The Amazing Spider-Man : The “Ultimate” Spider-Man Film

Posted: July 5, 2012 by Brian in Comic Books, Film Review
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The Amazing Spider-Man

Image © Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

As The Amazing Spider-Man grew closer to its debut, the question just got louder and louder: With three madly successful Spider-Man films being released in just the last ten years, was it neccessary, or wise, to reboot the franchise and inflict a whole new Spider-Man on a public that was probably all Spider-Manned out? Did anyone need, or even want this film?

Well, I wanted it! Despite being generally well-crafted films that offered many small, ephemeral pleasures, the Spider-Man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker were, by and large, very disappointing to me. I was ready for someone to take another crack at Spidey’s story in a way that would better capture the feel and soul of the comic books I’d loved for so long.

I had been so let down by the Raimi movies, and the trailers for the reboot were so uniformly entertaining, that I definitely went into the theater wanting to love this movie. That could’ve had two possible results—either my expectations would be so high that no matter how good it was I’d be disappointed, or my desire to enjoy it would make me more forgiving than it deserved.

So you can take this bottom line with a grain of salt, but when all was said and done I loved it. The Amazing Spider-Man was every inch the Spidey film this long-time Spider-fan has been jonesing for.

Amazing Spider-Man #7 Cover

The Amazing Spider-Man #7, December 1963 (Image © Marvel)

Back in 1963, the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #7 bore the following blurb: “Here is Spider-Man as you like him… Fighting! Joking! Daring!” Well, that blurb could also apply to The Amazing Spider-Man the movie, especially after…

Well, for me to explain why this movie worked so well for me, I have to spend some time explaining why the Raimi movies so thoroughly didn’t.

First and foremost among my issues was the lack of smack-talk. For me, that’s not a minor detail that I’m nerd-obsessing over, it’s an aspect of the character without which he just isn’t that character anymore. For those who haven’t heard me belabor this point ad nauseum on the Podwits Podcast and other places online: it’s my firmly-held opinion that a huge part of the very essence of Spider-Man is his non-stop wisecracks during fights. Whether you view it as a repressed bookworm feeling liberated by the anonymity of wearing a mask, or a scared everyman whistling past the graveyard so he won’t soil his homemade red-and-blue tights when faced with yet another super-powered murderer, when he’s in action as Spider-Man he never shuts up. That’s as central to the character as the Hulk’s muscles or Superman’s middle-American, Boy Scout morality. For whatever reason, the Spider-Man of the Raimi movies was a strangely quiet Spidey, whose few in-costume utterances shared the weird earnestness that kept Maguire’s Peter Parker from being very compelling to me.

Similarly, Raimi and Kirsten Dunst managed to take Mary Jane Watson, long one of the most appealing and vivacious women in comics, and drain her of all her essential sparkle and verve. Dunst’s MJ seemed to me to be a stoner chick whose sleepy-eyed detachment was the antithesis of everything the Mary Jane of the comics had always been.

Lastly, despite their energy and shiny slickness, the web-swinging scenes (another absolutely foundational and indispensible part of any Spider-Man endeavor) always seemed a little artificial. More often than not, they felt computer generated. That overall sense of unreality combined with Maguire’s low-key performance to complete my lack of connection, as a fan, to that incarnation of my favorite superhero.

Marc Webb’s new take, starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, addresses those issues in a madly entertaining fashion by taking a very different approach to both Peter’s character and the physicality of his Spider-heroics.

Ultimate Spider-Man #43

Ultimate Spider-Man #43, September 2003 (Image © Marvel)

Where Maguire’s Peter Parker was an awkward, tongue-tied sad-sack who took the comic-book Peter’s perenially put-upon nature and magnified it to be his defining characteristic, Webb and Garfield present Peter as an outsider whose mind sets him apart from his peers, and whose smart-aleck mouth is just as much a cover for his social uncertainty as it is an outlet for his barely-checked anger at being mysteriously abandoned by his parents at a young age. Even before the fateful spider bite, this Peter Parker was someone I could enjoy watching, someone I could root for and even identify with (at least, if I were as young as I was when I first encountered our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler). In fact, with that repressed anger and tendency to mouth off before he thinks, Garfield’s Peter felt to me way more similar to the Peter Parker of Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man than the quietly earnest bookworm Lee and Ditko created in the ’60s.

