In the late nineties I would sometimes wake up in a cold sweat with nightmares of a clunky suited Mr. Freeze, a Poison Ivy with man hands, a Bane who was reduced to a brute, and Bat-nipples. Then I would realize it was not a nightmare but a memory. I’m not sure if psychologists would qualify this as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but as a Batman fan, I was certainly ashamed of such a travesty. It wasn’t until Batman Begins that I had fully recovered. I can only imagine that Spider-Man fans were similarly traumatized by Spider-man 3. Well, web-heads, The Amazing Spider-Man is great therapy and an excellent example of how a reboot should work.
When rebooting a story as well known as Spider-Man’s two things are important: staying true to the essence of the character and story and inserting enough creative interpretation so that it is fresh and relevant. My largest concern was that I would have to sit through an origin story that I had seen or read at least a dozen times. It was a genius move for the writers to emphasize the storyline of Peter’s parents mysteriously leaving him in the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May. This widely overlooked aspect of Peter’s history gave his origin just the shot (or bite) in the arm it needed.
The following modifications to Spidey’s origin are further examples of the careful balance between authenticity and creativity. Having a dozen or more spiders fall onto Peter is a small change but it makes the idea that he would miss one that fell into his jacket more believable. Also, the indication that Richard Parker had created these spiders adds a nice touch of fate to the storyline. Peter’s discovery of his powers as the result of a prank on the subway was humorous and entertaining. The development of his costume also paid tribute to its wrestling origins without the appearance of Bonesaw (R.I.P. Macho Man). Finally, the most important aspect of Spider-Mn’s origin is his refusal to stop the criminal who eventually kills Uncle Ben. Amazing changes this slightly and brilliantly. Peter storms out of the house after arguing with Uncle Ben. He refuses to help stop a man who robs a convenience store because the clerk was rude to him. Ben, of course, does attempt to stop the fleeing criminal and is shot in the process as Peter comes running too late to help him. Surprisingly, and perhaps to some fan’s disapproval, the words “With great power comes great responsibility” are never uttered in this film. But they are implied brilliantly.
Aside from being a great reboot of the Spider-Man story, this movie is successful because of its wonderful performances by all of the principle actors. Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker is phenomenal. When I saw that he was in Broadway’s production of Death of a Salesman, I had high hopes for his portrayal of one of the most interesting characters in superhero lore. He did not disappoint. He captured Peter’s quips and wit far better than the awkward Tobey Maguire. Not to mention that it was a stroke of genius to draw upon the geeks-are-sexy trend. I wouldn’t be surprised if he usurps Harry Potter and Edward as the new tweenager heartthrob. But for those of us who don’t listen to Katy Perry, Garfield captures an aspect of Peter’s character that I have felt has been missing – his rage and guilt after losing his parents and now his uncle. Peter’s reaction is both natural and believable.
Emma Stone was equally wonderful as Gwen Stacy, who I’ve always preferred to Mary Jane. The romance was very high school without being very high school. In other words, it was full of awkwardness and emotional intensity but without making me throw up in my mouth. Their first kiss was a nice balance of humor and romance. The Lizard was the perfect villain for an origin story. It allowed for some great fight scenes and excellent effects. I’ve always been a fan of villains with a Jekyll and Hyde element. I was pleased to see that The Lizard could speak but without the slurring “s” and felt that I could overlook the slightly ridiculous “I will change all of humanity into lizardmen” plot. It’s certainly not nearly as laughable as Hydra goons using laser guns in 1945.
The film had some other final touches of brilliance.
- Aunt May was not a fragile geriatric and thus more believable as a strong matriarch.
- The web shooters were a pleasant sight and demonstrated Peter’s scientific prowess.
- The fight scenes included many classic Spider-Man poses and webslinging, but I most enjoyed the more spider-like aspects of combat like the web he creates in the sewer and when he spider-crawls all over the lizard encompassing him in a web like a real spider would.
- Oscorp was a looming shadow in the film but did not overly complicate the storyline.
Speaking of shadows, the shadowy figure during the credits kept the mystery going. I am ashamed to say that I have no idea who he is. My best guess is The Jackal since Osborn is apparently on his deathbed. Who do you think it was?
I give The Amazing Spider-Man 5 out of 5 Nerdskulls. Now let’s hope the Superman reboot is equally successful.