It’s always good to double-check that you have your concealed weapon on you before you ask anyone what they thought of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Put more simply, it irritated a lot of Spider-Man fans. After a multitude of complications, the series was no longer under Raimi’s hand and Sony made the decision to reboot the franchise, which was also met with scorn from the fans. I too was initially taken aback, but as more details released, such as my man-crush Andrew Garfield being cast as Peter Parker, as well as a darker tone and slight tweaks to characters, I started to get more excited. Needless to say, I was really, really excited for it, perhaps even more so than some other superhero movies this year. What can I say? I just love Spider-Man, and once the impressive trailers started releasing, I could barely contain myself.
This reboot is similar to Sam Raimi’s original, but only in ways that it would have to be to remain faithful to the source comic books. It’s the same basic story, with nerdy genius Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) being sent to live with his aunt and uncle (Martin Sheen and Sally Field) after his parents disappear. Eventually, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and finds himself imbued with the powers of our eight-legged friends. Then his uncle gets killed and Peter turns into the vigilante with a heart of gold and a serious vengeful streak. The direct similarities end there.
Right around this time, Peter starts falling hard for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the daughter of the city’s police captain (Dennis Leary), and befriends his dad’s old research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Dr. Connors seeks to regrow his amputated arm through cross-species gene splicing with reptiles, which cannot possibly go wrong and is totally safe. Unfortunately, while the serum is successful in regenerating the good doctor’s arm, it also has the side effect of transforming him into the murderous Lizard, who wants to kill Spider-Man and unleash a toxin onManhattanthat transforms all of the New Yorkers into reptiles as well. That doesn’t jive with Spidey.
Where do I begin? The Amazing Spider-Man is simply an excellent superhero flick. It’s well-paced, looks nice and manages to be both darker and funnier than Sam Raimi’s films. It has the beating heart of truly human characters elevated beyond moving comic book sketches.
Make a list of things you didn’t like about the Raimi trilogy, and I’ll match it with the ways in which Webb’s reboot fixes those things. For starters, it jettisons the forced emotion. Remember when, instead of tugging at the heartstrings, Spider-Man 3 accidentally ripped them right out? Instead of lumbering through the dramatic scenes, clumsily trying to elicit tears, this film makes the emotion feel organic and real. The comedy as well feels significantly less corny and forced, now coming across naturally. Instead of Raimi’s trademark camp, Webb allows the humor to come naturally from his characters. Comic fans can welcome their beloved wisecracking Spidey back with open arms, and many of the hero’s quips truly earned the audible laughs that rippled through the theater.
The combined efforts of Marc Webb, writers Steve Kloves (the Harry Potter films) & James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), and thespians Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans are what make the film truly special. The former know what a great movie should have, and the latter possess the chemistry and charisma to see it through to the end. Andrew Garfield in particular is magnificent. He exemplifies the darkness and awkwardness of an orphaned teenager faced with such a major life change, while balancing that with some wonderfully awkward scenes with Gwen Stacy. Some of the best bits of the movie come when Peter is discovering his powers and accidentally starts wrecking things because he is unfamiliar with his own strength. For his part, Rhys Ifans exudes equal parts menace and sorrow as Connors/Lizard.
The movie’s action really pops, and that’s not just because of the 3D (sorry, that was bad). Actually, the movie’s entire aesthetic is really nice. It feels less…mechanical and much more comfortable in its style. It has less of a distracting, stylish sheen and feels, again, a little more organic and natural. This keeps the audience from focusing too much on the way the movie is shot (which is still great) and instead has them focus on the characters, which is good because what I don’t need is another tech demo for Industrial Light & Magic.
As it turns out, having the director of (500) Days of Summer helm this reboot was a fantastic idea. The aptly-named Marc Webb injects an excellent sense of humanity into the story, making it Peter Parker’s tale instead of just Spider-Man’s adventure. This stronger human element is just what we needed, and the film is incredibly watchable as a result.
Once again, the elephant in the room is the question of the necessity of rebooting the series a mere decade after the first Spider-Man film appeared, and five years after the last one. Many say the exclusive reason is that without releasing the film, Sony would have had to defer their rights back to Marvel. It really doesn’t matter: The Amazing Spider-Man is simply a different film with some similar elements, and it’s entertaining enough to stand on its own feet. Best of all, while watching it you don’t even think about why this reboot is coming so soon, because this time, they did it right. Despite many similarities to the original films, it still greatly entertains by feeling like much more than just a coat of paint, and I felt very happy walking out of the theater. It might not be completely necessary, but damn, is it good.
Bonus Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for Stan Lee’s cameo.
Take a Drink: every time the camera switches to first-person.
Take a Drink: every time Spider-Man cracks wise during a fight.
Take a Drink: when you think about how nasty the city would look in real life with all of those residual webs hanging around.
Chug Your Beer: If you looked at Spider-Man’s crotch.
BONUS Bonus Beer: If you were expecting me to Google “Spider-Man’s crotch” and post it here.
I love you, too.