Table Talk: The Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) ready to do battle with the Lizard in the streets of Manhattan. Anton: I can’t help but think of this film in relation to the first Spider-Man, since that one came out only 10 years ago, and the last in that franchise, Spider-Man 3, was just 5 years ago. I have to admit, while I like many aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man, I can’t help thinking it’s too soon. Did I need another Spider-Man origin story? Not really. But what else were they going to do? A lot of people hated the third film (not me), and, from a business standpoint, Sony had to shake that negativity.

Aren: I think it’s impossible to discuss this film without at least referencing the original Sam Raimi film, not as a means to illuminate differences but to point out the abounding similarities between these two films. I have no problem with another Spider-Man film, casting a different actor, or changing elements of the story to fit contemporary sensibilities. What I do have a problem with is making another origin story and making one that veers so close to the original take from 2002. For all the talk about this being the “Untold Story” of Peter Parker, this is actually pretty old pat.

Yes, Peter doesn’t wear glasses, is a kind of cool outsider instead of a nerd, and Gwen Stacy is his girlfriend, not Mary Jane, but again we have to go through so many familiar beats to get to the Spider-Man part. We spend so much time getting to know Peter Parker before he becomes Spider-Man that I beg the question: is there anyone in the audience who doesn’t already know who Peter Parker is? His origin story is myth. Just assume the audience understands it and move on. Ignore it. Better yet, start the film with Peter Parker already as Spider-Man and move on from there. Trust your audience and do something truly radical: i.e. not spend half the movie setting up the familiar origin of Spider-Man in ways that only superficially vary from what we’ve seen before. But perhaps I’m being too harsh on the film. It does the origin well. It merely does it too similar to the original Spider-Man to warrant its existence in some cases.

Anton: The fact that most of the changes are minimal also points to the larger issue of unnecessary remakes and Hollywood’s terminal inability to take risks, but I won’t get into all that right now.

Something new I did like was the cast. While I have no problems with Tobey Maguire’s dweeby version of Peter Parker, which suits Raimi’s goofy, fun version of Spider-Man, and while I’m surprised by the people who say they always hated Maguire all of a sudden, I do think Andrew Garfield makes an excellent Peter Parker. I believe him as a moody, somewhat antisocial, teenaged Peter. I also think Emma Stone was very good as Gwen Stacy, and I like that they made her smart and gave her character something to do other than scream and be rescued. I know a lot of girls and young women are fans of Stone, and I think Gwen will appeal to many of them.

Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) share a moment.

Aren: I definitely liked the actors too. Andrew Garfield always impresses me and for this particular take on Spider-Man, he is very good. While I may enjoy the nebbish nerdiness of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker more than Garfield’s moody outsider, Garfield really commands the film when he’s in the Spider-Man suit. His take on Spider-Man is everything I love from the comics. He is thin, acrobatic, uncertain. The way he moves is just right. He’s always quipping with the criminals he beats up.

Anton: He’s a kid pretending to be a superhero, not a superhero, which works well in the origin story.

Aren: Exactly. This is one element I definitely liked better here than in the original Spider-Man. Here, Peter Parker is unsure of whether he even wants to be a hero, and when he does decide to be a hero, he’s not very good at it. Garfield plays all that uncertainty beautifully up on the screen, even when he’s behind the mask. Regarding Emma Stone, her Gwen Stacy is definitely an improvement from Kristen Dunst’s Mary Jane, mostly because she is a more plucky, commanding female presence than Dunst. Perhaps some of her character appeal comes from the writing, which makes her more active than past superhero love interests, but Stone is quickly becoming a favourite of mine and she steals all the scenes she’s in. In fact, I actually wish the movie had had more Gwen. Stone deserves to be nothing less than a co-lead.

Anton: Stone and Garfield’s relationship is more awkward, more realistic. I’ll just add, though, that I never disliked Dunst. While the Peter-Gwen relationship seems more authentic, The Amazing Spider-Man does lack a romantic moment as memorable as the upside-down kiss in the rain. Some people thought it was cheesy, but it’s certainly entered the pantheon of shared movie moments.

Aren: To just cut in quickly, this film actually lacks the iconicness of the original, not only with this lack of a romantic scene, but with the lack of the “With great power comes great responsibility” line. No offense to Martin Sheen, who is good here, but the late Cliff Robertson is Uncle Ben, and that line delivery is one of the best ever. But, continue.

