It’s been hard to tell how excited I’ve been before about Spider-Man being brought to the big screen as I rarely had too much excitement in the films that Sam Raimi directed and left me out of place with the whole hype centered around the franchise. When I was prepared for this new film by Marc Webb and how different it would be approached from Raimi’s vision, I felt that there would be something more promising to it in comparison to the campy cheesy take that Raimi used. I definitely felt that The Amazing Spider-Man was taking a more serious approach to the title character and his conflicts, as opposed to the rather silly approach Raimi took with Tobey Maguire’s baby-like performance, the campy humor, and the numerous stereotypes.
This time, Webb made Peter Parker a more edgier person in his emotions and his look, which Andrew Garfield explored far more deeply than Maguire, who played the character too innocently most of the time and barely sunk deeply into the alter ego of Peter other than wearing the suit and the mask. Garfield blended in more deeply with the identity of Parker as this troubled teenager who can convey dimensions of humor, anger, sadness, confusion, and courage all at the same time. Whenever he was in the suit, he was very agile and swift in his speed and conveyed a lot of witty personality as this masked vigilante, something Maguire didn’t get to show a lot of in his portrayal of the alter-ego. The moment we see him from a tracking perspective of his arms and legs climbing and jumping up the buildings until the reflection of him in his mask for the first time evokes real movie magic as he stands in a wide shot overlooking the whole city at dusk. We didn’t see much of a striking introductory shot of Spider-Man in the Raimi trilogy, he just kept suddenly appearing through montages on his daily routine of crime-fighting. His crime-fighting is also not as random in this movie since most of them revolve around hunting for the crook who killed his Uncle Ben and battling the Lizard, providing the film with more of a central focus to his heroism. Emma Stone creates a stronger heroine in Gwen Stacy, in contrast to the teary-eyed, wailing damsel-in-distress that Kirsten Dunst had to play in Raimi’s trilogy, as someone who is bright and beautiful at the same time. Her intelligence, her sharpness, and her wit comes across together so coherently as she becomes a deeply connected soul-mate for Peter and shows compassion for his plight, rather than complain about his absences or toying with his attraction to her. Her smiles and her directness really awaken a tender heart in all of us for her beauty and kindness that she’s very convincing as a dream girl of Peter’s life, while Mary Jane was just too girlish and average in her beauty to really come off as bewitching enough. Rhys Ifans brings a sympathetic and nervous energy to the troubled Dr. Connors, his regret over the disappearance of Peter’s parents, and his obsession to improve living species by any means of science. He had the right vibe for a character who is tragically broken and isn’t meaning to become a supervillain, although his transformation into the Lizard is visually astonishing and menacing to behold as he grows madly anxious to crush Spider-Man and infect the whole city with body-altering chemicals. It makes him a direct parallel to Spider-Man, who has been changed by the result of an experiment that his father and Connors worked on, yet is still able to preserve his humanity despite his altered state.
The whole mystery revolving around Peter’s deceased parents, the experiments his father was involved in, and Conner’s connection to their loss does arouse curiosity, yet the drawback to this complicated plot is that it provides no clear answer to what Peter is trying to figure out or as to what threat was posed to his parents that made them leave him with Uncle Ben and Aunt May for the rest of his childhood. The character of Dr. Ratha is the most curious character since he provides a lot of menace and mystery when he demands Connors to be ready with his drugs for testing on their ill boss Norman Osborn and implies what happened to the Parkers, yet nothing is fully explained about these secrets. Of course, it’s still obvious to tell from the sinister implications Ratha makes in his demeanor that he must have had something to do with the loss of the Parkers as part of some conspiracy that forced them on the run in the first place that it’s not that necessary to get too explicit about the facts. I kept wondering why Peter doesn’t dig more deeply behind his father’s experiment with spiders that brought him his superpowers or ask Connors more about what he knew of their disappearance. When the whole detective work goes nowhere, it left the plot feeling very incomplete in what needed to be explained. I understand Webb did that deliberately so that he could explore it more in the sequel, yet most films of a franchise have to have some sense of completion in order to allow them to exist on their own and leave an audience satisfied. The constant scientific talk about animal species that Connors and Peter engage in slowed the film down and hardly left any strong English translation for what it was all about, other than it’s what sets up Connors’ monstrous transformation.
