I have to admit I was a little skeptical of Marvel’s Spider-Man reboot. After all, Spider-Man’s been there and done that in three movies already. The trailers promised a retelling of the origins story (the necessary opening act of any superhero film it seems) and a conflict between our hero and Dr. Connors “The Lizard”. After Batman Begins, superhero films arrive to such enormous anticipation that they are at risk of hugely disappointing fans and critics alike. Such was the case for Green Lantern, which underperformed critically and commercially. The big-budget superhero blockbuster is expected to be a cut above.
Fortunately, my fears were allayed by a really positive reception of The Amazing Spider-Man upon its release. Despite the well-known trilogy, it has an identity all its own and is a step forward for the franchise. It is particularly refreshing to see Spider-Man given the production he deserves after the disappointing third entry in Sam Raimi’s otherwise excellent trilogy. Roger Ebert claims Spider-Man 2 to be the best superhero movie of all time after the original Superman (1978).
This time around, Spider-Man is played by Andrew Garfield, who is a different Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire. He’s cooler and seems younger; he rides a skateboard. Both Parkers are charmingly aloof, but Garfield plays it up more. It’s a different Parker for a different story.
I also liked the many small changes to the origins story: the mystery behind the disappearance of Parker’s parents, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as the love interest, and the interweaving of Dr. Connors’ (Rhys Ifans) backstory. These changes come together for a fresh and delightful exposition.
It is The Amazing Spider-Man after all. Comic book superheroes are often replicated in a variety of series. The Amazing Spider-Man won’t follow the same plot thread as Ultimate Spider-Man or The Spectacular Spider-Man. The comic book hero also has the tremendous responsibility to carry on month after month. Superheroes don’t rest on their laurels after a single novel or trilogy. As such, writers have taken to treating superheroes in new ways, creating a fresh but familiar plot that can ultimately lead to a plethora of possibilities for the direction of our hero.
I digress because the great thing about The Amazing Spider-Man is that it succeeds in revitalizing a character who has already been represented in film for a whole trilogy. The changes in exposition set a foundation for a story that moviegoers can experience with the anticipation of not knowing what to expect, a feat for the majority of audience members who likely are quite familiar with Tobey Maguire as their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Despite the changes and high expectations, the rest of the movie follows with success. Though some typical tropes remain in place, there are enough twists and turns leading the viewer through the final act that it never becomes dull. The Amazing Spider-Man was created with a strong, imaginative vision. Most of us already know a little about Spider-Man, but everything from the set design to the style and dress of the characters breathe life into them as if we are discovering them for the first time.
The spider suit in particular stands out with its design, and Spider-Man showcases it with great animation. I also enjoyed the traveling shots from his perspective. I balked at this in an early trailer, seeing it as a bit gimmicky; but the few occurrences are short-lived and a are fun deviation from the standard acrobatics. Gwen and Parker have a lot of chemistry and are refreshing after the torrid dramatics of Spider-Man and Mary Jane in Raimi’s trilogy. The rest of the cast is well-rounded, including a particularly memorable Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) as Gwen’s father.
Dr. Connors is well-acted by Ifans but the Hyde side lacks depth. He transitions from a noble scientist to a radical human engineer too quickly. I can think of few criticisms of his character should he have demanded some sympathy as a villain. Dr. Connors shows quite a bit of dimension early on as he faces a certain dilemma, but that struggle ceases with his transformation. The scenes of him in human form after his transformation scream for a deeper inner conflict. Perhaps it was lost to preserve the movie’s pace.
Fortunately, some of Connors’s complexity returns later on. The sequel probably won’t afford him another primary role, but it’d be a loss to see that potential go to waste.