I used to watch the “Spider-Man” TV series from the ’90s every weekend when I was a kid, which was, I don’t know, say, 2 or so years ago. But really, I’m not sure how old I was when I watched it- probably 7 or 8? Regardless, I loved that show. I had previously fallen in love with the similar “X-Men” series that was made around the same time, so loving “Spider-Man” was the logical next step in a boy’s life. Waking up every Saturday morning to follow a funny, flawed, fantastic hero like Peter Parker as he saved his friends and his girlfriends from over-the-top supervillains like Doc Ock and Mysterio was my idea of an adventure. It’s funny, because looking back, poor Peter Parker never had much good happen to him, and yet I would pretend to be him in my mind. I don’t know why my boyhood self related so well to those cartoons; maybe it was because Parker had something worth fighting for. What he did meant something in that show, never mind how tortured he was. I think I wanted that for my life.
There’s a new Spider-Man in my life now, and it brought me back to that same feeling of significance that the cartoon offered me. The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb (who helmed the Pulp Fiction remake (500) Days of Summer), swung into this summer on a wave of both trepidation (Didn’t we just see one of these? Didn’t it suck?) and hype (Wait, this one doesn’t suck.), and, thank goodness, they stuck the landing. It’s a fun yet strangely weighty, romantic yet kind of edgy, cheesy but sort of touching, popcorn, comic-book movie*. I loved it.
Now let’s be clear on a couple things: this was way too soon for a Spidey reboot. Sam Raimi’s first two movies were unabashed in their comic-bookiness, but they also happened to be great movies with well-plotted stories and character development that other comic book movies (ahem-X-Men-ahem) should have been extremely jealous of. They set a high standard for superheroes in cinema. This Spider-Man is about as good as Raimi’s first, which is great news, but it’s awful timing. Sure, the last Spider-Man movie was the third one, and we all know how that one turned out. So Marc Webb and co. have to be happy that that’s the freshest film in people’s minds, and not the great second one. But it’s also coming out smack-dab between the biggest movies of the year: The Avengers, which blew away all expectations in both quality and money-making, and The Dark Knight Rises, which will probably outgross Avengers. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t really distinguish itself, and next to such heavyweights, it feels like it’s lacking something.
And just because I want to get all the criticism out of the way so I can talk about what was awesome about the movie, the been-there-done-that-ness** of Amazing Spider-Man is more than just the fact that it’s too soon, isn’t it? We’ve seen this Lizard story before, and it was called Doctor Octopus. And, frankly, it was better in Spider-Man 2. Rhys Ifans is fine, but his Dr. Curt Connors is woefully underwritten.
All that being said, I had a great time watching this movie. It was a joy to watch the chemistry between Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Their romance is the one thing that has the chance of keeping this movie in our memories beyond the release of The Dark Knight Rises. They’re awkward and earnest and they fight for each other. They don’t have any of the manufactured problems that so many movies insert into their couples’ lives to create the illusion of drama. These kids like each other, and we like to watch them like each other. How simple! I want to see more of them.
Andrew Garfield is also effective in his no-Gwen-Stacy scenes, especially those with Parker’s Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen. Uncle Ben loves his son, and has some great fatherly scenes. In fact, the first half of the movie, which focuses on their relationship, is one of the most affecting parts of the movie. This Uncle Ben has a good rapport with his nephew, and his wise words to Peter in the first half contribute to the significance of Peter’s journey. This significance lasts throughout the whole movie; we fully feel that Peter needs to be Spider-Man, that he has that oft-discussed responsibility stemming from more than just his power this time around, but from an obligation to those he loves, which is closer to the comic book. On top of that foundation, Marc Webb gives us some good action that is more grounded in reality than in the Raimi movies. This Spider-Man looks like he has some weight and as if his fights are legitimately a struggle for him. Surely fighting a gigantic man-lizard isn’t easy.
I want to ensure that you understand I thought this was a very good movie. They did quite a bit right, and my fandom of Spider-Man can go on unharmed. All criticism aside, I’m excited to see what they do with the next one, and maybe that one won’t feel as poorly timed.
*The Avengers had twice this many possible adjectives.
**You can add “-ness” to the end of anything and it becomes a word. Try it!