dies, he tells Peter to keep on being Spider-Man, even though the police still won’t like it.
It’s a fantastic character arc to watch, and it’s just a shame that they did go the route of the comics and kill him, as he could have served as a really good Commissioner Gordon-like character for Spider-Man. But I suppose it would have made the series really too much like the Batman films.
Elsewhere, Martin Sheen and Sally Field seem to be like the Uncle Ben and Aunt May of Ultimate Spider-Man, namely younger than the mainstream versions. Yes, have the point up with the origin story again, but actually this time, it felt more developed. More time was given to these characters in the first half, and you really did get the feeling these two and Peter were a family and made the inevitable “Uncle Ben getting killed” part all that more tragic.
But after Uncle Ben is killed, Aunt May doesn’t seem to have that many scenes. She’s hanging around the Parker home, being terrified by the thoughts of just what is Peter doing all night that’s turning him into a pin-cushion. But we don’t get the sense of a broken family after Uncle Ben’s death. More focused is given to the superhero and Gwen Stacy subplot than it is to this one. If we’re going to have a focus on the origin story, and one done this well, then the producers should have gone all the way with it. With it being hinted that Aunt May knows Peter is Spider-Man, I hope she gets more development in the next film.
Still it’s at least better than the Aunt May of the previous three films, even if she hasn’t wacked Doctor Octopus with an umbrella yet. Just like Flash Thompson, played by Chris Zylka, is better treated here than he was in Spider-Man. There, he was a generic bully, but here he’s a bit closer to the comic version. Like the comic version, Flash is a bully who, by the end of the film, has become much friendlier to each Peter and has even turned into a Spider-Man fanboy.
I must admit I’m not entirely sure why Flash goes through the change. I could understand that he and Peter having some respect for each other after Peter stands up to Flash twice, but why is he the only one to sympathise with Peter after his uncle is killed asides from Gwen. There just seemed to me like there was a massive leap in character development which, while I welcome of course, I welcome a bit more warmly if it was explained.
As for Doctor Rajit Ratha, played by Irrfan Khan, it’s a small part in the story but an important one. Ratha seems to be motivated by the fact his boss, Norman Osborn, is dying. The character basically just serves as a catalyst for the events of the story as it is he who pushes Connors to start the human traits on the Lizard serum immediately, rather than use proper procedure. It is he who fires Connors and takes the formula to test at a veterans’ hospital under the disguise of a flu jab with no concern for any possible side effects. It is also Ratha, therefore, that causes Connors to try the formula on himself and go after him when he has a successful trial run to stop Ratha.
Ratha comes across as both serious and sinister, but I’m not ultimately sure of his motivations. He pressures Connors to cut corners in order to save Osborn’s life but why? Does he honestly sees it as the right thing to do. After all, Osborn did create and own a company known for finding technology and medicine that has been beneficial to the public. Or is it because Osborn is a psychopath that will use his head as a bowling ball if he didn’t do so?
We never get an answer because Ratha isn’t seen again after the incident on the bridge. Apparently, the tie-in video game, it’s revealed that he was killed at some point by the Lizard between the creation of the Rhino and the start of the game. Personally, I think it was mostly likely at the bridge scene, considering that while Spider-Man caught the car before it hit the water, it wasn’t exactly like Ratha wear wearing a seatbeat, and he did smash his head against the glass barrier inside. And besides, historically Spider-Man doesn’t exactly have a great success rate when it comes to using his web to stop people falling off bridges hitting the water anyway.
But this movie does have a lot of loose ends asides from whatever happened to Ratha? Okay, he’s dead, what about the Lizard-Mouse thing? He probably returned back to normal when the serum wore off, or when the cure was released at the end of the film. But then again, a lot of things are deliberately left unresolved in this movie, which makes sense considering a sequel was announced about a year before the movie was even released, and when it was released, Marvel said it was the “First in a trilogy of films” meant to explore the effect Peter’s missing parents had on his life.
So we get characters like Uncle Ben’s killer, as played by Lefi Gantvoort is still out there, and Spider-Man is still on the lookout for him. We don’t know much about him, but then again, in the comics we hardly knew anything about him, not even his real name (Something I’ve never really understood but that’s for another time).
We also have loose ends like the “Man in the Shadows” from the midcredits scene, as played by Michael Massee, a character that appears in the stinger asking Connors if he told the truth about his father that is associated with Oscorp, but not Norman Osborn. Who is he then? Is he the villain of the next film, or a film later on in the series? What is his connect to Oscorp? Is he Shaw, that guy that did “Odd jobs” for Osborn in the Power and Responsibility arc in Ultimate Spider-Man and then later reappeared as a possible Harry Osborn hallucination in the Hobgoblin arc?
Plus, We also still don’t know a lot about Peter’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker as played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz. Like in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, we know that Peter did get to spend a few years of his early life with his parents (Well, unless they really were killed in Ultimate Origins). We know that after their home was broken into by unknown people, they had to leave their young son with his aunt and uncle and disappear and they died in a plane crash.
We also know that Richard Parker was involved in something big, and that Curt Connors may have had something to do with their deaths or at the very least he knows the truth behind it. It’s also hinted at via the Man in the Shadows that Oscorp may or may not have murdered the Parkers for refusing to help them.
Overall, it’s an intriguing mystery: What was Richard Parker up to? Why was he and his wife killed? Why did they try to disappear? Were they spies like in the mainstream comics, or were they just scientists like in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic? And actually, since we never actually see a body, are they really dead?
And finally Norman Osborn. While he never appears or if even heard in the movie, it’s so obviously clear that they are setting something up for him either in the next film or later on in the series. Kind of like how The Spectacular Spider-Man TV series set up its bad guys several episodes before they fought Spider-Man. Which is a neat idea, considering how big a threat Osborn is to Spider-Man (And now the Marvel Universe in general), but this could easily backfire if his eventual appearance isn’t done right.
But what do we know about the character currently? Well, he’s said to be dying, and the fact that he is dying makes him indirectly responsible for Curt Connors’ transformation into the Lizard, as well as various other things we see in the film. We also see that his name makes everyone working for him very afraid of him. So, either he’s a psychopath like his comic book counterpart, or everyone just really, really, really wants to keep their job at Oscorp. Like I said, the fact he’s being set up as a big future threat to Peter is a good thing, but it still has the risk of backfiring if it isn’t executed well.
Only one thing leaves slightly a bad taste about this movie, and it’s the final lines of the movie: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Mr. Parker.” “But those are the best kind.”
Yeah, you could tell who in the cinema with you was a long-term Spider-Man fan and who wasn’t. They were making a look on their face that looked like they were face-palming while having their jaw drop in horror while Spider-Man was swinging through the city at the end. That is an annoying thing to have as lingering memory of this film.
But despite that, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, “Twilight in Spandex” is a much better and more accurate portrayal of Spider-Man than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. And do you know what? I had a lot more fun watching this movie than I did with any of the Sam Raimi’s ones combined. Was the origin story a bit too soon to have again? Yes, but it’s done differently enough and with a bit more emotional content put into it that not only is it done well, it’s done a hell of a lot better than it was in Spider-Man.
In short, The Amazing Spider-Man is the Spider-Manfilm I have always wanted to see. Nuff said.