“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a re-boot of a movie franchise that should never have been re-booted. Like anyone who saw Sam Raimi’s great 2002, “Spider-Man”, I wonder why we have “The Amazing Spider-Man” instead of “Spider-Man 4”? The newer movie is fine looking and fairly fun in its own right. Yet to us, the entirety of “The Amazon Spider-Man” is an affront to the Spider-man mythology we know and love.
The greatest affront is the apathy towards Spider-man’s cultural influence. When I was in law school, I was sworn in as a trainee attorney for my law school’s legal clinic. During the swearing in ceremony, the district judge quoted the first Spider-man story in Amazing Fantasy #15, “With great power there must also come – – great responsibility!“. This one quote pretty much defines the character’s reason for fighting crime and risking his life to save others. We hear it uttered with gravitas in the 2002 film. We never hear it in the “The Amazing Spider-Man.
The second greatest affront is the good looks of actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter Parker. The great trick of the Spider-Man comic is making the story about Peter Parker as a kid with superpowers who fights crime as Spider-Man. Unlike Batman, Green Arrow, or Superman, Peter Parker does not come outfitted with a huge bank account and a secret fortress. He has to make the rent like the rest of us, only he has the added and uncompensated responsibility of saving the world now and again. Peter’s average looks reflect his social status. Andrew Garfield, on the other hand, looks like a male model, like an actor, and like someone who is popular. (He also looks like someone much too old for high school). Just to nail this point home, in “The Social Network“, he is very natural as the outgoing and popular Eduardo Saverin in contrast to Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as a social pariah.
The third greatest affront is the reason Peter Parker dresses up as Spider-Man. In the original story, Peter Parkers wants to use his powers to become famous. He is shy, so he creates a costume that covers his face. Famous but anonymous. Stan Lee knows how teenagers think. In the “Amazing Spider-Man”, we see Peter Parker dress up as a Spider-Man to protect himself from recrimination. The important point in the original story is that Peter Parker was not original interested in becoming a crime fighter. This set-up was the perfect counter to superheros such as Batman, who live for nothing but fighting crime. Peter Parker has other things going on in his life, such as science, photography, and girls, and he thus a much more interesting character. At least, he used to be.
Regardless of these affronts to Spider-man lore, “The Amazing Spider-Man” unravels as a movie around the one hour mark. The movie falls off the web after a confusing set a sequences where Peter Parker can walk into nearly any room and start a conversation with anyone. His conversations are also uncomfortably upfront about plot details. Just as confusingly mysterious, the bad guy finds easily finds Wi-Fi and blankets to cover his naked body. Just imagine the smell of a sewer blanket. The bad guy also gets a lucky break with label makers. Then the writers simply give up and have both the bad guy and Spider-Man escape SWAT teams using the same lame playing possum tactic. The movie then ends with an audience friendly swapping of colors.
Considering how poorly the movie was put together, the supporting actors are surprisingly excellent. Anyone who happened to be reading Spider-Man comics in 1970 may love Dennis Leary’s portrayal of Captain Stacey and Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy. (I was not born yet, so I am assuming). Seeing Sally Field as Aunt May and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is a fantastic update for Spider-Man. The comic portrayal of these characters shows them as withered old folks with one foot in the grave. The new Aunt May and Uncle Ben are are lively and interesting. The supporting cast is just enough to turn “The Amazing Spider-Man” from a lackluster two web movie into a decent three web movie.
By the way, in case anyone is interest in following Peter Parker in the comic books, you are out of luck. In Marvel Comic’s marketing brilliance, they killed Peter Parker shortly after the release of “Spider-Man”. If you want Peter Parker stories, you have to stick with the movies. Maybe that is the plan, as these days the movies make far more money than the comics ever did.