Everyone should be skeptical about “rebooting” a franchise that’s just ten years old. I was among them, but when I heard that Andrew Garfield was donning the skin-tight suit, I began to hope. I wasn’t expecting Avengers-level fireworks, but as someone who got a “meh” feeling from all the previous Spiders, I have to say that if nothing else, The Amazing Spider-Man manages to justify its existence.
Since this is a reboot and not a sequel, the plot does seem familiar, but key elements are added and others improved upon. Gone is Mary Jane, replaced by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). We get more of Daddy-Parker’s history, and how it all ties in with the genetic research that leads to Peter’s transformation. Other elements are only tweaked. Uncle Bed still dies in a way that makes Peter blame himself, and Peter at one points visits a boxing-ring which inspires him to don a red mask. The big bad this time isn’t Norman Oscorp but the scientist Connors (Rhys Ifans).
Much of Peter’s characterization is familiar as well, but for me he seems both more believable and better suited to a movie-audience. Maguire’s version always felt like an after-school special to me, and all the actors felt like those 30-somethings playing high school kids in soaps. The new Spider-Man is more tortured, naturally awkward and simply just looks right. The most telling piece of evidence is the way the two versions declare their identity for the first time. When the Maguire-version says “I am Spider-Man” there is above all a sense of “awesome, I’m Spider-Man!” than anything else. When the Garfield-Spidey says it, it is with a quiet realization that he must be the hero. We don’t really need Uncle Ben to say “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It’s all there in Peter’s reluctant acceptance of what he is starting to become.
Spider-Man isn’t the easiest superhero to sell to modern audiences. Radioactive spiders just don’t fly with us anymore. The way to go is definitely darker, more Dark Knight brooding than Avenger zingers. The original trilogy was funny, but it failed to toe the line between making us laugh with it instead of at it. The Amazing Spider-Man gets a few laughs, but all of them are jokes that sort of feel cheap, but in a good way. Throughout the film, Peter retains an awkward teenager aspect that Maguire’s Peter just never got down.
That natural, less scripted feel comes out in the entire cast. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are both closer to the right age, and they can have actual parent-child bonding moments that a wider audience can connect to. Uncle Ben’s death has better punch because he acts when Peter doesn’t, instead of dying off-screen and simply being found later. Gwen’s father, police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) replaces the over-the-top Bugle editor as the man who paints Spider-Man as a vigilante. This move makes the threat to Peter’s self worth more believable, and creates a more reasonable character for the audience than the money-grubbing cartoon who is only there to make bad jokes about his wife. Even Peter’s school nemesis is more believable, both in looks and personality.
The only character who fails this test is the bad guy, Dr. Curt Connors. He takes an experimental serum and becomes the lizard, though he retains his intellect. He wants to create a world without weakness, but although being strong and fast is clearly better in the animal world, having big claws isn’t exactly a win for a scientist. This logical glitch between his goals as a man of science and his serum-befuddled brain makes him an uninteresting villain. He’s basically just mini-Godzilla with good diction, more monster than villain in the end. I admit I was hoping for a more Loki or Joker styled baddie, both excellent villains in their own, unique ways. Connors feels like a leftover from the original movie trilogy.
Bland baddie aside, I really enjoyed Peter Parker’s journey as the reluctant hero. The music was bold and interesting and the visuals of New York at night were brilliant in 3D (and I didn’t even suffer dizziness this time). I especially enjoyed the first-person-shooter style filming that luckily wasn’t over-used at all.
With such an early reboot, your opinion is always coloured by how you felt about the originals. I personally didn’t find them engaging, though they were fun at the time (except for the emo dance – I will never forget the horror of the emo dance). With this version, I felt like I was finally watching a “real” version of Spider-Man, instead of just a live-action cartoon movie. It’s no where near his Avenger buddies, but in my book this movie is on par with the X-Men franchise (excluding First Class, which I count in a class of its own). Certainly, as a movie-goer I feel like I got my money’s worth, and that the reboot actually had something to contribute with.
Dice roll: 5