Blatant Insubordination: Spider-Man vs. The Amazing Spider-Man
**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN***
The critic consensus seems to be that The Amazing Spider-Man was somewhere between good to great. We’ve been hearing things like “fresh faces” and “reinvigorating the franchise,” with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone getting heaps of praise for their portrayals of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Of course, this is a far contrast to the heaps of resentment the film initially got from fanboys and professionals alike, who cried “too soon!” at the prospect of a Spider-Man reboot so soon after Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst captured the hearts of fans in Sam Raimi’s films.
I’m thinking it’s the Raimi factor that’s muddling up my decision making in terms of this movie. Amazing is connected to those films in more ways than I think anyone is really comfortable with. The movie owes its very existence to the poor critical performance of Spider-Man 3, which is only five years old. Those images of Maguire and Dunst are still pretty fresh in our minds, and were bound to cast a pretty long shadow over any kind of Spider-Man film. It certainly doesn’t help that Amazing covers a lot of the same ground that Spider-Man covered 10 years ago. We see the spider bite, Uncle Ben’s death, he does the wrestling thing and gets the costume, etc. Of the Raimi films, the original Spider-Man is the one bound to be compared most often with Amazing.
So let’s do that, shall we? I won’t deny that The Amazing Spider-Man put on a good show in its own right. But how does it fare when compared with what we saw the first time around? These are questions we as fans have a right to ask. So let’s start comparing…
Best Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire vs. Andrew Garfield
At first glance, Garfield seems to be a more natural pick for the role of Peter Parker than Maguire. He has more natural charisma, and executes the trademark Spider-Man humor much better than Tobey did. Remember the fight between Spidey and the Green Goblin in the fire, when Tobey says: “It’s you who’s out, Gobby! Out of your mind!” Coming from Tobey, that line never worked for me. Garfield, however, is able to make effective use of lines like: “Look out! I’m swingin’ here!”
Under the direction of Marc Webb, Garfield’s Peter Parker is more expressive of those antsy, nervous, and even angry feelings than Maguire’s was. He quickly bumbles and stutters over his words when he talks to Gwen Stacy. On the other hand, Tobey would be quiet, and maybe make a face. Early in Amazing, Peter tries to stand up to Flash Thompson as he’s picking on a classmate. The Peter we see in Spider-Man only stands up to Flash once he has his powers and is being attacked. By the way, why did Peter Parker get picked on in Amazing anyway? In Spider-Man, Tobey’s social awkwardness was obvious from the start. But Garfield’s character didn’t seem like such a standout. He was a kid with scruffy hair and a skateboard. What’s the big deal? By those standards, I see Peter Parker at least five times every time I go out in public.
Maybe it’s just the way high school was for me, in Spider-Man I identified with, and thus cared about Peter Parker almost instantly. He was a social outcast and a dreamer, destined to become a hero who makes choices no one should ever have to make. I knew this about a minute into the movie. They tried to make a similar connection for Garfield, showing us his parents and how they mysteriously dropped him at his aunt and uncle’s one day, and were later killed. This works, but not as strongly or quickly as what Raimi and Maguire did. The more you care about your protagonist, the more invested you are in the story. Maguire may not have been as funny as Garfield is, but he was much more sympathetic and relatable. That’s what makes a good main character.
Everybody remembers the upside down kiss from Spider-Man. Peter was rewarded for all his acts of heroism by finally getting to kiss his dream girl. She didn’t know who he was at the time, but it was still a huge moment for Peter. But what was he doing before he got that big kiss? Saving Mary Jane…again. In Spider-Man alone Peter has to save Mary Jane from death or catastrophe three times, four if you count the scene where she slips in the cafeteria. This girl was putting up Princess Peach numbers. Take into account her poor taste in men (Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn), and you’ve got more than just a damsel in distress. You’ve got a damsel in desperate distress. Of course, we still liked her. Obviously she was important to Peter, and Kirsten Dunst injected the character with a charm and likability that I’m not sure she gets enough credit for. But in Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson fills the stereotypical dream girl/girl who needs saving role more than anything else.
