There was a time when Spiderman 2 was considered the pinnacle of superhero filming within the modern era. It came long after the Superman and Batman films of yore and so seemed to be ushering in a new wave of superhero films with good storytelling and directing. So it was a controversial move when Sony decided to reboot the entire franchise after the third, albeit flawed film. They changed directors and hired a bunch of new, younger actors to re-imagine Spiderman. This was despite Sam Raimi’s plans for a fourth film involving Vulture. Adding fuel to the fire was the belief that the Amazing Spiderman was rushed through production to get it released before Marvel and Disney came looking for the rights.
However, if Amazing Spiderman was rushed out, it certainly doesn’t look like it was. The entire film was shot in 3-D, so it’s impossible to even find a screening in good-old 2-D. That might mean you have to pay out more to see it but it also means that it cost the studio just a bit more to film and produce it. So Sony certainly was not trying to make a film on the cheap and throw it at audiences in order to get a hand out. Is the 3-D worth it? On the one hand, it isn’t gimmicky. There are only a few incidences were they make it painfully obvious that a piece of debris or webbing is meant to make you jump and I think it’s utilised well within the fast-paced action scenes. Outside of that though, it doesn’t really do anything and by the mid-point of the film, I’d all but forgotten that it was 3-D at all.
The storyline doesn’t feel cheap either. Only on one occasion did the film feel like it was actively trying to sell anything, specifically the scene on the bridge with the kid wearing the mask which they’ve shown in the trailers. That scene seemed to trying to sell Spiderman masks to the children in the audience, of which there were many, but aside from that the plot felt fleshed out and thought through. And while it was noticeable that the film was trying to distinguish itself from the Raimi trilogy and the comic books, I didn’t think that was a negative. If anything it made the film feel more complete in of itself. The basic foundations of the spiderman origin story are still there: Peter gets bitten, misuses powers, acts apathetically, Uncle Ben gets shot and Peter decides to use his powers to help others. Except Amazing Spiderman adds a few more details and twists to that old formula. Long before Peter lets the thief get away we see him standing up to Flash in the school, thus establishing his sense of justice. But he’s too weak to do anything. Once he gets bitten though, he proceeds to humiliate him in a similar fashion that he was mistreated. From that we begin the film-long arc of justice vs. revenge.
This theme of vengeance continues throughout the film, especially when Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, begins searching for Uncle Ben’s killer. Unlike the original origin story, where Peter was unaware that the thief he let escape was his uncle’s murderer, in Amazing Spiderman Peter knows the man he let escape is the same man when he begins his manhunt. But this Peter Parker has a reckless streak that isn’t as apparent in the comic books. He’s sloppy and he leaves clues. The Police Chief tells Peter this, unaware that he’s talking to Spiderman too. In fact, Captain George Stacy, played by Denis Leary, is something of a mentor to Spiderman. Uncle Ben still gets to tell Peter about responsibility but his parental abandonment issues make it difficult for him to grasp what responsibility really is. George Stacy is able to instil this in Spiderman more effectively, partly by pointing out that Spiderman is pursing one person, not aiding the citizens of New York as the police do, and also that his responsibility means sacrifice. He must sacrifice his normal life, and possible happy future with Gwen Stacy, just as his Father had to sacrifice a life with his son to keep him safe.
Looking at the changes made to the story by director Marc Webb (hehe, web), the film feels like it took the standard story of Peter Parker becoming Spiderman and fleshed it out significantly. In both the original trilogy and the comics, Peter’s moral obligation to those around him comes almost entirely from his Uncle’s death and the echoing of those famous words: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ No one in Amazing Spiderman ever actually says those words, which is probably a good thing since we all know the phrase far too well by now. Instead, Webb dedicates the movie to showing Peter Parker learning that lesson over an extended period. It feels more natural and realistic in this way.
Some changes don’t work, however, such as Gwen Stacy happening to both work for Dr. Curt Conors and be related to the Police chief. Those six degrees are just a little too close for comfort. While we can easily accept that both Peter’s father, Richard Parker and Dr. Conors were both working for Oscorp and trying to crossbreed species, the former specialising in arachnology and the later in herpetology, Gwen’s involvement in it all seems a bit more forced. Had she just been Peter’s schoolmate and the Police Chief’s daughter it might have been a bit more acceptable but, as it is, there seems to be a lot shoehorned into the one character.
If there is one thing that Marc Webb has done right with Amazing Spiderman, it’s the relationship between Gwen and Peter. Comic book fans will know that Gwen came before M.J. Watson, but it doesn’t feel like Webb just lifted the relationship from the strips. Webb seemingly draws on his experience in the non-linear romcom 500 Days of Summer, but the characters never feel like they’re in a romantic comedy. They appear real and complex. Peter Parker doesn’t become confident just because he has superpowers. He’s still shy and neurotic. And the film makes a distinction between being confident enough to approach the bully and confident enough to approach a girl. Even before his powers, Peter is willing to stand up to Flash Thompson but, after he gets bitten, he’s still unable to directly ask Gwen out without mumbling and stuttering. And Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy has the feminist power that Kirsten Dunst’s M.J. lacked. Gwen isn’t defined by the man she’s with or the orders she receives from Spiderman and her father. She’s defined by evacuating Oscorp and taking on The Lizard, one on one, with a makeshift flamethrower. I mean, it doesn’t work but it’s still a nice character moment.
It’s impossible to review Amazing Spiderman without comparing it to Raimi’s original. But that’s actually unfair, because the two movies come at very different times. Raimi’s Spider-Man showed that comic book heroes can work on the big screen to a modern audience but the characters, the villains, their reactions and the plots were still very comical. Webb’s Amazing Spiderman comes to you post-Batman Begins where superhero movies are now viewed as fully capable of dealing with matters seriously and powerfully. Even Thor, with the magical and mythical elements, was treated seriously. That’s why a reboot was really necessary. I think that for Raimi’s trilogy to move from the comical to a more serious and sober tone it would have created mood whiplash for the viewer. The reboot allowed the studio to do a more youthful approach while still going for the more serious approach that the audience has come to expect from superhero films.
And, like it or not, it’s getting two sequels.