If Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in his version of Spiderman (2002) was a lot like Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club, then Andrew Garfield’s version of Peter Parker in his Amazing Spider Man (2012) is more like Judd Nelson. This, more than anything, is the crucial difference between the two films. Garfield’s Peter Parker isn’t popular, per se, but he also isn’t the one getting beaten up by the bully (Chris Zylka) in an early scene. He defends the geek who is getting beat up and then gets beat up himself.
Garfield’s Peter Parker may be a whiz at algebraic equations but he’s also a skateboarder, dressing and acting the part. And when he shows up at OsCorp in order to get bitten by the spider in order to turn into Spiderman, it’s not simply a runaway spider that does trick. No, he slips away from the group when he is actively told not to. Heck, Garfield’s Peter isn’t even supposed to be at OsCorp. He pawns himself off as an intern named Rodrigo because Rodrigo’s ID badge is right there for the taking and later we see the real Rodrigo being dragged away. At first you think, hey, isn’t that kind of mean? Then you realize, oh, right, this Peter’s got less weirdo in him than rebel.
This could possibly be linked to director Marc Webb, an American with but one other feature film under his belt (500 Days of Summer) but dozens and dozens of music videos ranging all the way from My Chemical Romance to Ashlee Simpson. He gives the scenes between Peter and his love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) crackle and verbal oomph. Webb’s Peter, in fact, has the cojones to reveal his identity to Gwen himself and on his own terms, and this is because he has trust in her and assured faith in himself even as he struggles to figure himself and his new-found abilities out.
Indeed, like with many of these superhero movies anymore I found myself wishing more than once that Garfield and Stone – whose chemistry here and there threatens to advance from delightfully flirtatious to grade-school salacious – could go off, away from the spandex and super villains to explore this relationship. Couldn’t, I wistfully, ignorantly, wondered, The Amazing Spider Man become an 80’s coming-of-age movie in the guise of a Marvel Comics redux? Alas.
My apologies, readers. I threaten to review a film that does not exist rather than the one that does, but when you are in essence remaking a a movie from all of 10 years ago, the rules are different. Nevertheless, I owe you the mandatory synopsis. Sigh. So, let’s see, when young Peter’s Pop’s (Campbell Scott) top secret spider research is compromised, young Peter finds himself going to stay with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) forevermore. As a teenager he happens upon one of his father’s covert files from long ago, piquing his interest and setting him forth on his voyage to OsCorp where he makes friends with The One Armed Man – Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans) – and gets bitten by the genetically modified spider. From there, Peter gains his powerhouse superpowers and in an effort to figure out what is happening to him, unwittingly gives Connors the necessary bit of info to push his research regenerating limbs over the top which, as it must, turns the otherwise good Dr. Connors into The Lizard. Uh oh.
So Peter’s Spiderman and Police Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary) – doubling as Gwen’s father to up the ante on the romantic entanglement – will unite after squaring off to save the city from this stomping, chomping Lizard. And for anyone who says The Amazing Spider Man has no right to “exist”, I say nay. The Amazing Spider Man “exists” to right the wrong of Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin’s Godzilla. Sort of.
Truth is, the first half of the film trumps the second, aside from one roller-coaster-esque sequence where Spidey soars through the illuminated city night from ladder to ladder, helpfully assisted by citizens of New York (teamwork!). It’s not that second half is bad, per se, it’s serviceable, but the first half seems balanced on the edge of something better than serviceable, a little more hard-boiled, a little more unique, only to revert to its origins in the summer world set pieces and special effects. So despite the abundant good, it left this viewer feeling frustrated.
The concluding scene in The Amazing Spider Man is so perfect and so in character for Garfield’s Peter Parker because it’s so contrarian. And isn’t that really the spirit of so many of these superheroes? They are one thing, they pose as something else. Thus, would it be too much to ask Marc Webb to honor that spirit for the inevitable sequel? I’m convinced the superhero film presently stands on a precipice of something new and different and bold. And I’m not talking about the grim reality of Nolan’s Batman films, no, I’m talking more about the Iron Man movies and The Avengers. Those are primarily character-driven pieces that become less interesting when the characters cede center stage to the action. The Amazing Spider Man fits in this same mold.
So c’mon, Webb, take the leap, go for broke! What’s gonna happen? They reboot the reboot of the reboot?