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The Amazing Spider-Flick

So I have been diligently working to finish off my first article in the Finishing the Game series, but I have come to realize that that takes quite a bit of time. So, rather than try and rush out the article (or hold off until the last day of July to post it…) I have decided to do something in between to keep me writing. After all, it was laziness in completing video games that got me started on my current series and I really don’t want to start a new one on finishing writing projects. Otherwise things are just going to get recursive. So, with that in mind, I want to talk a little bit about a film I went and saw with Emma last week: The Amazing Spider-Man.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures/Marvel Comics

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures/Marvel Comics

Now I have been something of a Spider-Fan for about twenty years. That picture to the left? My parents got me a poster with that image on it when I was eighteen months old—my mother being oddly specific about the age—and I could name everybody on the thing by the end of month nineteen. That poster was only the first in a childhood full of Spider-Man paraphernalia, though oddly enough I have never owned many of the comics. They are kind of expensive and I have the luxury of the Internet to catch me up these days. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject and it has taken up quite a bit of my childhood.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the first of the Sam Raimi films in 2002. My parents even pulled my siblings and me out of school to go see it, which only made it all the sweeter. And you know what? I really liked the flick! It was a good retelling of the origin story. Tobey Maguire was a pretty good Peter Parker, J.K. Simmons made it feel like J. Jonah Jameson had crawled right out of the comic books and onto the silver screen, and William Dafoe was an excellent Norman Osborn–despite the Gobby costume looking pretty silly. Overall, I thought it was a solid film and I craved more. Thankfully Spider-Man 2 did not disappoint.

After two years of waiting I got to see the second film and that was even better than the first. Once again the casting was great. Alfred Molina was an astounding Otto Octavius and everybody was delivering a good performance this time around. Though I thought the train scene was a little over-wrought and I could have done without it. Seemed more fitting for a Superman film than for Spider-Man. Maybe it is just me. But that held me over for the next three years while I waited for my next fix. Which turned out to be a bad trip.

Coming out of Spider-Man 3 after having waited for what felt like ages left me disappointed, to say the least. The only saving grace was that Thomas Haden Church was a really good Sandman and I thought the character got treated with a lot of respect. Unlike Venom, Sandy felt just like his comic book equivalent and I liked him a lot. I won’t waste a lot of space griping about it, as I’m sure we all know by now that the movie is terrible and we wish it never happened. So why don’t we skip ahead about five years?

Simply put: The Amazing Spider-Man is an awesome film, on par with the other increasingly excellent super hero movies like The Dark Knight, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. That is the long and the short of it, no questions asked. I would argue that it beats out every other entry in the genre. Though to be fair to The Avengers, I don’t think it is a fair comparison when one looks at a team movie and a solo movie and tries to say which is better. The dynamics are completely different and require an altered criteria for measurement. But I still like The Amazing Spider-Man better and it deserves the positive reviews that it’s generating. From here on out, I promise nothing when it comes to spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

There are three main aspects of the film that I want to discuss in this article, the first being how well the movie sticks to the original comic book story. The simple fact of the matter is that I have no interest in seeing a movie that is just a 100% retelling of Amazing Fantasy #15, because that story has already been done. This is a new story and it is only important that the main elements exist and are told well. That the spirit of the movie is correct, while still paying homage to the source material. Which it is.

This time around we don’t have a radioactive spider giving Peter his powers. Instead we have a genetically altered spider that has something to do with the mysterious work that Peter’s parents were doing for OsCorp. I like this for several reasons. First off, this makes Spider-Man into the genetic hero and allows the Hulk to be the atomic hero; they feel more unique in that way and genetics is the new “unknown” that radiation was at the time that Spider-Man was first created. So this change updates the origin of Spider-Man’s powers (much like the Ultimate Spider-Man comics), but remains true to the original theme.

I also like this new origin because it touches on Peter’s parents. Having Richard and Mary Parker working for OsCorp gives them their mysterious jobs (originally with the C.I.A.) while neatly tying in Norman Osborn and giving a nice source of the genetic work that characterizes this version of Spider-Man. It also helps give a link from Peter to his enemies, as they are undoubtedly going to be churned out by the OsCorp R&D division from now on. This creates a nice central element to what could be a very diverse collection of baddies. The hybridization of man and animal has characterized many of the villains we know and love, like the Scorpion and the Rhino. (Two characters, along with Puma, used in the new video game that came out for the movie.) Plus, Norman has the sort of cash and tech needed to hire and equip other enemies, like Doc Ock (who is not a true animal-hybrid), the Shocker, and Mysterio.

