Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Spider-Man: New and Improved

Image from IMDb
Up until about a week ago, I hadn't seen any of the Spider-Man movies.  So to prepare for the pending blockbuster, my friends and I had a couple of movie nights and watched the first two, which were directed by Sam Raimi.  Then we went to the midnight premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man (directed, believe it or not, by a guy named "Webb").  Even if you ignore the obvious leg up this movie had, special-effects-wise, what with it being ten years since the first, there were a number of things I thought were done better in this film than in those of the last trilogy.  I hope you're comfy; this is gonna be a long one.  (And it's full of spoilers.  You have been warned.)

Let's get this one out of the way first:  Andrew Garfield.  In addition to being a talented, versatile actor who breathes life into science geek extraordinaire Peter Parker, he's also ridiculously good-looking.  And while I appreciated that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did not look like supermodels (sorry guys), I definitely enjoyed staring at Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone for two and a half hours.

I found the spider bite (and subsequent discovery of powers) far more believable in this movie than in the original.  And before you start scoffing at my calling a superhero movie "believable," bear with me.  In the first movie, a rogue spider happens to land on Parker and bite him.  He hadn't done anything to provoke the spider, and there were a lot of people in that building.  Why weren't four or five people bitten?  Who was supposed to be watching the genetically engineered spider and should be fired for letting it escape?  And the one that bothered me the most:  Why didn't Parker say anything?  A simple "Hey [anyone], a spider landed on me back there and bit me and it's swelling something awful.  Think maybe I should get it looked at?" would have been fine.  But no, he decides to keep quiet, even when he magically grows muscles the next morning.  I cannot thank the writers of this year's version enough for not having Peter Parker magically grow muscles the next morning.

By contrast, when Webb's Parker winds up in a tour group he was never supposed to be a part of, gets through a locked door (which is where one might expect to find really dangerous arachnids, as opposed to running loose), and then walks into the spider habitat (or whatever that was), it makes sense that he would keep quiet about being bitten, because it would have required that he confess to snooping in a restricted area.  And then Parker (and kudos to Garfield for this) looked understandably freaked when he gets home after unintentionally assaulting nearly everyone on a subway car, as any normal person would, had he just learned he could stick to ceilings.

I could definitely buy both versions of the young hero as the vigilante out to avenge the uncle.  But in the original, Parker’s transition from infected freak to superhero felt disjointed.  The biggest reason was probably that his iconic suit seems to spontaneously appear.  We see him draw it, but his first attempt at a cool outfit was such a miserable failure that I had a hard time believing that he made the second one.  At least in the new one we see him decide (albeit grudgingly) on spandex; there’s even a brief clip where he’s holding a needle and thread.  I’ve seen enough episodes of Project Runway to know that it’s not quite that easy to make a skintight spandex suit, but it was far better an explanation than was offered by the original.

Superhero aside, I found it much easier to invest in Garfield’s Parker than in Maguire’s.  They’re both nerdy, but Garfield brings charm and personality to the character.  Even before he gets bitten, we see him stand up to the school bully.  And after he discovers his powers, he is less reluctant to experiment with them in everyday situations.  In an interview with Matt Patches, Garfield says Parker “finds a confidence when he finds his power… a kind of rebelliousness that he hadn’t been able to access before.”  Maguire’s Parker never accesses such rebelliousness, and it makes his mild-mannered alter ego irritatingly frail.

Parker volunteers the “I’m Spider-Man” factoid awfully fast to a girl he hardly knows, which I found a little concerning.  It took Raimi two movies to tell Mary Jane the truth, although she claims she knew all along, so I was surprised when Gwen found out.  However, I will admit that her knowing paved the way for a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, and provided Parker with a much-needed ally.

I think the feel of superhero movies as a genre is changing.  A decade old, Raimi’s film is more true to the comic book style, complete with witty banter, a damsel in distress, and plenty of cheese.  Webb’s hero never once says the words “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” for which I was very grateful, and while there was no shortage of comedic content, I found it easier to worry for the characters when the overall tone was more serious.

Whew!  I think that’s everything.  Kudos if you made it all the way to the end.  What did you think?  Did The Amazing Spider-Man fail to impress you?  Or did you think it was better than the original?  Anybody else crushing Andrew Garfield or Emma Stone?  Or is Tobey Maguire the only Spidey for you?


  1. tobey looks like a jockey! if he's not holding a lantern outside the front door of a country club, i don't see the use for him...

    also, i don't go to movies to see normal-looking people! i go to movies to see supermodels who make me feel inadequate! i feel like that's the best part of a movie!

  2. Love the review, raz-person. Haven't seen the new one yet, but now will have to. If you're going to have a superhero who can't fly, one who can fling out sticky substances and swing by them is the next best thing. You just can't beat Superman's schtick. Humble reporter by day, etc.