Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Spider-Man fan. Like for real huge. The grooms cake at my wedding was a Spider-Man cake.

While I enjoyed the first two Spider-Man movies quite a bit (I don’t like to talk about the third) I felt like they never truly got the character right. Peter Parker is a hopeless geek, his alter ego, Spider-Man, is a smartass. Raimi’s Spider-Man movies got the first half of that equation right, but Spidey himself was pretty bland. In the comics, Spider-Man uses the anonymity his mask gives him to say things he wouldn’t normally say. He’s an internet troll personified.I love that about him. It’s the ultimate fantasy for an awkward insecure teenager. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to him as a kid.

Also, I’ll take this moment to remind everyone that my son being named Parker has nothing to do with my love for Spider-Man. Seriously. For real.

Spider angst
If you’re familiar with the source material, it might help to know that this version of Spider-Man is closer to the angsty younger hero of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, despite bearing the Amazing Spider-Man comics name (he’s an adult in the Amazing Spider-Man comics). With that mindset going in, you might enjoy the movie more. It’s not too angsty--Spider-Man is a fun character, his movies should always lean more towards Iron Man than Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Andrew Garfield does a great job with the whole overly sarcastic moody teenager thing. He has dumb mood swings. He’s awkward. He’s a smartass at times even without the mask, and he’s genuinely funny. As a former overly sarcastic moody teenager, I approve.

A real relationship
Unlike the previous films, the blossoming and awkward relationship between the two leads--Garfield and Emma Stone--plays a central role in the development of Spider-Man as a superhero. And, much to my wife’s satisfaction, unlike Toby Macguire and Kirsten Dunst, Garfield and Stone have actual chemistry.

From the awkward beginning to the “I’m gonna tell you all my secrets way too soon” moments--it’s a pitch perfect teenage romance. My wife and I have been together since high school, so we kind of have a soft spot for young love stories. The back and forth between Gwen and Peter is appropriately awkward and sappy. It reminded us of us, so I consider it a success. And when I say “us” I mean a better looking version of our high school selves. In this version I also had super powers and wore skinny jeans.

A believable origin
I also liked that Spider-Man didn’t just become a hero because he had powers and his uncle died. The way they slid his revenge-fueled manhunt into a full-time superhero gig fit the character better. He didn’t get powers and then suddenly decide to fight crime, in fact it didn’t seem like he was actually actively stopping crimes for any reason other than to find his uncle’s killer for most of the movie. Peter had to realize that he could help people, that the Spider-Man thing didn’t have to be all about him. It’s classic “show don’t tell.” We got to see him learn that with great power comes great responsibility, instead of just hearing it.

They also did a decent job of making the origin we all know so well feel fresh again. The mystery around his parent’s death was exactly what the story needed. It gave Peter a motivation to investigate Oscorp, and it gave him a small chip on his shoulder that led to some nice clashes with his aunt and uncle, who were actual characters this time and not just mouthpieces for plot development.

Excellent effects
I read somewhere that the director of this film was a proponent of practical effects over CG whenever possible. Because of that, this Spider-Man feels a little more grounded in reality. It also helps that Andrew Garfield’s wiry frame and fluid movements helped blend the CG and real life stunt work smoothly. In the last trilogy, the moment the mask went on, it was CG time. Also, the CG in those old Spidey movies hasn’t aged well.

New York City
Another thing about the last three Spider-Man movies that bothered me was how poorly represented New York was. Spider-Man is New York’s hero, but those old movies presented a weird version of the city that felt detached from reality. The strange non-Thanksgiving festival in the first movie, the above ground subway in the second movie, and the constant convenient run-ins with friends (despite the millions of people in the city) in the third movie were just some of the very un-New York moments.

The new movie feels like it is set in New York, not a comic book version of it. Even with his amazing powers, it still takes Peter a good bit of time to get around. I like that many short scenes are set in out-of-the-way places: a random parking lot, a low rooftop, a small apartment. There aren’t a lot of those framed up “this is so New York” shots. You know, like in front of a hot dog cart or in the middle of Times Square.

Did they need to reboot Spider-Man so soon? Technically yes. Before Marvel started making their own movies, they licensed out their characters. Sony Pictures has Spider-Man, Fox has the X-Men. In order to keep the Spider-Man license, a new movie needed to be made. They could have given the license back (Marvel would probably love to have their star hero join the Avengers), but when even the worst Spider-Man movie raked in a ton of cash, it didn’t make financial sense for Sony to let it go. So really, The Amazing Spider-Man exists for business reasons. Because of that, it could have been a mindless creatively-bankrupt cash in. I’m glad it wasn’t. If they can build on what they did with this movie, I’m definitely in for another two.