I loved The Amazing Spider-Man! It has heart, brains, and humor; it applies several modern glosses over the familiar story, so that even if you know the relevant details of how Spider-Man came to be, you still can’t predict what’s going to happen next. That’s why I don’t understand how my friend at Tor.com and I seem to be the only reviewers unabashedly given over to Marc Webb‘s take on Peter Parker’s origin story. Google “The Amazing Spider-Man unnecessary” and you’re bombarded with arguments on how five years is too little time to reboot a superhero franchise and Sony’s just out to bleed money from the schmucks it can lure to the theaters with too-hot leads and gimmicky 3-D. Or, I’ll let Vulture put it this way:
Coming barely a decade after Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, the “reboot” calledThe Amazing Spider-Man is clearly unnecessary and ought to be shunned for all kinds of reasons — chiefly to deliver a shock to the system of Hollywood execs whose primary job is finding merchandisable “franchises” and studio “tentpoles.”
To be fair, they follow that up immediately by saying that it’s pretty damn good, but wow, what vitriol. Sure, the movie was probably birthed out of a cynical, greedy board meeting among movie executives, but it could have been really crappy with those motivations. Instead, it’s fantastic and unique.
It’s wonderful that moviegoers feel such loyalty to Sam Raimi‘s trilogy starring a plucky young Tobey Maguire as Spidey. But that series obviously had its problems, since Sony refused to make Spider-Man 4 and instead committed to an entirely new team. There’s nothing wrong with revering the original three movies for what they did right, but still welcoming someone else to try his hand at the same characters and circumstances. Without spoiling the movie, I’ve laid out the reasons why a reboot made the story more fun and more affecting.
A huge chunk of Peter’s backstory was missing. Maybe Deadspin has a point with their exasperated summary of the movie’s first part:
It’s a bit exhausting to realize, very early on, that this isn’t going to be a continuation of the previous Spider-Man movies (the last of which, after all, came out only five years ago) but in fact a complete restart. This means we have to sit through the whole damn story again, with the spider bite and the discovery of powers and the making of the costume and Uncle Ben dying and all of it. This takes up the first hour of the film, and it’s extremely difficult not to lose one’s patience.
But would you really have wanted the movie to start with Spidey doing parkour on New York City’s skyscrapers? You don’t appreciate the triumph of his first flight without seeing Peter first awaken with powers that he can’t control.
And how about Peter’s parents? Spider-Man completely glossed over why Peter lived with Uncle Ben and Aunt May; we never had to care about what could have motivated his parents to abandon him, and he doesn’t carry that angst through adolescence. Not only does The Amazing Spider-Man open with a prologue ferrying off Richard and Mary Parker, but their abandonment of their son — not to mention suspicious death via plane crash — crops up several times as abruptly and achingly as it would for any teenager who’s still grappling with why his parents left. We know that Andrew Garfield can play bitter betrayal from The Social Network; here, we see it from a younger character who feels that loss even worse.
As awesome as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are, Peter yearns for his father, a man as naturally inquisitive as he. Uncle Ben’s lessons about community and morality are great, but they don’t match up with Peter’s worldview in the way that he imagines his father’s morals do. The moment where Peter starts wearing his father’s glasses is just so powerful. I will say that the credits made it seem like Peter’s dad’s disappearance was inextricably tied to how Peter gets bitten, as if there are some higher powers orchestrating it… and that’s not quite the case here. Still, the pathos are welcome.
We need to see Peter’s first love before his best love. I never quite bought the Peter/Mary Jane romance, partly because Tobey and Kirsten Dunst‘s chemistry wavered between exceptional (the famous upside-down-kiss scene) and tepid. But since Raimi and co. were so committed to it, Bryce Dallas Howard seemed nothing more than a distraction in the third movie, so our first introduction to Gwen Stacy was pretty underwhelming. Not so with Emma Stone! Her prim, thigh-high-wearing schoolgirl Gwen is simultaneously out of Peter’s league and smart enough to recognize this kid’s heart.
Because Peter and Gwen are in high school, their romance hits the sweet spot between awkward and sexy. They giggle and mumble in the hallways, but when he climbs into her bedroom via fire escape and she tends to his wounds, their makeout sessions are so charged. One review (I can’t remember which, unfortunately) points out that you witness Peter’s evolution from hopelessly weak to slowly more powerful, and you see his sexual confidence rise as well. The movie stays PG-13, of course, but I’ll be the umpteenth to mention the great scene on Gwen’s roof that highlights this mix: Peter is fumbling through how to tell her about his secret identity, and says, “I’ve been bitten…” She scoots closer and huskily responds, “Me, too.”