Andrew Garfield | Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Movies: The Not So "Amazing" Spider-Man

Spider-sits
Andrew Garfield pondering the mask that brings the cash

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS

YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

Déjà vu  is an unsettling feeling. You can’t quite place the why and whens of it but you know you’ve experienced whatever this is before. Not so with the reboot of Spider-Man which has been optimistically retitled “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” for 2012.  The new webslinging film arrives only five years after Spider-Man 3, that final sour note in Sam Raimi’s otherwise sweet trilogy. This déjà vu iseasy to place with the “whens” and thus less unsettling if still perplexing on account of the “whys”. We’re back to summer 2002 when Peter Parker first pined for a high school sweetheart, first indirectly contributed to his uncle’s murder, first learned that with great power comes great responsibility, and first swung around a big screen Manhattan in his iconic red and blue spandex.
 
Franchises are the comfort food of the movies and though there’s nothing wrong with comfort food beyond its lack of nutritional value, so much depends on the delivery when it comes to the familiar pleasure. The Amazing Spider-Man spins its title card with webbing very swiftly which leaves you hoping for a zippy entertainment with key twists on the mythos to keep you engaged. But after a new corporate thriller prologue featuring Peter Parker’s heretofore unseen parents the movie settles into excessively familiar story beats. We’re forced to wait out the entire numbing origin story again and relive many story beats from the 2002 origin story, with the only major exclusions being the absence of Parker's employment at The Daily Bugle (weird) and no James Franco shaped obstacle to his girl’s affections. Other than that only the names of the major characters have changed: Blonde Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) stands in for Redhead Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) as the love interest Peter likes to photograph; Dr Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) stands in for Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) as the scientist Peter looks up to whose illegal human experimentation (on himself!) wreaks havoc on his mental stability and turns him into an ugly green baddie.

Spider-kiss

MORE AFTER THE JUMP


Director Marc Webb, who made a whimsical splash with his debut film (500) Days of Summer seemed like an inspired choice for reviving the pop romantic sensibility of Spider-Man but nothing between Gwen & Peter ever lands with the force of that upside down kiss. What the new-but-also-old Spider-Man has going for it is a stronger sense of the hero's extremely flexible physicality and fighting style (Andrew Garfield has been doing his yoga).

Spider-pose

Webb comes through with a few instances of visual invention like a scene where Spider-Man creates an entire web in the sewers to function as a motion detector and a POV shot from the superhero’s swinging point of view which featured in an early teaser. Otherwise it’s mostly more of the same which might not be such an enormous problem in a less superhero satured movie culture.
 
Spider-framePeter Parker is still Peter Parker. Sort of.

Tobey Maguire has stepped aside for Andrew Garfield and at first Peter Parker 2.0 seems like an improvement since his lanky frame looks so very right in the skin tight Spider suit and the screenplay hands him the kind of wisecracks that comic book readers missed in Raimi's trilogy. But eventually Garfield’s long limbed swagger and emotive confidence as a screen actor starts to chafe against the character... at least when he's out of spandex.  It’s all just too easy for him. Though he tears up frequently there’s none of the awkward growing pains that marked Tobey Maguire dazed portrayal. This Peter's “awkward” flirtations with Gwen Stacy are so crush-worthy that they feel less like an everyman nerd’s discomfort and more like a pick-up gimmick, like Peter 2.0 can’t imagine not nabbing the girl. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield have fine onscreen chemistry (and offscreen chemistry too as it turned out) but their romance never once feels like the happy miracle of the Maguire / Dunst pairing, just a given from the first Meet Awkward frame. Maguire vs. Garfield is Corny Sincerity vs Cocky Heroics... so I suppose it's a matter of taste.

This Spider-Man also loses the pop pleasure of Raimi's brightly colored palette (I blame Batman that most superhero movies, The Avengers aside, prefer to be dark and gritty now) and the sly joking about sexual adolescence (no sticky fluids escape Parker’s body this time that he didn’t plan on). Worst of all it has none of the joyful sense of discovery (admittedly harder to capture the fourth time around).  In short it's less magical. Not “Amazing” at all.
 
Dr, Curt Connor’s one-armed tragedy is that in seeking to do good with cross species genetics (he hopes to restore lost limbs to combat veterans via reptilian DNA), he does evil instead. The Amazing Spider-Man’s best new image comes via Connors first transformation when he wakes to find a malformed log-like appendage where his new arm should be. He begins tearing at it with his good hand, and it turns out to be only a shell, a scaly arm cocoon. A fresh slimy new human hand emerges from its ruins. The new arm soon fails him in multiple ways. It’s a stunning icky image and even a handy metaphor for the movie. Sony would like to regrow their billion dollar franchise but this new attempt only looks promising. Dr. Curt Connors has never quite solved the problem of macular degeneration and the movie studio hasn’t really answered the question of “why does this exist?” beyond, of course, new piles of easy cash.

Lizard-sewer

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. I really don't understand the point of telling the origin story all over again?!

    Posted by: jaragon | Jul 6, 2012 10:16:48 PM


  2. I've read reviews saying that if they kept with the first trilogy and just hired new actors, the audience would have been more forgiving.