That’s not necessarily the case with Gwen Stacy in Amazing. She did fit the role of the stereotypical love interest, though I didn’t really buy the progression of the love story in Amazing. She was obviously begrudgingly impressed with Peter sneaking into Oscorp, but she seemed to go from impressed to enamored pretty quickly. And who has a first date at the dinner table with their parents, anyway? All t his being said Gwen had a lot of spine, which I was happy to see. She wasn’t afraid to challenge Peter on certain things, she friggin’ attacked the Lizard, and she charged into Oscorp in the middle of a biological attack to develop the antidote to the bioweapon. The Gwen Stacy character wasn’t just a love interest. In the end, she was became a hero too. That puts her in an entirely different league than Mary Jane. And for what it’s worth, the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is better than what Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst had. In Amazing, Peter and Gwen feel like two people who could potentially be in a relationship, whereas Mary Jane was just a goal Peter wanted to reach.
ADVANTAGE: The Amazing Spider-Man
BEST VILLAIN: The Green Goblin/Willem Dafoe vs. The Lizard/Rhys Ifans
Yes, these are very different characters. But they share an important commonality, as did most of the Spider-Man movie villains: They’re not entirely evil. They might be mostly evil, but they all have something sympathetic about them that the audience can relate to. With Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn, it was the fact that deep down he really did love his son Harry. With Rhys Ifans’ Curt Conners, it’s his longing to fix himself and excel in his field. Both these characters had the unenviable task of helping to kick off their respective continuities strongly. But who did it better?
What I didn’t understand about Curt Conners in Amazing was the effect the Lizard transformation had on his psyche. He started out as a nice guy, right? He hung out with Peter, refused to have his formula tested on humans until he felt it was safe, etc. Then desperation got the better of him, and he injected himself with the formula. He became the Lizard, and then became evil for some reason, wanting to expose all of New York to the formula. He killed Captain Stacy for trying to stop him, and he was willing to break into a high school to kill Peter Parker for trying to stop him. But then when he was exposed to the antidote created by Gwen, he suddenly felt remorse for his actions. So…was it temporary insanity? Did the Lizard formula release some selfish, maniacal inhibitions?Or was it just one of those evil lizard formulas?
With Norman Osborn, you got the sense that he was a cold blooded jerk from the start, and the experiment he put himself through simply accentuated that. From a costume/design standpoint, Lizard definitely has the advantage. God knows we’ve heard enough griping about the Goblin suit over the years. The visual effects used to create the Lizard were great, and I liked the look they gave him. Osborn wasn’t always as grim and serious as Lizard, but you can’t fault him for that given the tone of the movie (more on that later). Willem Dafoe is more or less the Jack Nicholson of the Spider-Man movies. Like Nicholson in Batman, Dafoe’s performance is so much fun to watch. But he’s able to walk that line and not let himself go too over the top, so we can be afraid of the character when we need to be. Amazing did the Lizard justice, but Goblin managed to be both hellacious and hilarious with the same performance. That’s no easy task, and one that gets him the nod from me.
This is probably the toughest decision of them all, because both Robertson and Sheen hit slam dunks with the Uncle Ben character. Robertson’s Ben Parker was older, and more reminiscent of what we saw in Steve Ditko’s original incarnation of the character. He also had a great Obi-Wan Kenobi, wise old sage quality about him. And he was able to actually say Spider-Man’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Sheen says that too in so many words, but he couldn’t use the actual statement, in all likelihood because filmmakers didn’t want the audience to connect Amazing to the other films even more.
But I’m actually going to go with Sheen on this one. His Ben Parker seemed like more of a father figure to Peter, whereas Robinson’s was more a kind old grandfather. In Amazing, Uncle Ben isn’t afraid to come down on Peter when he’s done wrong by someone, and actually enforce the responsibility ideal. It’s always better to show than to tell, and that’s what gives Sheen the edge for me.
ADVANTAGE: The Amazing Spider-Man
Let’s do some quick hits before we move on…
Aunt May: Rosemary Harris vs. Sally Field - Sally Field. Like Robertson, Harris was more in line with what Steve Ditko originally drew. But Field works better in terms of being a maternal figure to Peter.
