Did we need another Spider-Man movie already? It's only been a decade since director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire's three-part foray into Marvel Comics' most high-profile creation began and only five years since that trilogy concluded. But the super-hero-movie scene has boomed since then, so Marvel isn't about to let its biggest star be dormant long.
And so we have The Amazing Spider-Man, a 3D reconfiguration from director Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield. In staking out its own take on the well-worn story of Peter Parker's encounter with a radioactive spider, this version does a lot more to contrast itself from the Raimi/Maguire model than just adding "Amazing" to the title — for better or worse.
Characterization: The biggest difference between the two films is the characterization of Peter Parker. Garfield, at 28, is only a year older than Maguire was when he played the teen Parker, but Garfield is taller, darker, more handsome, and much less boyish. Though The Amazing Spider-Man makes mild attempts at portraying Parker as a high school outcast, he's a lot more Rebel Without a Cause than Freaks and Geeks. He wears dark colors, he broods, he rides his skateboard with an indie-folk soundtrack. In a nod to the comics, this Parker uses scientific know-how to make his own synthetic web devices. In the earlier version, Parker's mutation granted him the ability to shoot organic webbing from his wrists. This not only made a lot more sense in the context of the story but allowed for the ejaculation jokes that made Parker's transformation a snappy metaphor for typical teen hormonal changes. Verdict: Downgrade. This Parker is engaging but a little too cool for school.
Origin story: The Amazing Spider-Man sticks to the spider-bite conceit but builds up the backstory. Instead of a random occurrence on a school field trip, Parker's fateful insect encounter here comes via some sleuthing into his father's scientific past and risky infiltration into a shady corporate research lab. Verdict: Downgrade. Again, this is Peter Parker as junior Jason Bourne.
Foils and Love Interests: The first film went with crush object Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and baddie Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). The new version begins with Parker's other longtime romantic target, the cop's daughter Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and taps Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) as the prime villain. Verdict: Slight Downgrade. Stone is a more consistently interesting performer than Dunst. And Connors makes for a better villain storyline. But the deciding factor is the exchange of newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in the first films) for the less compelling presence of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary) as Spider-Man's skeptical civilian foil.
Action: This Spider-Man is a more tactile action film. In Raimi's initial Spider-Man, I found myself interested in Maguire's Peter Parker, but when he donned the mask and starting swinging, I lost interest. What should have been a cool visual instead felt like watching a blip of color dart around a computer screen. And that film's action climax was a noisy bore. In this version, the webbing feels more like a physical object and the 3D is effective without being obtrusive. Verdict: Upgrade.
Conclusion: It's not better than what came before, but The Amazing Spider-Man had to differentiate itself from its predecessor. In the summer of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, it's more of a mid-grade superhero flick. But it's a worthy one on the genre's own terms.
The Amazing Spider-Man
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