    Posted by: Robert | Jul 6, 2012 10:22:08 PM


  3. I couldn't disagree more with Nathaniel. I think this is a vast improvement over the Maguire version of Spiderman. I like Garfield's vulnerability and his complexity. I like Emma Stone's ever-present wit.

    If you know the Myers-Briggs Interest Indicator then you will understand the next sentence. Where Maguire's Spiderman was a "thinker," I find Garfield's "feeling" version of spiderman much more enjoyable and approachable. Gwen Stacey does not hold back, she is aware and she goes for it. Including going for the sexy new spider-dude who is not a eunuch. You have to admit Nathaniel, the spandex really accentuates his ass and it looks perfect.

    I love Martin Sheen and Sally Field as the aunt and uncle. Again they acted well and brought heart to the screen. There will be no screams and hospital beds for Sally Field's Aunt May and I LIKE THAT!! The characters that are balanced in heart and mind and action.

    Posted by: The Polar Beast | Jul 6, 2012 10:25:39 PM


  4. just saved me from going to see it at the theater

    Posted by: Grover Underwood | Jul 6, 2012 11:00:18 PM


  5. I agree with the Polar Beast. We saw Spidey on Tuesday night and absolutely LOVED it!!! The story is more dark, grim, and adult-oriented. It's a big step-up from Maguire and Raimi's version of the story. I loved it so much that first thing after seeing my patients tomorrow at the hospitals, I'm going to see it again!

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | Jul 6, 2012 11:02:18 PM


  6. I LOVE comic book movies, but will not see this one in protest. There are so many more characters that need their story told. They could at least have made it "Spiderman and his Amazing Friends". I know there is a whole Sony vs Marvel thing happening, but a guy can dream.

    Posted by: Billy | Jul 6, 2012 11:27:36 PM


  7. Totally disagree with this review. A perfect example that you should not listen to critics. The film was excellent and Garfield was also.

    Posted by: Matt | Jul 6, 2012 11:50:19 PM


  8. First, very few people would kick Toby Maguire out of bed . . . I know I would not . . . but it is stupid to prefer Andrew Garfield's Spider Man to Toby's Spider Man just because Andrew Garfield looks better in the spandex suit.

    Of course that is a matter of opinion.

    But Nathaniel is right. There is no mystery, no joyful discovery with Garfield's Peter Parker . . . not with the metamorphosis, nor his relationship with the girl.

    The Peter Parker character was supposed to be the ninety pound weakling on the beach who suddenly finds himself buff, and able to stand up to the bully who kicked sand in his face. He was awkward, as most adolescents are.

    The difference between Maguires portrayal and Garflield's is the palatable difference between a serious motion picture, with true-to-life depictions of teenage awkwardness and angst, and the the BS one sees on the CW network where the kids looks and act like their in their late twenties, covered in a false veneer of adolescent behavior, which they mostly accomplish by juxtaposing the alleged teen actors against the older actors who act like old fuddy duddies.

    How sad that two great actors like Martin sheen and Sally Field have nothing better to do but lend credibility to Garfield's inauthentic portrayal of a teenager.

    What we liked about the original Spider Man was the fantasy of the nerd becoming extraordinary. So, maybe Garfield fills the suit, but he hardly filled Maguires shoes.

    Posted by: Ricco | Jul 6, 2012 11:59:25 PM


  9. I don't see the point in doping a remake so soon. Usually one does not do a remake until the original actors are either dead or so old that the current demographic never even heard of the original movie, let alone seen it.

    Hollywood clearly has run out of ideas.

    Posted by: Ricco | Jul 7, 2012 12:02:07 AM


  10. I very much agree with Ricco.

    Posted by: Armando | Jul 7, 2012 12:47:59 AM


  11. I really hated Raimi's trilogy from start to finish - with exception of a great turn by Alfred Molina, I found them all plodding and completely miscast. I saw ASM at midnight opening night and was surprised and how much I enjoyed it, even though we have seen the origin story before. It wasn't perfect, but it was miles ahead of those films and I'm actually glad they hit the reset button here. If only I had as much faith that MAN OF STEEL will be any good...

    Posted by: Jay | Jul 7, 2012 12:58:53 AM


  12. I disagree with Nathaniel. I don't know what you were expecting, a new Spiderman? An amazing philosophical and cinematic wonder on a comic book hero? The movie did great.

    Posted by: A_gay_guy | Jul 7, 2012 12:59:05 AM


  13. Oh, and about remakes? Hollywood's been remaking films since it started - silent into talkies, black and white to color and a thousand variations on LOVE STORY & A STAR IS BORN. "Rebooting" has been doing this since we sat around campfires and made them up. Also: continuing superhero movies is very different than a shot-by-shot PSYCHO. I've heard "Hollywood is out of ideas" my whole life. I don't buy it.