Anton: Some of the best scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man have a pleasing natural feel to them, and they’re frequently scenes that have little to do with Spider-Man or crime-fighting. I’m thinking of the awkward asking out in the school hallway. There’s a wide shot, as they walk away from each other, and Peter is looking around nervously and Gwen sort of twirls her binder, and I just thought it looked beautifully choreographed but very natural. I also liked the skateboarding to Coldplay scene. It seemed authentically joyful. On the other hand, Dr. Conner’s motivations, which are initially clear, deteriorate as he becomes Lizard. His maniacal plans seem required by the plot. Also, the stern promises and voice-over narration at the end seemed like the movie was trying too hard to be The Dark Knight.

Aren: The film did seem to slip occasionally into darkness for darkness’ sake, as if the fact that Peter is now a troubled teenager and not a lovable nerd inherently makes the film deeper, which it doesn’t. However, there are some very nice little sequences here. I actually loved the early crime-fighting scenes. The first time Spidey is out in his full costume and takes down the car thief is delightful. The way he tests out his web-shooters while mocking the thief’s weapon and empty threats — hilarious. I also enjoyed the quiet Peter and Gwen scenes at high school. They had a Freaks and Geeks feel to them, very authentic. In fact, I’m pretty sure Paul Feig (creator of Freaks and Geeks) did an uncredited rewrite on some of the high school scenes, so that’s the reason that similarity comes through. There’s also a great little shot of Doc Connors using the reflection on a glass to make it look like he has two arms, and it’s beautiful. I wish there were more perfect little moments like that in this film.

Where director Marc Webb shows that he’s a little lacking is in the action scenes. They’re fine, but you can tell this guy hasn’t shot any action before. He’s more comfortable in character moments than fight scenes. Unlike Raimi, he doesn’t have a neat visual style that lends itself over to action. At least the shots were stable and the camera movements were crisp. The 3D was pretty good too.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) discovering his powers on a NYC subway car.

Anton: I found the action sequences decent, but not very memorable, apart from Spider-Man’s quips. I like that Spidey gets beat up, but the bit with the cranes was too much for me. I have nothing against blue-collar workers, but did we really need a shout out to the hard working men of America in a superhero movie ostensibly about a troubled teenager? I mean, one of the workers stands strong for a moment in front of an American flag! Such scenes smack of studio interference, and if the hallway scene reminded me that Marc Webb directed the brilliant indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, then others reminded me that this movie is also a slick studio product. Notice all the cellphones?

Aren: That I did, though I liked that Spidey plays games on his phone while he’s waiting for the Lizard to show up. Speaking of that crane scene, it was a forced emotional moment and one of those scenes where I thought they were trying to replicate stuff done very well in the Raimi films. Nothing can top the train scene in Spider-Man 2 for Spidey inspiring heroism in ordinary people. For this film to try something so similar just seemed lazy of the writers.

Actually, the entire climax of the film was a little lacking. I liked the stuff involving Captain Stacy and Gwen, and even Spidey’s inability to beat the Lizard on his own, but the Lizard’s plot seemed taken right from the first X-Men film. Actually, the Lizard as a character seems entirely made from borrowed parts. Does every Spider-Man villain have to be a well-meaning scientist driven mad by his experiments? Doc Connors is very clearly established as a good guy early in the movie, but the moment he turns into Lizard, he just goes crazy. I get that the Lizard serum is supposed to make him nuts — just like Norman Osborn’s Oz makes him crazy and Doc Ock’s arms make him crazy — but it just seems weak motivation for a film’s big baddie. However, this is probably more a flaw of the Spider-Man villains as they’re written in the comics than the film itself.

Anton: Forgetting the other Spider-Man movies, The Amazing Spider-Man is good. But when you reboot a franchise so soon, I expect a significant reason why, and this movie fails to make itself the definitive, or even the best, Spider-Man movie. For me, Spider-Man 2 is superior. Rather than a serious refashioning of the character, this film is fresh start for the commodity. Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man is merely a solid repetition of the mythos. I give it 6 out of 10, mostly for Garfield and Stone.

Aren: The Amazing Spider-Man is about as good as 2002’s Spider-Man, but it is repetitive in a way the original film is not. I’m fine with two Spider-Man movie universes existing. If Raimi’s Spider-Man films are the classic comics from the ’60s, then The Amazing Spider-Man is Ultimate Spider-Man from the early 2000s. I just didn’t think the film was absolutely necessary. Necessity does not produce great art, but it can lend a certain vitality to a project that this film is a little lacking.

Just like last summer’s X-Men: First Class failed to take advantage of the opportunity to correct errors in its franchise continuity, The Amazing Spider-Man fails to take full advantage of the freedom to really reinvent Peter Parker. It’s a good movie, but it’s too conservative to qualify as a reboot. If anything, it’s a remake, and a fine one at that, but no more.

Anton: 6 out of 10 Aren: 6 out of 10

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Directed by Marc Webb; written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves based on a story by James Vanderbilt, based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, with Martin Sheen and Sally Field.