Out of the three live-action Spider-Man franchises, including the Sam Raimi trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, and the MCU films starring Tom Holland, “The Amazing Spider-Man” films starring Andrew Garfield are the ones I’ve taken the longest to warm to, since they felt a bit too bland and generic when they were initially being released. Over time though, I’ve really come to appreciate the better elements of the first installment, including the mood of this film, Andrew Garfield’s byronic portrayal of Peter Parker / Spider-Man, and his chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. There are two main problems with “The Amazing Spider-Man”. The first is that it borrows too heavily from Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie. Part of that is to be expected, since we’re doing the origin story again, but it feels like it spends a large chunk of its runtime re-threading plot points and character beats from another movie.
Loner Peter Parker has a crush on a girl he admires from afar, who sticks up for him against bullies. He gets bitten by a super-spider, which leads to humorous post-bite freakouts and maybe a fight or two. Peter has a temporarily satisfying confrontation with his school bully, Flash, that leads to him being chewed out by his Uncle Ben. Peter is a dick to his Uncle Ben and then Uncle Ben dies. An adult friend of Peter’s and a famous scientist to boot is secretly the villain of this movie, after he was pressured by his superiors into doing some mad-scientist testing on himself, and he manages to discover Peter’s secret identity. Peter’s somewhat creepy but supposedly wise adult friend has developed a crazy, murderous split-personality, is totally out-of-control and only Spider-Man can stop him from destroying the city. After everything he’s done for the city, the people of New York repay Spidey by giving him the support he needs in his greatest crisis so far (cranes, baby). The villain is defeated and the city is saved but at a great cost, and after a grey funeral, Spidey decides he should probably stay away from his true love for her own good, but really he can’t bring himself to do so. In terms of creativity and originality, this screenplay doesn’t get that many points.
The second problem is that “The Amazing Spider-Man” raises several mysterious plot threads that it eventually drops and never resolves in favor of stopping the Lizard from destroying New York. Peter’s search for his missing parents? It’s forgotten about after the first act. Peter’s obsessive quest to find his Uncle Ben’s killer? It’s dropped after twenty minutes. Dr. Ratha threatening Dr. Connors to find a cure to save a dying Norman Osborn? Dr. Ratha never appears again in this movie after the bridge scene. “The Amazing Spider-Man” was clearly produced with several sequels in mind (which Sony stopped making after the second movie wasn’t a success), so I’m not sure if this movie stands that well on it’s own. Especially with that bizarre post-credits scene that teases a nonexistent future movie and will never be explained in the slightest.
In a large change from how he’s usually written in the Spider-Man franchise, Peter Parker is less of a nerd in this movie and more of your standard teen movie protagonist, particularly one from the “Twilight” era. With debonair looks but a nonexistent social life, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a loner, a skateboarder, and an angsty teen who sometimes has the demeanor of a spaced-out stoner, particularly after he gains his powers. Still, he’s one of the nicest guys at his school – he’ll help you out in a fix and stand up to jerks. This iteration of Peter has a somewhat irritating, repeated verbal tic. Anytime he’s mildly stressed or uncomfortable, he starts babbling, stuttering and repeating himself. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of Andrew Garfield’s performance however or the script. About halfway through this movie, I noticed that most of the conversations the characters have are either awkward, drawn-out or uncomfortable, and that gets old eventually. In any case, Peter tends to have trouble expressing himself easily, in contrast to his confident, costumed alter-ego, Spider-Man. Early on, Peter is a troubled teen genius. He’s always been bothered by how his parents disappeared without a trace when he was young, and as he enters his senior year in high school he starts to suspect there’s a whole conspiracy involved. Retracing their steps to Oscorp and Dr. Curt Connors, he gets bitten by a super-spider and gains spider powers. Wanting to do Dr. Connors an act of kindness and make some progress in his search, he shares with him some of his father’s work, which bites Peter in the ass later.
After being bitten by a super-spider, Peter the skateboarder gleefully turns into Peter the adrenaline junkie. Peter behaves pretty recklessly and irresponsibly with his new powers, becoming hubristic and insensitive, until he gets his Uncle Ben killed, after which he continues to behave recklessly and irresponsibly – going on an obsessive hunt for vengeance on his Uncle Ben’s killer. It’s not until he gets a sharp and humbling dressing-down from Captain Stacy, saves a few lives from the Lizard, and discovers the Lizard’s rampage is because of his mistake that he learns the true meaning of responsibility and what it truly means to be a hero. Peter’s late night activities also start to tragically put a strain on his relationship with Aunt May. Andrew Garfield’s Peter is in some ways closer to his comic counterpart than his predecessor; he has his standard web-shooters and he has a lot more of Spider-Man’s signature snark which makes some of his action scenes pretty fun to watch. I think what I like most of all about this Peter is that he eventually becomes a people-person. We saw Tobey Maguire’s Peter save people loads of times, but he rarely ever engaged them on a personal level except for Mary Jane before she learned his secret. In the Marvel universe, Spider-Man is a symbol of New York, so I like that both the “Amazing” films and the MCU movies try to establish him more as a community figure. By the last act, Peter has finally acquired Spider-Man’s signature nobility, having decided his duty and responsibility to the city outweighs his own personal needs. He gives it his all to stop the Lizard and save New York in the climax and he does succeed, but not before Captain Stacy dies. The Captain makes him promise to stay away with his daughter, something Peter can’t quite bring himself to do, which can only spell trouble for the sequel.
Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a cool girl, and her character is much better served here than she was in the previous series. As a classmate of Peter’s, Gwen makes recurring appearances in the first half of the film and plays a much larger role in the second half. A humble science prodigy, she’s intelligent, hard-working, quirky, straightforward and kind. Peter catches her eye early on because she finds him cute and she’s sympathetic to his problems. Gwen has her own troubles relating to her home life: she’s the daughter of a policeman, and she has all the fears, insecurities and anxieties that would come with that. Peter and Gwen have some cute and precocious, lowkey chemistry throughout the film (as far as Gwen is concerned, Peter is a dork, who often tries to seem cooler than he is, but he’s her dork), especially after Peter reveals his secret to her. I think it was a good idea to let Gwen in on Peter’s double life relatively early on. I always enjoy when the girlfriends of superheroes get to be their partners and confidantes, which I why I like those rare stories where Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is Superman. Peter and Gwen are an odd pair but they prove to be fairly adorable together over time. With a war of sorts going on, Gwen is determined to be a part of it, and she does manage to contribute a few useful things to Peter’s mission. Gwen’s fatal flaw is that she’s too stubborn for her own good and far too eager to run into harm’s way when she’s not as durable as Spider-Man (you know she gets all her foolish courage from her dad). The last ten minutes introduce a dilemma with Gwen that I’m not fond of. Before now she was just another character, but from here on out she’s set up to be a sacrificial lamb and eventually gets killed off so the narrative can punish Peter for breaking a promise to her dad and punish her for not letting other people coddle her or make her decisions for her, but that goes down in the sequel.
Captain George Stacy, Gwen’s father (portrayed with brevity by Dennis Leary), is a gruff man. He’s stern, short-tempered, protective, bullheaded and no-nonsense, but refreshingly for a cop character, he is not stupid or unreasonable. There’s a satisfying scene halfway through the film where he knocks Peter’s ego down a peg when they get into an argument over dinner about the merits of lawfulness versus vigilantism (though one could ironically argue the Captain has his own subtle hubris about the capabilities of the police force). The Captain is an interesting obstacle to Peter in that he’s not a bad guy, and he gets the protagonist to reevaluate some things about himself. He’s just your typical hardass cop who’s at odds with Peter, or rather, Spider-Man because they’re on two different sides of the law, despite technically being on the same side. A small arc he has in the film is learning there are even more important things than fully upholding the law, and giving Peter his blessing to continue his crime-fighting. In that sense, Captain Stacy is almost like a western figure – the rigidly lawful but misguided sheriff who later sees the error of his ways and ultimately gets slained to pave the way for the true, morally ambiguous hero. Captain Stacy has a fairly predictable death scene – if you didn’t see it coming when he learned Peter’s identity, you knew he was doomed from the moment Peter was injured and the Captain rushed in after him for back-up. I also feel like an opportunity was passed over to expand Peter and George’s relationship further before killing him off in a sequel. However, George’s sacrifice is still hefty, sufficient and affecting, tying into the main, overarching theme of the movie: a person’s duty and responsibility to others outweighing their own personal needs when the time comes to it.
Dr. Curt Connors is a one-armed, handicapped scientist, a genius, and an employee at OsCorp for several decades. The British scientist is aloof, soft-spoken, somewhat unscrupulous, and filled with his share of regrets (like his deliberate absence in Peter’s life, after his parents died). Plagued by his own disability, he wishes to create a world without perceived weakness. He’s a self-professed radical and he used to be friends with Peter’s father before the man pulled away from him, no longer trusting his partner because of his obsessions. Out of all the actors in this movie, Rhys Ifans turns in the best performance as the amiable, multifaceted, self-serving man. After he starts taking the Lizard formula, Dr. Connors starts to become defensive, aggressive and shifty, barely able to conceal his ill intentions, giving Rhys a chance to be icy and steely. Dr. Connors works very well as an antagonist, so it’s a shame the Lizard is a lot more dodgy. The Lizard’s character design is basically grafting a human face onto an entirely CGI, overly smooth object, which looks as bizarre as you would expect and a world away from his canon design (perhaps they should have gone old school and used prosthetics?). It doesn’t help that the CGI rendering of the Lizard ranges from decent to terrible. He rarely ever feels like a tangible or organic part of the film’s environment, which makes several of his confrontations with Spider-Man unintentionally amusing (like their fight in the school).
