There was a time when I would see almost one movie a week throughout the summer and fall. Those days are long gone. Now I can almost guarantee which movies I will and will not see in theaters during the year before that year begins. And it is a small list. This year’s list consisted of The Avengers, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hobbit. I’m two for two so far, with my review of Brave coming shortly.
Then there is another list of movies. These are the ones that I would like to see but am not assuming I will. Prometheus was on that list, along with The Bourne Legacy, and a handful of others. At the top of that list however, is the movie I’m reviewing here:
The Amazing Spiderman
Why is this movie at the top of my alternates list?
Mainly because I’ve always enjoyed Spiderman but generally disliked the original trilogy of movies. So I was hoping to see a fresh upgrade to the silver-screen web-slinger. I was not disappointed.
The Amazing Spiderman retells the story of Peter Parker, a brilliant, orphaned high school student from New York City who lives with his aunt and uncle. A visit to a science lab finds Peter bitten by a radioactive (or genetically enhanced) spider which rather than killing him, causes him to take on the positive characteristics of a spider: super strength, agility, heightened awareness of danger, and the ability to stick to walls. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, including the murder of his uncle Ben, Peter becomes the crime-fighting super hero, Spiderman.
In this iteration, Peter Parker is played by Andrew Garfield (most recently of The Social Network). Garfield’s Parker is a quirky and likable outsider. His Spiderman, is lean, fast, and wisecracking. His love interest in this film is Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone of last year’s Oscar Nominated The Help. Like Garfield, stone is a welcomed upgrade from the original Spiderman trilogy, who’s two main characters were consistently the weakest point of the films.
On the other hand, Garfield and Stone are arguably the best part of this movie. They are eminently likable as individuals, and their chemistry as a couple is thoroughly enjoyable. The rest of the cast is equally talented, with Dennis Leary playing Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father, and Sally Field and Martin Sheen playing Aunt May and Uncle Ben, respectively. The strongest part of the previous trilogy were the villans (particularly parts 1 and 2), but Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Conners, also known as the Lizard, fills those big shoes nicely.
At the helm of this reboot was director Marc Webb, who’s latest film was the indie romance 500 Days of Summer. His approach to the movie seems to be closer to Christopher Nolan, of the rebooted Batman franchise, than Sam Rami (director of the original Spiderman trilogy). There is an underlying sense of realism grounding such a fantastical narrative. The danger is palpable, the emotions are genuine, and the characters are all very human.
The look of the film was a high point as well. It may not win any awards, but it’s crisp lines, rich colors, and deep blacks felt very contemporary without the hyper-realistic nature that accompanies much of the digital age of film. In fact, I would say that this looked more like a comic book than the original series ever did, without trying to mimic the style of the inked and colored page.
The point where the movie fails are where it delves into the territory of the original trilogy. I found myself saying, “I’ve seen this before” at several points in the movie. Especially the stale cliche of the city rallying around Spiderman in his hour of need. But, where it is different, this reboot is at its best. And thankfully, the differences are more prevalent than the similarities.
The most redeeming element of the film comes at the turning point of Peter Parker’s idea of Spiderman’s role as hero. His life of crime fighting begins with the death of his uncle, a death that Peter himself could have prevented. Guilt and anger thrust him into a vengeful quest to find his uncle’s killer. In dark alley ways and deserted parking lots, he assaults petty criminals who resemble his uncle’s murderer. Rather than seeking to keep the city safe from danger, Parker is carrying our his own vendetta, using his powers to his own selfish ends.
At one point, I wondered whether the filmmakers were going to ask us to root for such an unredeeming Spiderman, but thankfully his quest for vengeance doesn’t last long. At a pivotal moment in the movie, Peter comes face to face with the reality of what he has become. He realizes that if he is to become the hero that his city needs, he must lay aside is personal vendetta and lay his life down for the sake of the helpless. At this point, the quest for the killer is abandoned and never returned to. This is actually much more satisfying than if he had caught him. It shows how much Peter’s heart had changed, how much he laid aside for the sake of those in need.
This should resonate deeply with the Christian, the one who follows a Savior who chose to lay down His rights as God over all in order to subject Himself to the punishment that His rebellious people deserved. The world cannot get away from the image of the Savior. The oldest story, the story of God redeeming His people through Christ, is written on the heart of creation and is revealed in a multitude of ways in the most unlikely places.
For all of it’s positive qualities, I still left the theater without feeling amazed. I enjoyed the movie a lot, and I think it is was a step in the right direction away from the original trilogy, but time will tell if it is a memorable comic book adaptation. I fear that with The Avengers still fresh on our minds, and The Dark Knight Rises around the corner, that The Amazing Spiderman may simply have been ill placed to compete with the top tier of comic films. I’m looking forward to the coming entries in this series, and with the right timing, I think it stands a great chance to sit among our favorite cinematic super hero stories.