This review may contain spoilers, though if you’ve seen any Spider-Man films or read the comics, there’s really nothing you probably don’t already know…
I must admit to not being a fan of the origin story. I didn’t start reading most comics at issue #1, so it’s not like my appreciation for the X-Men, Hulk or Spider-Man came initially from their origin. I’m much more interested in seeing the characters I dig get in there and have adventures instead of dwelling on where they came from. I knew Daredevil was blind with enhanced senses; I liked him, didn’t care how he got that way.
With comic book movies, more often than not, we have to start with the origin. Which is fine and I understand it, but for a few exceptions, the sequels have generally been where I’ve found the most enjoyment (for example, X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight; we had to deal with many origin flicks just to get to the more fun Avengers). When I heard that the Spider-Man film franchise was getting a reboot, my first thought was, “oh, please, NOT the origin story again.” Raimi’s Spider-Man is just barely over 10 years old at the time of this reboot’s release, so it didn’t seem necessary to give us the back story again, especially considering Raimi himself revisited it in Spider-Man 3 when he tried to shoehorn in some drama between Spidey and Sandman.
But here we are with The Amazing Spider-Man, and the origin story we all know so well is back. Well, sort of. This time around we get some information regarding Peter Parker’s parents and their hasty escape from someone or something that resulted in young Peter being left to live with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).
Cut to many years later, and Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is in high school. Unlike the dweeby Peter of previous films, this time around Peter is tall, gangly, skateboard-friendly and arguably more smolderingly awkward outcast than straight-up nerd. And instead of a love for Mary Jane, Peter has eyes for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) is still a muscle-headed prick, though.
When Peter finds a folder containing some bioengineering algorithms in his father’s old briefcase, he sets out to talk to his dad’s former science partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), currently in the employ of OsCorp. It is in this visit to OsCorp that Peter not only sees that Gwen is an intern for the one-armed Dr. Connors, but they’re also attempting to cross the favorable genetic properties of certain animals, such as the limb-regrowing lizard, with human DNA. Of course Peter finds himself in a room full of genetically-modified spiders, gets bitten and the path to his super-powered life begins.
As Peter works through his new physical super-abilities (yeah, sure, no one at school will bat an eyelash that he’s suddenly capable of dunking a basketball from half court), he also begins working with Dr. Connors, sharing the contents of the folder his father was obviously trying to hide. One late night arrival at home leads to a fight with Uncle Ben, and Peter storms off in anger. Uncle Ben pursues and runs afoul of a robber’s pistol, a robber that Peter let escape from the convenience store they were both in, and Uncle Ben dies. Peter gets angry, and sets out to use his super-powers to hunt down the robber, eventually evolving his look and behavior to match the Spider-Man we all know and love. Well, except for Gwen Stacy’s dad (Denis Leary), who is a police captain actively hunting down Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, the algorithm Peter shared with Dr. Connors leads to Dr. Connors finally succeeding in his lizard-gene experiments, and while he is excited to eventually re-grow his own arm, he instead wants to get the kinks worked out through non-human trials first. Which would be fine, but his employer, OsCorp, wants human trials immediately and sets out to start them on the veteran hospital patients, with or without Dr. Connors’s blessing.
In reaction, Dr. Connors tests on himself and the experiment both works and fails; he re-grows his arm, but then he turns into a giant, violent lizard. Thus, the super-villain known as the Lizard is born. As he begins to wreck havoc on the city, Spider-Man and the Lizard clash and the rest of the film rolls along as Spidey tries to defend the city from the new super-threat with Peter Parker navigates his relationship with Gwen Stacy.
For the most part, I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man, and rank it as the second-best in the cinematic Spideys, behind Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Then again, that’s not saying all that much, because I didn’t really like the first Raimi Spider-Man once they covered Willem Dafoe’s face with the Green Goblin helmet. I find this film pretty flawed too, but I did have more fun in the watching. I mean, the Stan Lee cameo alone is right up there at the top of Stan Lee cinematic moments (and lest anyone yell “Stan Lee cameo spoiler,” we all knew there’d be one).
The Amazing Spider-Man could’ve just as easily been named Spider-Man Unmasked, and it would’ve been appropriate considering how careless Parker is with protecting his secret identity throughout. Maybe it’s a case of the filmmakers not wanting to turn the film into a Power Rangers episode like the first Raimi flick eventually became, but the other extreme is just as silly. By the end of the film, pretty much everyone knows who Spider-Man is, or if not his name, at least what he looks like. Everyone except Aunt May, that is, who apparently thinks it is okay for her only responsibility to return home at all hours of the night beat up to s**t.
Which is actually something I dug, Spidey showing real nightly wear-and-tear from his adventures. He may have superpowers, but he’s not impervious to pain or other wounds, so seeing him beat-up gives us something fresh. The film also turns from the Raimi idea of organic webshooters back to the mechanical ones built by Peter himself, showing that Peter still has spider abilities, just not the ones that involve shooting webbing.
And there are other reboot differences, such as the oft-quoted, “With great power comes great responsibility” line that instead becomes something lengthier along the lines that one is responsible for any good that one can do, if they are in a position to do so. The Amazing Spider-Man also sets up OsCorp as some sinister corporation that not only knows who Peter Parker is, but also may be behind every disturbingly formative part of his life, in one way or another.
It is in defiance of OsCorp, and in an effort to stop unsuspecting human trials, that Dr. Connors first injects himself and falls prey to becoming the Lizard. While we get an idea that Connors has some dark past, especially concerning the Parkers, his role in The Amazing Spider-Man is one of sympathetic villain. He’s not all bad… but OsCorp might be.
For me, we don’t need some complicated back story regarding an evil corporation. It verges on attempting to rationalize and over-explain too much that doesn’t need to be that convoluted. Parker being bitten always worked fine as a simple accident, and everything else going haywire worked as separate incidents that came together later. Having a mysterious evil corporation behind it all is just so nighttime news, or an episode of Lost.
Regarding the love that blossoms between Peter and Gwen, while I’m sure some folks will find it the best part of the film (and they sure do focus an awful lot on it), I found it to be one of the weaker aspects of the story. They both work awkward into new heights of awkwardness in their courtship, but Peter Parker comes off as a real aloof douchebag in this flick. Not to spoil anything, but there are other ways one can keep their word to someone without being an a*****e at the same time.
In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man is fun and doesn’t really have any more or less plot issues or holes than most comic book films can have and, again, it is the second-best Spidey flick currently out there. I mostly had a good time, though I don’t know that it’ll stand up to repeat viewings; something tells me the issues I’ve got with it would only get worse if I see it again. Andrew Garfield definitely looks the part, though he perhaps broods more than I was hoping he would, and the film does set-up more flicks in the franchise. Now that we’re beyond the origin, maybe the next flick can deliver more. Based on the precedent set with the previous Spidey franchise, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt there.