Why yes, this is another origin story. Why yes, it is coming 10 years after the last one. Why yes, it is quite good.
It’s impossible to talk about this film without referencing Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, so let’s just get that out of the way. I think that this is the best Spider-Man film we’ve seen yet. Raimi’s first two films set the bar for what a superhero movie could be, but that bar has long since been raised. I don’t feel that Raimi’s trilogy has aged particularly well. Certain aspects of it just feel dated and those films can’t hold their own against the stuff Marvel Studios and Christopher Nolan have been producing. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t as good as The Dark Knight or The Avengers, but it’s certainly on par with the rest of the Marvel Studios films.
The main reason that this film is better than Raimi’s trilogy is because of the cast. Emma Stone is everything that Kirsten Dunst is not – beautiful, funny, and charming. If you’re not already head-over-heels for Emma Stone, you will be after this movie. Andrew Garfield is one lucky man, and he’s also a great Peter Parker. He blows Tobey Maguire out of the water. Many have issued the critique that Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker isn’t “geeky” enough, but the definition of “social outcast” has changed quite a bit since Spider-Man’s inception in the 60’s. Sure, he’s not stumbling around with a pocket protector, but you don’t have to be a nerd to be considered a loser or an outsider. Regardless of how charming Garfield is, he pulls off “misunderstood outcast” and he’s wonderfully awkward around Stone’s Gwen Stacy. I’m sure people will complain that Garfield’s Peter is too emo and angsty, but angst has always been an aspect of the character; what makes him such a good character is how he chooses to deal with that angst.
Now, this is all coming from someone who was never really happy with the lead cast in the Raimi films. J.K. Simmons (as J. Jonah Jameson), Alfred Molina (as Doctor Octopus), and Thomas Hayden Church (as Sandman) were all inspired bits of casting, but Maguire and Dunst were awful leads. Maguire did well as the dopey, fumbling, socially-inept Peter, but he always seemed a little ridiculous to me as the wise-cracking Spider-Man. Dunst, on the other hand, was mostly just annoying. When I saw Spider-Man 3, the theatre burst into applause when Peter hit MJ. That means that there was something wrong with that character. If Peter pulled something like that with Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man, that theatre would have turned on him in a heartbeat. Stone brings that girl-next-door lovability to Stacy that Dunst was never able to bring to Mary Jane and Garfield brings that goofy, wise-cracking sensibility to the wall-crawler that Maguire was never able to pull off. Garfield and Stone met the high hopes I had for them and that’s why I think that The Amazing Spider-Man is the best Spider-Man film.
Of course, it’s also another Spider-Man origin story. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t that bothered by it. Director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) differentiates it enough from the origin story in Spider-Man that it doesn’t feel like a complete rehash, and that’s due in large part to how the script folds Oscorp, the Lizard, and Peter’s parents into the mix. Make no mistake, this is not the same origin story you witnessed 10 years ago.
If I had a complaint about the origin story, it would be that the Lizard (easily the weakest part of the film) doesn’t feel necessary – the same story could have been told just as effectively with a different villain. That’s not to say that the Lizard doesn’t work at all, just that he wasn’t essential.
That being said, Rhys Ifans was a good choice for Dr. Curt Connors, although at times he comes off just a little too sinister. Connors was never really a villain in the comics – it was his reptilian alter ego who was responsible for all of the bad things he did. While this is still the case in the film, you get the idea that Connors himself isn’t the greatest guy. This is partly because the film hints at a more sinister back story for Connors, so maybe it was all intentional. Regardless, I felt that Connors could have been made a bit more sympathetic. In other mediums, he is portrayed as a family man, which brings a greater sense of tragedy to the character that I’ve always liked.
Rounding out the rest of the cast are Denis Leary (as Captain George Stacy), Martin Sheen (as Uncle Ben), and Sally Fields (as Aunt May). Sheen is a great Uncle Ben and you really get a sense of the connection between him and Peter in the short amount of screen time they share. Sally Fields does as good a job as Aunt May as anybody can be expected to do, but she certainly doesn’t feel crucial to the story in any way. Leary pulls off the “hard-ass Police Captain” very well and he does a good job with what he’s given. Another solid casting choice.
I’d also just like to point out how “right” they got Spider-Man in this movie. He’s very nimble and agile and his webbing actually looks like webbing. I loved the way he moved. Way better than anything done in the Raimi trilogy.
I won’t delve into too many more story particulars, but if you’re familiar with the Spider-Man mythos, know that there won’t be many surprises in this film. The things you’d expect to happen still happen, and it’s a testament to the script and the cast that regardless of that, I still felt emotionally invested in the storyline. One change I did really appreciate is how central to the mythos this film makes Oscorp Industries, the company owned and operated by Norman Osborn (who is hinted at, but never seen). The animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man (which is my favorite adaptation of Spider-Man in any medium) also took this approach and it was a great way to streamline and introduce all of the disparate characters in Spider-Man’s world. I’m hoping that the sequels build on this potential and keep Oscorp at the center of the goings-on in Spider-Man’s universe.
I’m really pleased that I enjoyed this movie as much as I did, because Spider-Man has always been my favorite character. There’s this relatable quality to him which is part of the reason why he’s so enduring. The point behind Spider-Man was that when you take away the mask and the powers, he’s just like us. He’s unpopular. He’s awkward. He’s poor. His life is, quite frankly, pretty awful. People close to him die and no matter what he does, things just don’t seem to get better. Despite all of this, however, he never gives up. He always carries on, attempting to do the right thing, and sometimes he needs help. Yes, this film has New York citizens helping Spider-Man, and I know that a lot of people find that cheesy and dumb, but it’s important because it shows the effect that Spider-Man has on his city. He’s not just a superhero, he’s an inspiration. He shows us that regardless of powers or abilities, we all have a responsibility to do the right thing. He shows us that even when the chips are down and things feel hopeless, we can rise above it. Spider-Man has every reason to just give up, but he doesn’t. He never loses hope. And hope is something that we could all use a little more of.
PS. Yes, there is an extra scene halfway through the credits. You don’t need to stay until the end.