When this was first announced, the majority of the population followed a more negative path by saying how unnecessary this was and how it was just going to suck anyway. I, on the other hand, greatly anticipated this movie. And the more I heard about it or saw from it, the more excited I became. But… which one of us was right? This version of the story changes things up a bit and has Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) living with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) after his parents disappear due to some great conspiracy. But as he follows some new-found clues and tries to solve a little of the mystery, he finds himself at Oscorp and talking to an old friend of his parents, a geneticist named Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Peter ends up bit by a genetically enhanced spider and gains his powers, but also helps come up with a formula that regenerates limbs, much to the one-armed Dr. Connors’ delight. The doctor injects himself, but it backfires, and he becomes the deadly Lizard, wrecking havoc on the city. Meanwhile, Peter falls for the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (Denis Leary) just so happens to be the police captain that is after him. Oh, and Uncle Ben dies and all that stuff, too. (…spoiler alert?)
To all the people who complained about this being so unnecessary, I say it’s different enough from the Raimi trilogy to be worth it. In fact, it’s quite different. The origin story alone has been changed up. Key events still happen, but the details have changed. Ben doesn’t die waiting to pick up Peter from a wrestling match–Peter runs out after a fight, with Ben chasing after, and Peter doesn’t stop a robbery in a convenience store (I also loved the fun detail that the clerk’s name was T-Bone, much like the wrestler name Bonesaw). It’s things like that about the story that keep things fresh. But it’s not so drastically different that fans should be up in arms about the changes. The heart and soul of the story and its characters are still there.
Another key difference here is the emotion. This is a much more emotional film than the Raimi movies. This takes its time, builds up the characters and their relationships. It doesn’t play up the cheesiness like the originals, but rather focuses on the realism and how these are just like real people. The bullied gains power and becomes the bully. The bully (in this case Flash) isn’t totally heartless or some dumb brute. The characters are layered, and their relationships with each other are more detailed. When Ben dies this time around, it hit me harder. Why? Because you spend a good chunk of the movie seeing his connection to Peter. Not to mention Martin Sheen was an excellent choice for Uncle Ben.
But the film isn’t entirely serious, either. There’s a lot of humor. One of the things I was most excited about with this reboot was the fact they were bringing back Spider-Man’s snark. What Raimi never captured was the fact Spider-Man is a total smart-ass, always making little quips and talkin’ smack. This movie captured that perfectly. And a lot of that has to do with Andrew Garfield, I think, who brings us a troubled Peter, but also a quick and intelligent Spider-Man. But we can’t leave it up to him alone. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a far more interesting character to me than Mary-Jane Watson. Stone brings her usual quick wit to the character, adding a connection to Garfield’s Peter and giving them some fantastic chemistry. I felt a passion between those two and wanted to root for them to be together, while I only really rooted for Mary-Jane because I knew they were supposed to end up together in the end. And Emma Stone is drop-dead gorgeous.
The action is done well, in my opinion, as well. Spider-Man is a lot more agile. The original film had him show strength in hard hits and whatnot, but here we have a more acrobatic hero. He runs, climbs, swings, spins, dodges, and kicks a lot more. He also uses his webbing to attack a lot more, to blind, bind, gag, hit, etc. I suppose it’s really playing up to Andrew Garfield’s slimmer frame that we’re given this more acrobatic and really ‘animalistic’ fighter than the more brute force (for lack of a better term) the other version had. Though don’t get me wrong, we definitely see his strength in this movie. In fact, there’s a bit of a running joke about Peter accidentally breaking things throughout.
Where the film loses points is with some of its aesthetics. Remember those first person point of view shots in the early trailers? Yeah, there’s some of those here. They aren’t often, but they’re kind of jarring when they happen. And the one thing I was afraid of turned out to be my biggest issue–The CGI of The Lizard. It’s not terrible, but you can tell it’s CGI. And it’s strange, because there are scenes where you see Rhys Ifans with some reptilian make-up on parts of his body that look infinitely better than the actual creature. I wish they had gone for something more like that. Like I said, it’s not terrible, but I’m sure in another 5+ years, it’ll be pretty rough.
There have been a lot of complaints about the film seeming disjointed, about how the first half of the movie deals with Peter’s hunt for revenge, while the second half focuses on The Lizard, and the first half isn’t ever really wrapped up. Well, I think that’s the point. After gaining his powers, Peter abuses them. He becomes what he hates in people and uses his abilities for his own selfish gains. His first repercussion for this is, of course, Uncle Ben’s death, which actually just makes everything worse. But it’s really when we’re in that transitory state of the film and The Lizard makes his first attack that things turn around. Peter saves a child from a burning car and, while it’s not said, you can tell through Andrew Garfield’s fantastic acting that this is a pivotal moment. He realizes he needs to use his powers not for selfish gain or revenge, but to do good, to be responsible, and to move on and help others. That’s why he never finishes his revenge mission. His focus has changed because he, as a hero, has changed. It’s a transition we don’t really see in the original film, where he accidentally kills the shooter and just kinda becomes Spider-Man afterwards. And it’s a transition that really suits the more emotional aspects of this film well.
But overall, I think the film was a success. Does it drag a little in the first ‘origin’ half? Eh… maybe slightly, but I think the character building and updated story is worth it in the end. And I was slightly bummed they never said the signature catch-phrase (came close, though). It’s not a perfect movie, but in the realm of whether or not it was necessary… is any movie “necessary”? We’re talking about decades of story to play with here with multiple reiterations in the comics. So why not? It brought something fresh, made it entertaining, and despite the changes in story, kept the actual character aligned with the original version (and hooray for actual web-shooters!). It’s just a new vision, and one I’m glad they made.
(P.S. And yes, I’ll say it… better than Raimi’s Spider-Man.)