The first round of trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man made it look like it was trying to present one of comicdom’s more buoyant superheroes with a new spin catering to trends–something gloomy, angsty and fashionable in the Twilight sense. People were already wondering why a studio was so quickly rebooting a successful trilogy of Spider-Man films–two of which were largely well-received, with the other considered a slapdash case of excess that very studio had a large part in. So, the trailer’s tinted look, overly serious tone wasn’t met with much fanfare. Subsequent trailers made sure to play up The Amazing Spider-Man‘s sense of humor, and after seeing it, I can say that in addition to being a good film, that sense of humor and the genuine affection for all of its characters makes it something special.
The first half of the movie focuses on one of the most familiar origin stories of any comic book superhero. The selling point this time was supposed to be that, by focusing on the story of Peter Parker’s birth parents, The Amazing Spider-Man would tell “the untold story.” They were never a big focus in the comics (or the first three films–except for one instance where Peter uses the fact that his uncle Ben isn’t technically his father against him). In all of the ways that matter, Ben and May Parker are Peter’s parents, and while bordering on extraneous, the addition of his birth parents as a tangible cloud over his life rings true and serves as a slightly alternate path to creating the character most fans of the comic are familiar with.
Mostly, that path is a fine attempt at modernizing Peter Parker. His life at school isn’t easy, but he’s got a good home life and hobbies that include the familiar adeptness with technology, photography–and a new adeptness with a skateboard. The Peter Parker that Tobey Maguire played was more of an everyman/nerd template. He was affable and, from his hair to his clothes, safely likeable. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a teenager who is still affable, but has more of a sense of self. And that could lend itself to hair, clothing choices that could be considered less safe (The term ’emo’ had been thrown around a lot when he was first shown as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man). Pre-spider bite, this Peter Parker is not so introverted that he doesn’t stand up for someone else or make a quip when he’s getting beat up. In the first hour, we see all of the qualities that are liberated when he gets his powers–including his sense of humor and an impulsive recklessness.
We also see a fully-fleshed Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s first love from the comics. Gwen is a great addition to the movie on multiple levels. She’s as capably intelligent as Peter, and the reasons she’s attracted to him have little to do with his being Spider-Man or something that’s sort of typically wishy-washy; in him, she’s able to appreciate some of the qualities that she herself has. Gwen’s employment at Oscorp Industries and her burgeoning relationship with Peter bridges the character studies of the first part of the movie with the action-packed second half. Also working at Oscorp is Dr. Curt Connors, a scientist working on something related to the work of Peter’s father–and subsequently, with Peter’s help, the film’s reptilian villain–(sorry to be redundant) the Lizard. There’s more than a few coincidences with how inter-related people are (Gwen is also the daughter of the police chief, as played by Denis Leary), but that’s not dissimilar to the way relationships in comics have played out. And when most of the characters are so well-served by their screen-time, it’s not too hard to gloss over this. The Lizard, as standard a villain as he is, is rendered extremely well for the purposes of supplying most of the movie’s big fight scenes. And the actor who plays Dr. Curt Connors serves what material he’s given pretty well.
The first Spider-Man movie took creative licenses of its own that were largely disregarded by people whom weren’t into the comics or whom were happy just to have a solid take on the character. Certainly most directors with a sense of vision would, and with this movie, Marc Webb takes creative licenses to get to the beats we’re all familiar with. But when they come, they’re mostly earned. Peter’s chance-encounter with a spider’s bite is a little different, but so what? The Amazing Spider-Man goes further than any film before in developing the reasons Peter becomes Spider-Man–from the guy who wants vengeance, to the realization that a mask would do him some good, and, finally, to thinking he can do more with his new found powers than beat up anyone who might be his uncle’s killer. Even as the world around him is heavy, there’s a genuine sense of joy to most of the scenes when he’s Spider-Man, and this time, it’s verbalized.
The relationship with Gwen Stacy is a lynchpin of the movie–Peter’s being drawn to her shows a kind of buoyancy to the character that goes beyond the development of Peter Parker, for all of his/Tobey Maguire’s virtues, as first portrayed on film.
Of course it’s not perfect. Every early display of his powers while he’s not in costume would make him anything but anonymous. But unless your heart is set on the way Peter Parker/Spider-Man was portrayed in the first three films, there’s a lot to set one’s heart on here, with possibly even more reasons to grin. In The Amazing Spider-Man, there’s real, likeable people surrounding Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a character played by a guy whom understands the significance of the mask and whom said that hopefully the next guy wearing the costume is black.
Even if you never picked up the comic, it’s all around good stuff.