Many have called it a bit odd that Hollywood is “rebooting” the Spider-man movie franchise already. The first one came out only 10 years ago, the second one (and still best) in 2004, and the third one in 2007. Personally, I didn’t detest the third one as much as some people did, though it was definitely the weakest in the trilogy, and its production difficulties and reception left a sour taste in movie-goers mouths.
Fast forward 5 short years and comic book heroes in the movies are bigger than they’ve ever been. Marvel Studios is now owned by Disney, except for one key franchise, and that’s Spider-man, whose rights are still with Sony Pictures. While Disney is reaping huge box office bucks for “The Avengers,” “Iron Man,” and more, Sony had a property they haven’t made money on in 5 years. Thus, time for a re-boot.
Which brings us to this past weekend, when “The Amazing Spider-man” launched here in North America. This movie portrays Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-man yet again, telling essentially the same first-half of the original movie this time around with a different Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and a different Mary Jane…er…now Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone)… While the first half of the original movie took place largely while Peter was in high school, and then moved on to college life, the most recent iteration sticks with high school for the entire movie and deals more with Peter’s life at that stage, rather than the “coming of age” that was already done. Garfield and Stone do pretty great jobs in their portrayal of each character, especially Stone (who’s good in just about everything, it seems…). They don’t quite pull off “high school love” (as Garfield is 28 and Stone is 23), but they’ve got enough chemistry to make it work.
The effects were also pretty great. The CGI work on an animated Spider-man character has come a long way in 10 years and, while it was pretty easy to see the stunted motion in the original movies, this Spider-man moves much more fluidly, and much more like you’d expect from the comics. There are more acrobatics to this Spider-man character, which makes the action scenes that much more interesting to watch. Garfield also brings quite a bit more “believable wit” to the character. I was always drawn to the comic book character because of his sarcasm and dry humor, and this aspect of the character comes through far better in this movie (from Garfield) than it ever did in the previous flicks (from Tobey Maguire).
I guess my main gripe with this movie is that much of it seems largely unnecessary. We go through the origin story again, and it takes about 45 min of a 2 hr movie. One reason why “Spider-man 2″ is so much better than “Spider-man 1″ is that the origin story was all taken care of by the first movie. The entire story could be fully developed over the length of the film. This is why “X-men 2” is better than “X-men,” and why “The Dark Knight” is better than “Batman Begins.” The origin story needs to be told, sure, but for a franchise that’s only 10 years old, it’s a good bet that they could have summarized everything at the very beginning and moved on. Tim Burton’s “Batman” didn’t need an origin story, except in flashbacks, because it was so well-known…and that was friggin’ 1989!
And that brings me to my second point: they could have done more with Dr. Connors/The Lizard. Rhys Ifans was alright in the role, but I really don’t think he was given much to do. In the comics, the character of Kurt Connors was a brilliant scientist and mentor to Peter Parker. The man had a family and a great career. He is missing an arm and, through his research, he looks to regrow that arm by studying how lizards regrow their limbs. He’s a deep character that unwittingly transforms himself into a creature that can’t be controlled (kinda like the Hulk). However, that entire relationship is blown over in favor of the origin story for Spider-man that we’ve already seen 10 short years ago. Another reason why “Spider-man 2″ worked so well is that there was a seemingly genuine relationship between Peter Parker and Dr. Octavius, who later becomes Dr. Octopus. There is mutual respect between the two characters. It’s a developed relationship. Personally, I just didn’t see the same thing between this iteration of Peter Parker and Dr. Connors, and it’s to the movie’s detriment.
So, for these reasons, I still think “Spider-man 2″ is the better movie in the franchise. ”The Amazing Spider-man” is definitely better than “Spider-man 3,” but it’s admittedly a low bar to hurdle.
I haven’t decided whether this movie is better than “Spider-man,” though. They both have a different focus, so they’re telling different stories. I also appreciate that this movie (and likely trilogy) delves further into the disappearance of Peter’s parents, something the original trilogy never dealt with. So, in the end, we probably can’t compare them until we have complete trilogies to put side-by-side.
For now, though, “The Amazing Spider-man” is a good movie. If you like the franchise, you probably won’t be too disappointed. But it probably won’t blow your mind.