For those who don’t know, I’m a bit of a Spider-Man scholar. Between 2006 and 2007, having been a lifelong fan, I read every Spider-Man issue to that point, and I’ve stayed current ever since (that was around 1400 issues, between Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular, Sensational, Web of, and the other titles that have existed since 1962). In addition, I’ve viewed most animated and live action incarnations of Spidey as well, and have I learned very much about the comic book as an art form, and Spider-Man as a character, in so doing.
In a historical context, one thing defines his character, and a new breed of superhero along with him: he’s a superhero with problems. Peter Parker can’t get a date, Spider-Man doesn’t always defeat the bad guy, and sometimes he can’t save the lives of those closest to him. He was a teenager, not an adult, and had typical teenager’s problems (awkwardness, getting bullied, etc.), in addition to an incredible stable of nemeses to battle.
But once the troubled hero became the norm, what trait has defined him and kept him popular, in the top tier of superheroes alongside Superman and Batman? To me, it’s his sense of humor (though certainly, his strong cast of villains has also helped).
That brings me to his latest incarnation, this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man. In short, they nailed it. I have a couple minor gripes (as you’d expect from someone as familiar with the character’s history as I am, and I’ll note them, but they don’t even come close to dinging the armor of this movie.
They brought his character back to high school, where he stayed for a long time in the comics. Sam Raimi, who directed 2002’s Spider-Man, brought the character to college as quickly as he narratively could. I have a feeling Peter Parker was in college during the years Raimi actively read the comics. But there’s a lot more drama in the high school environment. And since they focus on Parker as a teenager, they cast an actor (Andrew Garfield) who looks believably like a teenager in his role.
Let’s talk about Garfield for a moment. I don’t think he’s necessarily perfect as Parker, but there may not be anyone who is. He’s skinny, he’s closer to the right age, he comes across as intelligent, and he knows how to deliver a punchline, all good things. My only problem with him, and it’s both minor and a little intangible, is that he seems too cool. Maybe they shouldn’t have had him wear contact lenses? Or maybe not put any product into his hair? I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but he just doesn’t seem uncool, which Peter Parker definitely is. I think it bothers me, because that’s one trait with which I have always identified. That aside, Garfield did a great job, and offers a markedly more faithful performance in the role than Tobey Maguire did.
The rest of the cast did a great job as well. I especially liked Denis Leary as Captain Stacy. I’ve liked Emma Stone in other movies, and thought she played Gwen Stacy well. But how is she an employee at Oscorp as a high school student, when it seems that even college students are interns there? I think it was a little strange, and though it added conflict, it didn’t make any sense1. Also, the characters go to “Midtown Science High School”? Peter Parker has always attended “Midtown High School” (located in Queens, rather than midtown Manhattan, as the name would suggest). It makes sense that today, Peter (and fine, Gwen) would go to a science magnet school. But I balked at the name as soon as I realized who else must go there: Flash Thompson. That, as well, just doesn’t make any sense to me.
But I’ve spent enough time nitpicking. I only paid attention to those minor points for seconds, and just about everything else was done pretty damn well. The movie handled many things differently than the prior film series, just about all of them areas where the new movie showed higher fidelity to the source material. Spider-Man unmasking in almost every scene? He’s had identity problems in the comics, especially recently. Mechanical web shooters? He’s had those from the beginning. Looking beat up a lot of the time? Of course he should, and of course people would notice. He does heal pretty quickly though, as explained numerous times in the comics. Spider-Man hunted by the police? That encompasses a long stretch of the character’s history. A certain spoiler-y character dying (you know who I mean if you’ve seen the movie)? He/she died in the comics, to great dramatic effect. Marc Webb got way more things right than wrong with this movie.
The effects were great throughout. Spider-Man moves how I’ve always imagined he would, and you get to see him swing around a lot more in this movie. The point-of-view shots were also awesome (especially in 3D, see below). I wasn’t thrilled with the new costume design when it first started popping up on the Internet, but seeing it onscreen, it never bothered me. There’s no way his character could have actually designed and constructed it himself, as in the last movie, but I’ll let it go.
One other thing I wanted to discuss was the use of 3D in this movie. I haven’t seen a ton of movies in 3D. I’ve seen a bunch of Pixar movies, Coraline, and Avatar. Spider-Man’s 3D blew me away, though. Having seen it in 3D, I wouldn’t want to see it any other way (which was how I also felt with Coraline. It was shot with a RED Epic camera in 3D, and you can really tell. It looked like you were seeing the movie the way the director and cinematographer intended, rather than as a popup book, converted after the fact. It was immersive, without resorting to any gimmicky shots that would look retarded in 2D.
I remember when the original Spider-Man came out, it stayed my favorite movie for a long time. I watched and rewatched it, and waiting obsessively for each sequel. the one overriding thing that separates this movie from the those preceding it, I would say, is its sense of humor. Raimi’s movies certainly had their funny moments, but Parker’s character comes across as much more moody in them. Garfield’s rendition rings much truer to Spider-Man’s roots. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out. I really want to see where the series goes, and hope that Sony keeps Marc Webb on board – he knows what he’s doing. After seeing this remake, I almost don’t want to watch the 2002 version again. I’m fairly certain it won’t hold up, and a major piece of my past will die when that happens.
Update 7/11/2012: Emma Stone (who plays Gwen) mentioned in an interview on AICN that she was “head intern”, which I suppose makes a little more sense. And since the intern program is going to be largely composed of college students, that means she’s pretty smart. They could have driven that point home a little more, though, so it made more sense. ↩