Like most people, when I heard there was a new Spider-Man film my initial reactions were “why?” and “too soon”. I mean, it’s been less than a decade since the Sam Raimi films and I consider Spider-Man a pretty tapped out franchise with all the recent animated series and films.
However, if Sony Pictures didn’t put out a Spider-Man film this year, they lost the rights to the character, so they whipped together a team and rushed this film into production to meet their deadline. (And considering how poorly Sony as a company is doing, they couldn’t afford to lose anything that actually made money!)
And I never thought I’d say it, but- I’m glad they did!
While this is in no way a perfect film, it is an (almost) perfect Spider-Man film. In fact, I’d argue that this may in fact be the best Marvel superhero movie to date, standing easily toe to toe with Iron Man or The Avengers.
And yes, that means I consider it better than the Raimi films with Toby McGuire. Although in this case, I’d say it’s a bit of Apples and Oranges. The Raimi Spider-Man films (or at least the first one) are homages to the 1960’s original comics, and retain that original 1960’s feel to them. They’re very stylized representations of the comic books brought to the screen, and have all the good and bad elements that implies.
This new film (I should say, New Films, since this feels very much like a first part/episode) is an adaption of the character and spirit of Spider-Man to film, and instead of trying to pull from the comics presents a more realistic and natural take on the story. One that not only works, but also frees up the character to be himself.
Andrew Garfield really does portray Peter Parker and Spider-Man like I’ve always imagined he should be. He has the perfect build, the right attitude, and comes across as a very real young man trying to deal with his own issues while also doing the right thing. They even get the Spider-Man banter right, which is something that’s pretty rare, and make it work on screen in a fun and entertaining way.
The performances in the film are all good, with Martin Sheen’s great take on Uncle Ben being a definite standout. I prefered the previous version of Aunt May to Sally Field, but she’s fine in the role. Dennis Leary is a passable Captain Stacey, and Emma Stone turns in a nice performance as Gwen Stacey. No complaints all around.
I also think The Lizard was an excellent choice for the villain of this movie, with hints of Norman Osborne lurking in the background. The Lizard (as shown) is a nice mirror of Spider-Man himself, and as they have similar powers makes a good sparring partner. He’s also a minor enough villain to make the ones that come after him seem more dangerous, but still a major threat.
In fact, the only things I found that raised a false note were pretty minor. I found the portrayal of The Lizard’s goals pretty murky and I didn’t quite like the ending.
(spoilers, skip to after the spoilers if you don’t want to be spoiled)
While The Lizard was chasing Spider-Man around the school, my wife leaned over and asked me “why is he after Peter?” and as I started to answer I realized that I didn’t really know. I knew how he’d found Peter, and I knew they’d already clashed twice, but I didn’t really know WHY the Lizard was there. Was it just revenge? Was it because of the personal connection? Why was he there?
Also, they didn’t do a very good job of explaining why The Lizard wanted to turn everyone in New York into Lizards either. I know, he wanted to make humanity “better” and this was his crazy way of doing that. But, as it was presented he didn’t seem all that committed to the idea, it felt to me like he was doing it more because it’s what supervillains always do!
I’ll give an example- on the bridge he tracked down evil corporate executive because he was trying in his own way to stop him from using the serum to test on innocent victims. That was a clear, but indirectly presented motivation. But everything after that just became him doing things because he’s The Lizard, and that’s what that character does.
My other minor issue (much more minor) was the ending. If there’s one thing that’s constant, Spider-Man’s life sucks, and that’s part of his character and story. Raimi’s adaption captured that nicely. Here, we get the set-up for that (Peter can’t get together with Gwen), but then the film does a weird 180 and we get his English teacher spouting some B.S. about “all stories are about who you are”, and that promises are often broken.
This completely reeked to me of test audiences. I bet the original movie ended with the previous scene, and test audiences absolutely hated it, so the suits made them go and tack this extra little scene on at the end to show hope for the young lovers.
Nice going, guys. Peter swore on a man’s death that he’d keep hands off the guy’s daughter (which she psychically guesses in perfect detail) and now a week or so after he’s dead that promise is apparently “no big deal”. What an a**hole! Well, there goes most of the heroic side of the character out the window. It’s a typical attempt at a superficially “feel good” ending that actually isn’t good or in character at all. Which is why I say it smelled of being there to satisfy test audiences.
What’s even worse is that Peter is going to look like a super-a**hole when not keeping that promise later results in Gwen getting killed.
They would have been much better to just have Peter feel so guilty over her father’s death that he couldn’t face (or risk) Gwen getting involved in his life. He left Captain Stacey on his own, and he died because of that. More than reason enough for him to walk away from Gwen, and leave things between them troubled and open for the future films. It would be a heck of a lot more heroic than what we get.
Despite this, I have to say I really enjoyed this film. I went into it expecting the same-old, and instead found a fun film that presented a great take on one of my favorite superheros. . I really want to dig out some old Essential Spider-Man comics now and give them a read.
And that’s the highest compliment I think I can give it.