FBOL Editor-in-Chief Rich Drees posted his review of this film yesterday, and he’s already been taken to task in the comments over it. Well, as much as I hate to take him to task again, I will, albeit, hopefully, in a more professional manner. Because I liked the movie far more than he did.
I agree with Rich that it’s nigh impossible to look at this film without comparing it to 2000’s Spider-Man, because like Sam Raimi’s film, it is an origin story that takes several beats from the comic book origin. Yes, you’ll have the scene where Peter Parker get bitten by a spider. You’ll get the killing of Uncle Ben, you’ll get the costume creating montage. And after each of these moments, you’ll be taken back to the original Raimi film. Some moments may compare favorably, some may not, your mileage may vary.
But once you get past the origin part of the story, where the similarities seem the strongest, this film begins to go its own way. This version of Spider-Man is more grounded in reality, or as close to reality any movie featuring a mutated seven-foot lizard man can get. And it is also a modernized version of Spider-Man as well. Raimi’s Spider-Man had an ageless quality to him, that with a small change of set dressing Tobey Maguire’s version of the character could have been from the 1950s or 1960s as much as he was from the 2000s. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is set in the now, a world of cell phones and You Tube and skateboards. Neither version of better than the other, in my opinion, but both are valid takes on the iconic character.
I think that Rich missed a lot of the subtlety of the characterization of Peter Parker, because if he didn’t, I’m sure that a lot of his complaints about the film would have been answered. Peter Parker, as brilliantly played by Andrew Garfield, is a young man who never knows the right thing to do. This causes him to hem and haw while asking out a girl who is throwing herself at him. It also causes him to believe that humiliating the bully who humiliated him is the best course of action. With this as a prologue, his desire to hunt down the man who killed his uncle seems completely believable. It’s what Peter, blinded by grief and anger, thinks would be the best way to make amends for, and to relieve his guilt over, inadvertently causing his uncle’s death.
While it is true that the death of Uncle Ben was used as the instigator of Spider-Man’s using his powers for unselfish means in both the comics and the Raimi films, it wouldn’t work here with the characterization up to that point and, trying to avoid spoilers, the way this movie changes the death of Uncle Ben. The scene where Peter finally realizes the effect of his uncle’s words about taking responsibility for his actions comes later during what I will call the “bridge scene,” the point of which Rich obviously either missed or didn’t give proper emphasis to.
Once again, to avoid spoilers, I’ll simply say it’s where the Lizard makes his first appearance and Spidey saves a bunch of lives (facts which the trailer spoiled). It’s here where Peter learns that with great power comes with great responsibility. It’s here where he learns that he is the only person qualified to take on this menace (and barely qualified at that) and that if he doesn’t take action, many, many people will die. Uncle Ben’s words finally sink in. It’s is here where Peter’s story arc curves and he, as a character, changes and grows. And this new sense of responsibility carries through to the end of the film.
The film is full of deep emotional resonance, inspired directing by Marc Webb, finely crafted scenes (the dinner scene where Peter meets Gwen Stacy’s family is especially sharp and proves that Denis Leary is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood), and subtle moments that make for an enjoyable film. The way they treat Gwen Stacy is especially refreshing. With a stunning acting performance from Emma Stone, who is quickly becoming the greatest actress of her generation, Gwen is not the superhero film stereotype of “The Girlfriend In Peril.” She is an equal, if not a superior, to Peter in many ways. And while the film places her in jeopardy at times, it’s not for a stupid reasons, but for heroic acts and always with her knowing the dangers of her actions.
Comic fans should appreciate the film’s interpretations of George Stacy and Flash Thompson, which, while not carbon copies of their comic book inspirations, captured the spirit of them well enough to please a long time Spidey fan like me. And the film’s obligatory Stan Lee cameo is one of his funniest yet.
This is not to say the film is a perfect film. It’s not. There are a number of bad plot contrivances such as mind-numbing coincidences (Who is the guide for the tour of Connor’s lab? Why Gwen Stacy of course! And naturally the secret formula Peter’s dad left behind in an old briefcase would be the formula Connors needed to finish his work!) and glaring gaps of logic (in addition to the Internet search thing Rich mentioned, Peter has his secret identity spoiled by leaving behind his camera, complete with a “Property of Peter Parker” placard at a battle scene. Why didn’t he also leave a class schedule and a list of his fears along with it?). But these are but blips on the radar for an otherwise enjoyable film.