Another major set of changes that I feel really work for this movie are that Spidey never actually catches up with the thug who kills Uncle Ben. He tries and he is motivated to find and punish him, but he never succeeds in doing so. This adds a further element of failure to Spidey, something for him to brood on. It would also be nice to see the crook come back as the Scorpion, which I think has a good chance of happening. Sure, Mac Gargan was a private detective in the comics, but it has a nice feel to it.

We are also missing the all important line: With great power, comes great responsibility. It’s never uttered once in the entire film, but it is teased and alluded to. That actually works really well for me, because I feel that it avoids the need to shove it directly into the movie. We all know the damn line, as powerful as it is, and we can wait for the next movie to get it. Further, this most memorable of lines is attributed to Richard and not Uncle Ben. Ben mentions that it was one of his brother’s guiding morals—during the fight that leads of Peter running off and Ben eventually getting shot, oddly enough.

This next bit of changes actually leads into my second speaking point quite well, so why not jump off here? I want to talk about the characters in this movie and what about them works so well. Needless to say, they were all well acted and that is a major selling point. But what I really mean is what story elements exist in this movie to explain their motivations and behaviors and why it is so well done. So lets start with our big bad for the movie.

Peek-a-boo! Image Credit: Sony Pictures and Marvel Comics.

Curt Connors is a scientist working for OsCorp, in the field of genetics, and he pioneered the idea of human-animal hybridism alongside Richard Parker. We learn through the course of the movie that Curt has always been second best compared to his partner and there is a real sense of resentment about him. In fact, he seems to be obsessed with this idea that he is not a whole person because of the fact that he is missing his arm. He likens himself to the victims of degenerative diseases and talks about how wonderful it would be if he could save them, and himself. That he doesn’t just get a prosthetic and move on speaks to some sort of greater trauma; perhaps he is punishing himself for Richard’s and Mary’s deaths? Whatever the reason, this version of Curt Connors is full of shame and remorse and he generally appears to be a very weak, if brilliant man. Which makes his transformation into the Lizard all the more impressive.

While transformed, Connors is stronger and faster than before and he has the use of all of his limbs. In fact, his level of regeneration makes him on par with the likes of Wolverine, as we see at several points in the movie. Truly a dangerous villain. Even better, he has all sorts of callbacks to the original version of the Lizard. We see him sporting a tattered white lab coat at several points in the movie, his shortened snout is much more like the early incarnation, and he is still quite intelligent when transformed. The trouble is that he thinks he has gotten to a point where he has transcended humanity and he wants to share this “gift” with everyone else.

There are a couple of great moments where we see the man underneath, however. For example, when he chooses not to harm Gwen (his intern at OsCorp) despite the fact that she attacks him with an impromptu blowtorch. We really get to see that he is not completely lost in these moments and it gives us hope for his redemption. Further, the acting by Rhys Ifans is excellent and you really feel a mixture of pity and revulsion with the character onscreen. He really brings something to the character. Though I would have liked to see his family, as they were always an important part of Connor’s back story. Perhaps the implication is that, like in the Ultimates universe, he has driven them away. But enough about the Lizard, it is time to talk about the hero!

Something Emma said to me after the movie strikes me as the best way to characterize Andrew Garfield’s performance. She said: “Andrew looks and feels like he is a high school student.” That really seems like the best way to start off. Tobey Maguire, while a fairly good actor, never really felt like Peter—though I am hard pressed to name a better choice for the character from back in 2002. But Andrew really does feel like dorky Peter Parker and, later, as the heroic Spider-Man. He has the right look, the right attitude, and he is one hell of an actor. I particularly love one awkward moment where he tries to ask Gwen out on a date and it comes out as a bunch of half-formed sentences and word vomit. Great stuff!

The Wallcrawler himself! Image Credit: Sony Pictures and Marvel Comics

Aside from the look and feel of the character, I like how the movie presents Peter to the audience. There are all sorts of moments early in the movie that get you in the mindset for who Peter is before he has his powers. Much like the first few issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (I seem to be bringing that up a lot…) we get some time to know our hero before he gets his super powers. We see that he has a knack for mechanical work, as witnessed by a scene where he and Uncle Ben discuss a broken water heater. We know that he is willing to stick up for the little guy when he stands up to Flash Thompson for bullying another kid, even though he gets hurt for doing it. And we see that he has his trademark photography skills and a crush on Gwen thanks to a yearbook photo that he took. This little moments really work to build up the character in our mind and show us what he is like. It isn’t a straight rush to getting to the spider powers and all of the action bits.