Flash Thompson: Joe Manganiello vs. Chris Zylka - Chris Zylka. For some reason, after Uncle Ben’s death Flash Thompson starts being nice to Peter, and by the end of the movie they’re friends for some unknown reason. But I still like Zylka better than Manganiello, who was more or less just a big brute. Now there’s a guy who couldn’t have starred in a Venom spin off…
Spider-Man Costume - In all honesty, I’m fine with both. But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with the one in Amazing. I like the way the webbing on the suit is more subtle. It makes the costume a little easier on the eyes.
Music - Danny Elfman’s work in Spider-Man. He’s one of the best.
Story: Tone and Promises
The Amazing Spider-Man is pretty straight faced movie. It has its comedic moments like most other superhero movies, but it takes itself pretty seriously at the end of the day. Spider-Man tended to have more fun with the subject matter. For instance, Spider-Man sticks closer to the source material in terms of the origin story. Shortly after Peter gets his powers, he uses them to defeat a pro wrestler in the ring and win money. This results in a fun and humorous scene with none other than “Macho Man” Randy Savage playing the bloodthirsty Bonesaw McGraw. That kind of thing couldn’t have happened in Amazing. In that film, Peter simply sees a lucha libre wrestling poster and decides to design a similar costume. Both approaches worked for the movies they were in. The same can be said for the Green Goblin’s often tongue in cheek demeanor compared to the Lizard’s ultra serious one.
Spider-Man took place in a melodramatic and exaggerated surreality, whereas Amazing was more moody and broody. In terms of tone, I think Spider-Man’s approach is more faithful to the character and the world he inhabits. Perfect example: Stan Lee has said that one of his all time favorite Spider-Man moments is when the character gets a check for doing something heroic, and he goes to the bank to cash it. But because he has no identification, and obviously can’t take off his mask, the bank teller can’t do it. Amazing could have pulled a moment like that off if it wanted to. But let’s be honest, which movie would an aw shucks, average joe, too goofy to actually happen moment like that have been better in? Which movie could have given us that exact moment, then made a seamless transition into something dramatic and death defying? The answer my friends, is Spider-Man.
I was also put off by where Peter and Gwen’s relationship was at the end of Amazing. Captain Stacy died, but made Peter promise to stay away from Gwen to keep her safe. Peter breaks it off with Gwen, and for a few frightening moments I think this movie is going to pull the same “I can’t be with you because I’m a superhero” trick Spider-Man did. But Gwen figures out what has happened, and unlike Spider-Man, the two live with full knowledge of Peter’s identity and why they can’t be together. Then at the end Peter says something along the lines of: “The best promises are the ones you can’t keep.”
Wait…what? The best promises are the ones you can’t keep? That’s a weird thing for a superhero to say. Especially one who’s made a promise to his dead uncle to always use his powers for the good of mankind. That kind of makes Spider-Man look like a douchebag, doesn’t it?
Also, if you’re going to break Peter and Gwen up only to hint that they’ll just get back together, why break them up in the first place? I understand Gwen’s father making Peter promise to stay away. But why not have Gwen insist that she’ll be okay, thus putting her in harm’s way for the next movie, when our old friend the Green Goblin is likely to pay a visit? Anybody remember how that went down in the comics?
My point is they could have played up the whole “Spider-Man can’t have the pleasure of a normal life because he’s Spider-Man” thing without doing this lovers from afar bit.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie, and I will put my money down to see a sequel. But It didn’t recapture, or parallel the magic of the original Sam Raimi film. That would be a tall task for any film, any director, and any cast. But if it was such a tall task from the start, I still can’t help but wonder, and will probably always wonder, if it wouldn’t have been easier and more lucrative just to get the old band back together for one more chance.
Front page image from rottentomatoes.com. Image 1 from celebbuzz.com. Image 2 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 3 from flicksandbits.com. Image 4 from rroyreport.files.wordpress.com. Image 5 from altfg.com. Image 6 from bigshinyrobot.com. Image 7 from msn.com. Image 8 from thegreengoblinshideout.com.