I don’t know what’s the more incredible - the fact that the studios decided it was time to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, when the previous trilogy is still fresh in our minds, the notion that the reboot could outclass the original - or that the original is now ten years old.
Spider-Man was always one of my favourite comic heroes growing up in the sixties. I loved the early strips which I read for the first time reprinted in imported copies of Marvel Tales that were available here during the summers back then. These captivating stories were drawn by Steve Ditko, who had an incredible eye for detail and realism. What I didn’t know at the time was that by the time I was reading them, the enigmatic and reclusive Ditko had already left the title, handing over to John Romita who had, initially a cleaner and somewhat flatter style of drawing. Even at a tender, single digit age, I was a little disappointed that the "good" artist had left.
My first copy ever of The Amazing Spider-Man to give the magazine’s proper title, was issue 45, where the villain was a man sized lab coat wearing reptile whose aim was to lead the reptiles to world domination. Thus was my first introduction to The Lizard, though the character had appeared in an earlier issue. (Number 6, if you’re keeping score).
Growing up and into my teens, Spider-Man was pretty much a constant, and has remained so to this day. I was beyond thrilled when Sam Raimi was announced as the director of Spider-Man (2002) and when Dr. Octopus was the main villain of Spider-Man 2, I loved the fact that I finally got to see something I never thought I would - a live action knock ‘em off their feet drag ‘em out smack down between the web slinger and Doc Ock. Okay, so the third was a little rushed at best...but live action Sandman? Flint Marko making solid sand battering rams out of his hands, and it wasn’t a cartoon? Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Seeing that first film made me want to go back and re-read the early comics from the sixties, because some of the scenes were literally, to my mind, Ditko’s artwork made "real". It was that summer that I discovered by happy coincidence that Marvel had republished those issues in their proper continuity in their "Essentials" series. I’ve re-amassed everything I used to have back in the day this way.
So, having quite an emotional link to those movies, I was, I guess, hesitant to buy in to yet another reboot. When I saw the teaser poster, I was downright unimpressed. I mean look at it. Dramatic licence aside, it makes no sense.
I knew I’d have to check the movie out, but had no hopes for it - especially having been blown out of my shoes by the Avengers movie, and with the new Batman film due next week, I was ready to be underwhelmed. But, it’s Spider-Man damn it. Adding to my initial doubt was a friend who told me that he reckoned it would have a Christopher Nolan vibe, and another who told me that the story had been told better ten years ago.
What sold me on parting with the extra coinage and seeing the movie in 3D was the trailer. It reminded me so much of the happy times spent at Marvel Superhero Island in Florida, riding the Spider-Man attraction several times a day.
This isn’t the Spider-Man I grew up with. I followed (and still do to an extent, with the continued release of the Essentials collected volumes). The Spider-Man I grew up with was the one covered by Raimi in the previous trilogy. The Spider-Man featured in The Amazing Spider-Man from the early sixties to the present day.
What this film is based on is more Ultimate Spider-Man, a later title that was published a few years ago. Thing is, Peter Parker needed to be rebooted to make him more relevant to newer readers. They needed to find a way to make him a sixteen or seventeen year old high school kid again, so Marvel Comics went back and restarted the series from the origin, with slight updating tweaks along the way to make the sixty year old character more relevant to millennium readers. To their credit, they did this while maintaining the Amazing title so the older readers were never forgotten or alienated. In a way there was a Spidey title that I grew up with and they did one for my kids’ generation.
Thus while Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) was still a nerdy outsider, in this film he’s a skateboarding, moody rebel nerdy outsider. The basic story is familiar, he still falls victim to the bite of an irradiated spider, but a lot is different. His high school love interest is Gwen Stacy, daughter of NYPD Captain George Stacy and this is the way it happened originally. Mary Jane came after Gwen as the great love of Parker’s life. In fact, one of the most shocking moments in comics I can remember when growing up was the death of Gwen Stacy as she fell from the Brooklyn Bridge during a battle with the Green Goblin. Spider-Man shot his web to try and save her, but what he never know, though we the readers did, was that it was the sudden stop as the webbing which actually killed her.