As for Spider-Man, I really liked that the movie captured the trash-talking side of the character. He is witty and jokes in the middle of a fight, which was sorely missing from the Raimi films. There was a little banter spread through the movies, but it always felt kind of flat. Here it is snappy and quick, just like we would expect from our mouthy hero. It is a sharp contrast from the stuttering student we first meet and you really see how Peter changes when he puts on the mask. Also, Spidey moves and fights in a very distinct style, with a lot of bouncing and acrobatics. He is more into kicking and webbing up his enemies this time around and you can tell that there was some real effort put into giving our hero a distinct look. His posing and maneuvers feel very much like what I would have expected from the comics.

Moving on from Spidey, I feel the need to finish up with a discussion of Gwen Stacey and some of the other, more minor, characters in the film.

Emma Stone replaces Kirsten Dunst as the leading lady and boy is it one hell of a change. Where Mary Jane always felt like the damsel in distress in the Raimi films, Gwen Stacy is a tough woman and just the sort of character who Spidey needs both as a friend and as a love interest. She is smart, remember that she is interning at OsCorp and working for Doctor Connors; she is sexy, look at the actress and tell me that she isn’t beautiful; and she is brave, as seen when she bashes the Lizard over the head with a basketball trophy in the school scene and, later, when she makes sure that the OsCorp tower gets evacuated despite putting herself into danger. Plus, it really feels like Gwen and Peter have a strong chemistry in the movie. Their romance is pretty believable. Which may explain why Emma and Andrew are dating in real life. This may be one of the best improvements from the Raimi films, as Kirsten never really felt like a good Mary Jane in the same way that Tobey never really felt like a good Peter.

Uncle Ben and Aunt May, played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field respectively, are both excellent. They have a good dynamic together and they feel like they have been married for quite a while. Chalk that up to a pair of veteran actors strutting their stuff, as they are a joy to watch. Denis Leary is a good Captain Stacy, providing an authority figure to bounce off of Peter. The scenes where they are together are good and have great tension, leading to a satisfying team-up at the end of the movie. Finally, Chris Zylka is an awesome Flash Thompson. He plays the bully role well and he has a wonderful character moment righter after Uncle Ben’s death, which I found to be very touching. They made him into more than just a bully and that he is wearing a Spider-Man shirt by the end of the movie was as welcome a call out to the comics as the lab coat we see the Lizard occasionally wearing.

Now if you are still with me, I am going to wrap up an already long article with a quick note on the visuals of the movie and some closing thoughts.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a very pretty movie and the action and effects are great. Now I did not see the movie in 3-D, so I can’t comment on that, but I can tell you that it was a good film to watch and it was well put together. Spider-Man and the Lizard move well on the screen even as they are pulling off some crazy stunts, like in the battle on the bridge. The web swinging looks very natural and fluid, making Spidey seem at home in the air just like we would expect. And the first-person sequences are pretty cool. Handled way better than when I saw them in Doom, that’s for sure; that review will have to wait for another time however.

The movie does run a little long, but I would not trim it down at all (unlike this article). You need the extra time at the beginning to help set the stage for the rest of the movie. I have heard some criticize the two hour and sixteen minute run time as being overstuffed for an origin story that we have already seen before, but I would argue that shortening it would just make this film redundant next to Raimi’s Spider-Man. We get more time to know our characters before all of the crazy action starts and I think it really shows in the quality of the movie.

Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man

So corny, but so good! Image Credit: Marvel Comics.

Finally, I know that there are some out there who didn’t like how Spider-Man’s costume looks in this movie. While aesthetics is pretty much up to personal taste, I can say that I really liked it. It had enough of the classic so for it to be recognizable without being a retread of the Raimi costume. The web shooters were excellent, I liked the tennis shoe look of the boots, and the build up to the costume was good. Plus the lenses reminded me of sun glasses, which strikes me as a really useful addition for a guy who is going to be swinging around high in the air by means of a thing webline. I would have loved to see the belt from the video game make it into the movie, given that Spidey had a belt in the comics, but that could be an addition for the next movie along with the spider-tracers. Of course I really like Nicholas Hammond’s costume from the old live-action Spider-Man show, so that might explain something.

So those are my thoughts, such as they are. I hope that you found it enlightening and I would love to know what you thought about the film. Leave your comments below and give your own rating for the film, maybe talking about your favorite parts or those you thought were weakest.

See you next time, true believers!

About the Author

Liam “the Wildonion” Cassidy is doing something inappropriate right now. Or maybe he’s just napping. Or writing, yeah he’s writing. Totally on topic right there. You believe me right? Of course you do, for I am the ever-present and ever-faithful narrator! So believe me when I say that Liam is writing right this very moment. And saving the world! Or something. Follow Liam on his Twitter as @wildonion13.

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