Movie Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012)

Progress is always a wonderful thing to witness—especially the progress of something to which you’re subjected year after year after year. I’m of course talking about the relentless wave of comic book movie adaptations that hits theaters every summer. Though a lot of people have been right in saying that Christopher Nolan was the one that really set the bar high for future adaptations—and I’m saying this despite not being a big fan of either of his hitherto released Batman films—I stand by the idea that it wasn’t until roughly last year when other filmmakers really began ‘getting’ it.

Though I like to think “Thor” was the turning point, “Marvel’s The Avengers”, for me, is the best one ever made, and will probably be the best one for a while. That’s a topic for another day.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is the arguably unnecessary—but infinitely appreciated—reboot of the franchise Sam Raimi started and promptly ruined during the last decade. I can’t believe I would ever be thankful that the disaster known as “Spider-Man 3” ever came out, but I realize that if it hadn’t, we would’ve never gotten this new take directed by Mark Webb (let’s get all the Webb puns out of our systems now: “Haha! Webb as in web!”) whom you might remember from the popular and hilarious indie movie “(500) Days Of Summer”. How the hell Webb landed this project is beyond me, but I’m thankful he did, because his vision is vastly superior to Raimi’s. I understand comparisons to the original are obnoxious considering this takes place in its own universe, discarding the other three, so I’ll try to keep such comparisons to a minimum.

There are few genuinely fresh things in “The Amazing Spider-Man”, but one doesn’t approach a fucking reboot looking for original content. Sure, with the exception of one major plotline the original lacked, the structure here is the cut-and-paste narrative of any superhero origin story, and Spidey’s in particular. But hell, they’re adapted from the same source; of course there would be overlap. This, however, seems like a more approachable vision of Spidey’s origin. There are no overblown—read: ridiculous—scenarios like Peter entering a wrestling tournament (“BAWNSAWW IS READDDEEEYY!!”). Everything here seems more grounded to the crazy change in a normal teenager’s life, if still wacky enough to offer great entertainment in Peter’s initial transformation.

It’s early into the second act of the story when the real changes in narrative and style begin to surface, and when the movie begins to stand on its own and tower over Raimi’s trilogy. The villain introduced here bares resemblance in narrative role to Dafoe’s Norman Osborne, but becomes a much more powerful character, and not to mention a much more formidable opponent for Spidey. Seriously was anyone ever afraid of the Green Goblin? He looked like a villain in a Power Rangers episode. Curtis/The Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is not only an interesting character in itself, but also one badass motherfucker that looks incredible (both in design and in FX execution). I just wanted him to show up on screen more often, and see him flip cars around and run through walls like a derailed train. There was beauty in his terrifyingly powerful demeanor. The character of Curtis has a whole Jekyll/Hyde thing going on I really appreciated, and made for a far more likable villain than Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman or Venom ever were. I must say though that I'm a bit disappointed that we never get to see a clear transformation sequence; that would've been wicked cool.

The other major change one notices is the character of Mary Jane Watson, originally played by Kirsten Dunst, being replaced by Spidey’s real first love: Gwen Stacy, whose appearance in “Spider-Man 3” never happened. Fuck you. Unlike MJ—the proverbial damsel in distress whose only function was to get Spidey in deep shit—Gwen provides a much more interesting role that goes far beyond a love interest. She also stands on her own as a heroine, a character, and at times a badass. She’s smart, beautiful and impossibly likable.

And despite the entire thing being essentially a retread, there seems to be a whole lot going on in here story and character-wise, and through this we get to see not only a kid becoming a hero, but a great journey of identity. Peter is not only looking for a place in this world, but also a role to play, the nature of his duty as an empowered superhuman, his family’s past, and more. He is a much more complex character here, and Webb is never afraid to show a dark, angsty side of Peter Parker that never came off as whiny. Once he takes on his role as a hero—which admittedly might happen a bit too suddenly—he just changes. There’s a scene involving a little kid trapped in a car that warmed my heart. This far more complicated version of Peter Parker is exacerbated by Andrew Garfield’s performance. The moments of drama are powerful (“How dare you!”) and his facial features really reflect his struggles with his new power.

I do think he—and the character of Spiderman—would’ve benefited from bulking up a bit. I know that Spidey isn’t a big guy, but Garfield looked way, way too lanky and fragile. Minor peeve, though—Spider-Man is a total badass here. The costume is—just like in the original—completely awesome, and here at least we get a glimpse into its creation.

It’s great to see the ensemble of characters functioning so well by themselves and with each other. The web (haha!) of relationships here is far more complex than I imagined, and makes me appreciate the tightness of the writing more. The writing itself, however, does suffer from some drawbacks.

There are a couple of twists during the climax of the film, one of which I never thought would happen, that set up a wonderful scenario that would’ve made for an absolutely badass scene, but are not given the focus and attention it needed and frankly deserved. The ending also leaves a couple of plot threads open with a promise of closure in future sequels, but considering the nature of these threads, I’m left wondering why they weren’t tied at all—they’re not important or interesting enough to warrant two movies’ worth of time.

Yet everything here seems to come from a level of sophistication Raimi never seemed to believe the character deserved. I always thought it was generous to say that Raimi’s movies were campy, as that’s just Raimi being Raimi. But what others called campy, I just called cheesy. Sure, you might think that Spider-Man wouldn’t really work as a serious film—and it wouldn't; it’s also one of the reasons I could never get into Nolan’s Batman—and this version proves that a film can avoid being cheesy and still not take itself too seriously. This movie, like Webb’s previous, is fucking hilarious. Even in the middle of dramatic scenes (and boy are there many), we are treated to some hilarious situational and physical humor that never failed to make me laugh. Without giving anything away, the scene involving Peter trying to approach Gwen after talking to Uncle Ben in school, just killed me.

Webb had an eye of what he wanted to do, and did it. He also has an eye for visuals. I won't get into the details because you need to see it yourself, but the scenes shot from Spidey's POV were fucking phenomenal. Every action scene involving him swinging around the city was eye watering, and the final shot in particular left me with one hell of an eye boner. For those of you who can afford it, please do yourselves the favor of seeing it in IMAX 3D. It really is worth the goofy glasses.

So what we got here is basically an accentuated version of Spider-Man’s origin. When the movie wants to be funny, it is; when it wants to be exciting, it is; when it wants to be dramatic, it is (forget Tobey Maguire’s whining about MJ), and not only through Peter—Gwen has one beautiful moment of drama near the end. We’re also treated to a deeper and better exploration of Peter’s grief after an important death in his life, and how it affects his relationships with those around him. Even Flash Thompson, whose only role was just to be a gigantic fucking douche nozzle, gets moments of great depth I never saw coming.

I do believe there’s going to be unnecessary sidetakings when fans begin to discuss which director had a better vision of Spider-Man, and there are points to be made for both sides. To me, however, there is no contest: “The Amazing Spider-Man” is leaps and bounds above Raimi’s trilogy in every conceivable aspect. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s too close not to be praised. I hope Webb sticks (haha! You thought I was done!) around for sequels—I’ll no doubt be first in line.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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