That Ultimate Spider-Man influence actually pervades much of The Amazing Spider-Man. For instance, like in USM, Norman Osborn’s Oscorp is a huge presence in the plot and a huge part of the Spider-Man origin story presented here. And frankly, while they gave Gwen Stacy the blonde hair, headbands, knee boots and police-captain dad of the comics’ Gwen, in terms of her personality and her relationship with Peter she’s 100% Ultimate Mary Jane on the inside.

That’s a compliment. Emma Stone does a lot of that heavy lifting with a performance that truly deserves the overused term “luminous.” Not only does she make it easy to see why Peter falls head over heels for her, but she imbues her Gwen with such intelligence and integrity that it’s easy to see why she’s attracted to Peter’s decency and sharp mind. And when the stuff starts hitting the fan, you’re right there with Peter in wanting to reach out and hug her and protect her.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Image © Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

In fact, Garfield and Stone are the heart of this movie, and it’s better for it. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of time is given to Peter’s discovery of and experimentation with his new superpowers, as well as his family situation—Martin Sheen is phenomenal, making this the single best telling of Uncle Ben’s story in either comic or movie form, while Sally Field is definitely underutilised as Aunt May, but shows that she’ll be a strong, Ultimate-style May with backbone as opposed to the traditionally elderly, ailing aunt that Rosemary Harris played in the Raimi films. Attention is paid to the development of his costume, and the film’s entirely new take on Spider-Man’s webs and their origin was fabulous.

But Peter and MJGwen have a cute, very natural-feeling chemistry on-screen, and their stammering flirtations and self-deprecating fumbling towards romance felt just as sweet and believable as I wanted it to be. Their relationship, deservedly, becomes the heart around which the rest of the movie emotionally revolves, and even the Big Superhero Violence (involving a convincingly powerful Lizard and an insane plot to gas New York City) ultimately seems subservient to that core. That’s a good thing, people, ’cause only when these kind of fantasy shenanigans are that well-grounded can the obligatory punch-’em-ups matter in any meaningful way.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Image © Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

That said, the superheroics might have been subservient, but they are there in spades and very nicely done too. Webb pays plenty of attention to the process of being Spider-Man, with a delightful variety of ideas that satisfied me completely. One minute Peter’s testing the limits of his acrobatic new abilities by balancing on a rooftop ledge on two fingers, then later we slow it way down as he constructs a web in the New York City sewers and uses his web strands as sounding lines, listening with his whole body for vibrations that will locate his adversary. Even the occasional moments when we see him clamber, rather than crawl, up a building give the viewers a sense of the effort and difficulty even superheroes must overcome, and convey a weight and physicality that was just missing from the high-speed action of the Raimi trilogy.

So, to sum up, by dumping a liberal helping of Ultimate Spider-Man into a much-needed (IMO) re-telling of Spider-Man’s traditional origin story, and by maintaining an appropriate focus on the parts of the story that really matter, Marc Webb and his spectacular cast have given us a Spider-Man film that doesn’t skimp on the Big Superhero Stuff or the little, heartfelt stuff, and in the process have made, at long last, the Spider-Man movie I’ve always wanted. I can only say thank you.

Comments
  1. Kuma Baity says:

    I had to disagree because the fact that the actor didn’t portray the Parker I knew as a kick and there was too much of the Dawson Creek style situations. I did enjoy the fact that it was a lot darker, but they did not give off the right emotion from the first film with Ben Parker, the relationship was a lot more loving in the first movie vs. this one. By the way they didn’t even use the famous line that made him understand his whole ability in the first place. So far I loved the graphics and the web shooters, but it could of been executed a lot better. I would of wanted them to use the Hob Goblin leading off to the Green Goblin or if they didn’t want to start of with the Green Goblin start with the mob syndicate first with Rhino, introduce him as a bit of a new villain for the public. That is just my take from the movie.

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