Luckily, the film hardly loses any real passion or excitement in the storyline and the action that it keeps focused in as Peter has to struggle to elude the police, including Gwen’s father George Stacy, who are targeting Spider-Man as a wanted man, his battles with the Lizard, and his tense relationship with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May as they grow concerned and argumentative with him about his secret business. Aunt May is not the same sweet old woman that Peter has to dote on in other incarnations, but a more deeply worried middle-aged woman who has to break down in tears and hover over Peter a bit more about his bruises and cuts from his nights of crime-fighting that he can’t explain to her. Sally Field’s heartbreaking emotions as she worries for Peter and tries to reason with him really make us feel for her all the more, as opposed to Rosemary Harris’ cliched performance of a typical happy granny always being nice and soft around her nephew like she’s going to make him a sandwich or just ignore his secret escapades. Denis Leary is very grizzly and tough as Captain George Stacy in his authoritative manner that he shoves into Peter’s face as he tries to do his job in catching Spider-Man and stopping the Lizard at the same time. He’s almost becoming an alternate father figure to Peter after Uncle Ben as he keeps telling Peter about where his place is and what needs to be done for the sake of society. Martin Sheen himself brings both a fierce and caring edge to Uncle Ben, more so than Cliff Robertson did in Raimi’s trilogy, as he expresses his sympathy to Peter for how he thinks about his father, but strictly reminds him of how he should take care of his responsibilities as his father did for good. These relationships that Peter has with the adults makes it tenser with how he comes into his age that it avoids keeping anything as campy and innocent as it was in Raimi’s vision of the Spider-Man saga so that the imperfections in the characters are much clearer and less caricatured. They felt more realistic and gritty as opposed to colorfully drawn like in the original films, bringing a deeper psychological edge to this film in the same way that Christopher Nolan has done with Batman.
The whole look of the film is also less colorful as people would expect a world in a comic book universe to look; New York isn’t as bright and sunny as it was in Raimi’s vision, but more shrouded in the dark of the night and filled with more believable locations as opposed to elaborate set designs. Interesting how Webb made the scenes of Spider-Man’s crime-fighting escapades take place mostly at night, whereas Raimi had Spider-Man doing a lot more in broad daylight and saved a nightly fight for the climax. The night really enhances the sense of menace that creeps over New York and the troubled states that Spider-Man finds himself in as he hunts for criminals and faces the monstrous Lizard, which has him coming home every night to his shocked Aunt May about the wounds on his body. The music also feels less colorful as Danny Elfman’s score, but with James Horner as the composer, it feels more tender, sad, and suspenseful in the experience that he has had composing strong emotional scores in very dramatic films, whereas Elfman deals more with the fantastical and otherworldly. The special effects are still fantastically animated to witness on screen, which is always necessary if you’re shooting scenes of a guy leaping through the air, shooting web, going up high skyscrapers, and another guy turning into a reptilian monster. The scope of the action scenes, which go from a chase in the sewer to a towering fight on the high tower of OsCorp above the city, keep the film at a very decently paced, epic scale that dwarfs most of the action in Raimi’s films which were minimized to falling off buildings and crashing through walls in all three films.
A lot of people can argue that Raimi’s trilogy was the best incarnation on-screen of the web-crawling vigilante, although many disliked the third film, so there’s no point to regard this film as being superior or inferior to the first two films that Raimi directed when there are one too many Spidey fans who will be divided by these two incarnations and clash over them with reasonable back-up. I am among the minority of fans who wasn’t crazy about Raimi’s films and was good and ready for a reboot that can improve in the places I didn’t like, so I gladly accept this film for its gritty and believable exploration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his friends, loved ones, allies, and foes and the modern world they all exist in. Any of the plot threads that were not filled in left me rather unsatisfied, yet anxious to see how they get filled in by the next movie, especially in that added scene during the end credits where we met a mysterious man in the shadows, who gives only ambiguous hints as to what role he will be playing in the next film, leaving a lot to debate and anticipate. I know I’ll be even more anxious for what awaits us in the following film than I was for Spider-Man 2 and see if it will achieve the same recognition that Nolan received for the second film of his Batman reboot. Whether Webb still stays on for the next film, let’s hope the story of Spider-Man gets bigger and better with the values this movie brought out. It’s not a re-hash of what we saw in Raimi’s films; it’s exploring Spider-Man’s origins like we’ve never seen before in a tougher style and in a believable approach to the the world that will keep us ingrained and curious about what’s to come.