It’ll be interesting to see what super hero movies look like in the post-Avengers era. That movie was big, bright, colorful, energetic, funny, action-packed, and delightful. In short, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from The Dark Knight; the gritty, bleak, dark, brutal juggernaut that once was the reigning box office champ and therefore the template studios scrambled to duplicate. What might The Amazing Spider-Man have been like in the post-Avengers world? I don’t know, but as a product of the post-Dark Knight world, it turns out to be a pretty good movie. It’s darker, more grounded, deeper, more soulful than the previous screen incarnations, and much to my surprise, also one of the better ones. In fact, I walked out of the theater thinking that I just saw my favorite Spider-Man film. Amazing.
Much of the film’s heart and charm lies with Andrew Garfield as Peter/Spidey. I was never entirely sold on Tobey McGuire, and Garfield definitely plays a more likeable Peter. He’s still socially awkward and a bit odd as an outcast, but he’s also moody, angsty, sarcastic, and in general, just acts more like a teenager; in and out of costume. Plus, his scenes with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey are some of the best in the movie, which is the other part of the equation. Again, I was never totally sold on Kirsten Dunst, and I’m glad this movie didn’t go the Mary Jane Watson route. The scenes between Gwen and Peter are awkward and anxious, but also sweet and endearing. They give the movie a lot of heart and help set it apart from the previous films.
The rest of the cast is also solid. Martin Sheen makes for a fine Uncle Ben, and Sally Field plays a different kind of Aunt May who still feels very much like the character should. I’m sad to say that the weakest link is probably Rhys Ifans. That’s not because of his performance, but rather with how his character is developed. The movie very much wants to make him a sympathetic character, not unlike another doctor who ended up with eight appendages, but something just doesn’t click. I also wasn’t entirely sold on the look of the Lizard. I honestly don’t know what could have been done differently, but again, something was just a bit off. So overall, Conners/The Lizard just didn’t quite work for me; they weren’t bad per se, but it just doesn’t hit the notes it was going for. I also found the whole “hearing voices” thing to be a tad too reminiscent of Norman Osborne/Green Goblin.
This movie is also a slow burn; taking a page from that Batman Begins/Dark Knight playbook. That’s a risk, especially since it’s essentially retelling the same origin we saw not all that long ago in another movie about Spider-Man. However, by taking the time to develop things more and delve into the origin process, it makes the payoff better. There’s a great development and progression to Peter learning what’s he’s capable of, and why he needs to be careful (or responsible, if you prefer) with it. And again, some of his reactions just ring true to how a moody teenager might use such new found powers. It takes quite a while before he ever dons the suit, but the journey towards that moment is enjoyable as we see the learning curve he goes through while getting to that point. I especially love that we get to see Peter as a smart, scientific person through little moments here and there spread throughout the movie (like when he develops his web shooters). There are also some interesting changes made to the origin story, giving it more mystery and an ominous sense of danger that runs as an undercurrent through the movie. Some may not like the alterations, but I thought they were interesting and worked well.
Also, like The Dark Knight, this is a darker toned and more gritty, grounded world for this super hero; which doesn’t always work (as DC learned with The Green Lantern). However, it does work here, despite Spider-Man generally being a more light-hearted and less brooding character. But there are ways to be dark and gritty without brooding. For instance, in this movie Spidey gets beat-up, a lot. Somehow though, that makes him more believable and easier to cheer for. He’s constantly bruised, bloody, broken. It actually reminded me a lot of how Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond, as a young and still learning super hero, was constantly getting beat down as he was learning the ropes to this super hero gig. This all adds a nice element of danger because even though you know he won’t, there are times where it definitely feels like Spider-Man might fail.
And finally, while it doesn’t quite explore it as deeply as Nolan’s Batman films, this one does get into Peter’s motivation for his heroics, and it does so beyond just the whole “With great power comes great responsibility” mantra. (In fact, those words aren’t even used. Go ahead and riot, true believers.) Rather, what Uncle Ben tells Peter is that Peter’s father lived by a very important principle; if one is capable of doing good things for others, then they should. It’s a responsibility (okay, so it’s not entirely absent). Well, that sounded very familiar to me. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:14 NIV. Those are strong words, but true ones. The fact is far too often it’s within our power to do some sort of good, both big and small, and we convince ourselves that we’re too busy, or it’s just not necessary, or it isn’t convenient, or we’re not really the right person, or blah, blah, blah. We too often look for someone else to do the good that we could do, and yet we wonder at the state our world is in. The point is we don’t need tights and super powers to do good, often what we need to do is act; which is often a courageous, heroic thing to do in its own right. Peter eventually learns that what his uncle told him was true, and that perhaps there was more to his having amazing powers than satisfying his own desires. And so it is with us; perhaps there’s more to life than just doing that which will help and satisfy us.
The Amazing Spider-Man really surprised me. I wasn’t looking forward to a retread of a familiar story told in a previous Spider-Man movies, and I was unsure of the whole dark/gritty/”make it more like The Dark Knight” approach to telling this rebooted story. However, I’m glad to say that it works quite well. The movie has a lot of heart thanks to the chemistry of its leads, it delves deep into the characters, it dangles some unresolved mysteries and hints, and darker and more challenging things to come, and is generally just a whole lot of fun. The action sequences won’t exactly blow your mind, but they’re good. The villain is a bit weak, but that doesn’t completely derail the movie. All in all, the most amazing thing about this Spider-Man movie is that coming so soon after a previous trilogy that covered much of the same territory, it is able to set itself apart and turn out to be a pretty good movie of its own. I’d say that qualifies this film to truly be called the Amazing Spider-Man.