    Posted by: Jay | Jul 7, 2012 1:01:55 AM


  14. I thought the move is about and hour too long.

    Posted by: Dave | Jul 7, 2012 1:02:52 AM


  15. I thought the move is about and hour too long.

    Posted by: Dave | Jul 7, 2012 1:02:53 AM


  16. Nathaniel's Review was Completely Biased and Way Wrong!!! Andrew Garfield was AMAZING ( sorry about the Pun..LOL )... and his take on Peter Parker was Awesome.... he is Nerdy and Sexy all at the same time and his Chemistry with the Gorgeous Emma Stone was pure Dynamite !! Somewhere deep inside I want her to play a Duel role also as Mary Jane Watson (nee Parker)... just to keep them together.... I love Sam Raimi, but this was vastly better directed and way more true to the Original Makeup ( No Inner Webbing, which to me made NO sense in the Originals) all the Lead Actors were awesome....I hope parts 2 and 3 of this Planned Trilogy add more Spiderman Villians not included before as such as RHINO, KRAVEN, ELECTRO( which i believe would be an Incredible Next Villian)... i say this Movie is the Best By A Mile of the others... I do agree Alfred Molina's DOC OCK would be hard to top...

    Posted by: Martin | Jul 7, 2012 1:35:49 AM


  17. I have not seen it yet, but what Nathaniel says about Garfield's performance intrigues me -- and reminds me about the one weakness I saw in Maguire's otherwise terrific performances. I've read a lot of Spidey comics, and what's interesting about the character is that he might be a nerd in day-to-day life, but when he dons the costume he becomes cocky, quipping and confident. I didn't get that from Maguire, but now I want to see if Garfield brings some of that to the role.

    Posted by: BrianM | Jul 7, 2012 1:40:55 AM


  18. Could not disagree more with this review, this Spiderman was far and away a better movie. We entered expecting an ok film too soon to reboot and left with - wow that was really, really good.

    Posted by: Kevin | Jul 7, 2012 2:18:18 AM


  19. While this is a better movie than any of the previous ones, its unwanted, unnecessary, and out far too soon.

    I saw it under protest and didnt really enjoy it although part of the problem is that I find Garfield intensely dislikeable.

    Posted by: Rovex | Jul 7, 2012 2:25:28 AM


  20. I just went and saw the movie today. I have to agree about the "been-there-done-that' feel to it. The strange secrecy about Peter's parents was fun and new and showing Gwen Stacey as the first love of Peter's life (as it was in the comics--not M.J.) was good. Other than that, the picture is interesting for the visuals only. Andrew Garfield was perfectly fine, as were the other actors. It just seemed to lack a certain something--freshness?

    Posted by: woodroad34d | Jul 7, 2012 2:27:39 AM


  21. Gonna have to disagree with this review; THE POLAR BEAST posted a more accurate one in the comments.

    I especially enjoyed Sally Field's "Aunt May" and Martin's "Uncle Ben" -- both parts were far better acted in this version than the two in 2002's Spider Man.

    Oh and I'd agree with Billy's sentiment, too. There are many other decently known comic book heroes with interesting stories that would be entertaining and appealing enough for a mass audience, not just comic fans. And with modern graphics and CGI, there is no longer the excuse that a comic would be too fantastical to bring to the big screen.

    Posted by: sparks | Jul 7, 2012 3:43:21 AM


  22. Origin stories are always coming-of-age stories and, as such, are classics. That's why they're retold, and re-viewed.

    I think Rogers is right in saying that how well you like Amazing Spiderman is a matter of taste. I loved Raimi's first film, but I didn't care for its obviously artificial and vintage quality. The setting and portrayals could have been 1940s New York. Plus, as appealing as Tobey Maguire's portrayal was, I never believed that he could throw a punch.

    In Amazing Spiderman, the setting is both more realistic and contemporary. Garfield and Stone are more knowing and sexual characters. Sex never entered Raimi's version of Spiderman.

    Rogers does not give the stunt work enough credit. The swinging Spiderman is totally believable and looks like the superhero in the comics. That's because Webb made more use of real people than CGI.

    For me, this was a very entertaining film on its own.

    Posted by: Guy | Jul 7, 2012 5:13:23 AM


  23. Is it as good as Raimi's first flick? No. But it laid the pieces down for the next one. I wish they (Sony) skipped the origin story and just jumped into their own plot, but there are key differences they're making with this new franchise and I don't blame them for wanting to introduce those ideas in a full origin piece.

    My guess is the next film will play off ideas brought forward in this film, including Peter Parker's parents (as Peter learns more about what happened to him) and Gwen Stacey... who is a very different character than Raimi's Mary Jane... which was basically a slighly more likable and pretty version of Bella. Stacey kicks butt.

    So while I think this one is only okay, it put more than enough out there to be excited for the next one.

    Posted by: Ryan | Jul 7, 2012 5:36:54 AM


  24. Other than the Star Trek francise, these rebooted series just hold no interest to me. The more they tool with what was done masterfully in the past, the less I want to see them.

    Posted by: 99% | Jul 7, 2012 8:11:38 AM


  25. While I love comics and enjoy many comics-based films, there's no way I'm going to see this. It already felt tired in the trailer.

    If they wanted to change the cast, etc... FINE, but tell a new facet of the story. It just seems unnecessary and wasteful to me. Glad others are enjoying it though.

    Posted by: Elias Barton | Jul 7, 2012 8:41:35 AM


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