That made a hell of an impression on me as a kid.
As this film is early in the character’s career, there’s also no mention of newspaper tycoon J.Jonah Jameson or the Daily Bugle. I presume that he’ll make his entrance in the sequel.
Despite any misgivings about the origin story being retold yet again, there’s a lot about this film that’s good. Garfield plays Parker as moody and sometimes a little unstable, but as Spider-Man, he’s every bit the cocky, wisecracking goof we’ve loved from the strip.
Local boy Rhys Ifans plays Dr Curt Connors, disappointingly as a classic British villain. My disappointment here is not with Ifans’ portrayal, but with the tired old cliché of the villain being British in an American film. The Lizard, when he appears, is a hybrid of the original and the Ultimate versions. I can’t help but feel that as soon as he loses the lab coat, he’s little more than a clone of Killer Croc (Batman villain).
One of the things about super hero films that drives me to the pint of mental meltdown is when the long held in tradition costumes are changed. (I swear I’ll need elephant tranquilliser if they screw around with Superman’s costume in next year’s "Man of Steel". ) But the slight tweak of the traditional Spider-Man costume that I was so dead set against when I saw the first studio released publicity shots is barely noticeable. He moves so fast that he’s a blue and red blur in a lot of shots. But kudos is due to the way the costume comes into being.
Parker gets the idea for the full head mask when he accidentally falls through the roof of an abandoned and condemned wrestling gym and sees some posters showing Mexican luchadore wrestlers with their masks. Then, as he is already established as being an extreme sports fan, having some pretty nifty skateboarding skills, he puts the rest together from various extreme sports types of spandex based clothing and customises it. Strange as it may seem for me to say it, this made perfect sense.
Action-wise, this is a film that uses the medium of 3D to its best advantage. I’ve always thought that 3D is a gimmick when you just get a needless array of objects flying out of the scene toward the audience. The novelty gets really old, really quickly. I’ve seen films where the 3D was truly astounding (the indigenous flora and fauna seen in Avatar for example) and I’ve seen films where it just wasn’t necessary and the plunking down an extra few pounds was a needless extravagance. Thor being the worst example, followed by Tron: Legacy. The Amazing Spider-Man is up there with Avatar as an example of really good use of the facility. Seeing Spider-Man swing over the man made canyons of Manhattan with the incredible, vertigo inducing depth beneath him is worth the extra. It’s eye catching, without being the whole show.
Okay - there are some things I want to mention but unless you’ve seen the film, here comes a SPOILER ALERT.
Those of you who haven’t seen the film, you may want to skip until the second countdown.
Okay - if you’re reading this and don’t want a plot point revealed, you’ve been warned so it’s your own damn fault.
He tells Gwen his secret identity? Really? That takes away a huge opportunity for an excellent plot for the films to follow.
In the comics, Capt. Stacy was duty bound to try and capture Spider-Man, but was accidentally killed when a wall fell on him during one of Spider-Man’s battles with Dr. Octopus. As he died, he revealed that he had always known Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and asked that he look after Gwen who was never a party to the secret. (Okay, thanks to the Goblin, that didn’t work out so well). The police mistakenly assumed that Spider-Man was responsible for their captain’s death and had a warrant out for his arrest for years. Gwen herself hated the webslinger because she thought he killed her father, so Peter was never able to tell her his secret. That would’ve been interesting to see as part of this now confirmed trilogy.
The final battle with the Lizard costs Stacy his life, but Gwen already knows that Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same. Shame.
Okay, you can look again now. It’s time for the all important final verdict.
All in all, not for my money the best telling of the story - I agree with what I was told, but it IS the best looking film. The effects are amazing and in an age where most film makers seems to feel the need to bleed the bright colours out of the finished movie giving them a washed out look, it’s a refreshing change to see primary colours used to the extent they are here.
Worth your money - I advise going 3D as well.
Copyright © 2010 - 2012 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.