The most bothersome thing about the Lizard though is his rushed, vague, and muddled motivation. This is actually a core problem both “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies have, the villains are undeveloped. They tend to jump from being flawed and troubled individuals to pure, 100%, destroy-the-world evil in the course of a day because the plot needs to them to, and not because they grew to that point. In Dr. Connors’ case, he goes from thinking about using his serum to heal his own arm to wanting to gas all of New York to turn everyone else into Lizard monsters, with the implication that the Lizard’s personality is starting to take over his mind, since we have an odd scene of Dr. Connors screaming at himself in his head. It feels like we’re missing a step in his character arc, and as it turns out, we are. In a deleted scene, Peter confronts Dr. Connors in the sewers and he admits, drunk on power, that what the Lizard wants for the city, he wants just as much. He’s obsessed over this his entire life, and he’s willing to cross more than a few moral boundaries to achieve it, which is why he lost Richard Parker’s trust. Having become two halves of the same whole, Dr. Connors stealthily and willingly shoots himself up with more lizard serum so he can try to kill Peter. This scene gives Dr. Connors much stronger motivations and makes him a much stronger villain, since he actively chooses to be this monster instead of simply being a pawn of the Lizard. It also wraps up Dr. Ratha’s storyline by having Dr. Connors kill him, instead of having him simply disappear from the movie. I really don’t understand why it was cut, but it is what is.
Aunt May and Uncle Ben are, as always, Peter’s parental figures in the absence of his birth parents and the ones who ground him, though it is worth noting that Uncle Ben is presented as being more of a flawed parent and father figure in this movie than he usually is. Even after all these years, Ben still feels a bit uncertain and insecure about his place in Peter’s life, raising his brother’s kid. He keeps secrets from Peter for years, and he can get pretty self-righteous. He can offer Peter rustic, working-class life advice and easily console a troubled teen, but he can also be standoffish and judgmental. In the first Raimi film, Peter was the one out of line in his argument with his uncle; in this film, they both are. Uncle Ben starts lecturing Peter about how sensible his father was and how he felt people were obligated to always be responsible (Uncle Ben’s catchphrase is credited to Peter’s dad this time around, which some have argued was the start of Sony shifting too much focus on Peter’s parents), which is all well and good except he’s telling this to the kid Mr. and Mrs. Parker left behind and never returned for. Peter points this out and Uncle Ben actually retorts ‘how dare you?’ at which point Peter quite rightly snaps at him and storms out. This is made even worse by the sequel, where we learn even Aunt May and Uncle Ben started to believe Peter’s parents were deadbeats who abandoned him. In any case, Uncle Ben follows Peter into the night and foolishly gets himself shot trying to fight some crook, because he really took that responsibility thing to it’s furthest conclusion.
With her husband dead, Aunt May has to continue the task of raising Peter on her own, and as the film progresses we see her be torn up inside, not just because of her grief but because of her fear for Peter. He disappears every night, he hides things from her with terrible lies, and he always returns bruised and bloody, which terrifies her that he’s part of some gang or he’s being abused. There are several, genuinely sad scenes devoted to this lack of communication between mother and son, that are well-acted by Sally Field. It’s pretty important for a Spider-Man movie to remember that Peter’s wall-crawling, crime-fighting adventures should at some point have consequences for his life at home. By the end of the film, May’s mind can finally rest at ease with the implication that she’s figured out Peter’s secret identity. Flash Thompson (Chris Zykla) is the hotheaded school bully and your typical mean jock, who harasses his classmates and beats on Peter, though I do appreciate the film’s attempt to give him layers beyond being a one-note antagonist. After Peter’s uncle dies, sending him into a depression, Flash has the decency to feel sympathetic and seems to finally understand, from Peter lashing out, that his actions have consequences, which leads to him mellowing out for the rest of the movie. Flash in the comics did eventually grow out of being a bully and wind up befriending Peter in college, and “The Amazing Spider-Man” film was the start of Spidey adaptions emphasizing Flash’s redeeming traits beyond being a dumb blonde.
Marc Webb’s direction for the first half of the film is solid and workmanlike, if a bit bland and generic; it gets the job done but there’s very little style or risk to it. Marc Webb goes on to fare a lot better in the second half of the film with the action sequences. There are a number of shaky cam, first-person POV shots for Spider-Man – to make his wall-crawling and web-slinging scenes feel more personal and immersive for the audience – and the crane-swinging scene in the climax, where Spider-Man soars over a lit-up Manhattan, is a thing of beauty. Throughout the film, “The Amazing Spider-Man” has a very grey aesthetic, creating a moody, gloomy, ambient murder mystery atmosphere. At the time the film was produced, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy was extremely popular, and a number of film series wanted to mimic it’s style. “Man Of Steel” did so and “The Amazing Spider-Man” does as well. I like the dark and edgy style “The Amazing Spider-Man” goes for, how it heightens the tone of the film and romanticizes New York in a different way than it’s predecessor, making the nighttime scenes feel like they belong in a crime series. As Peter grows into the role of Spider-Man, there’s a subconscious sense that he’s a light in the dark for the people of New York. It’s a shame “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” dropped this approach for a lighter and softer look, since it’s one of the signature aspects of this movie. The CGI, as mentioned before, ranges from pretty good to really bad, depending on whether the Lizard is in the scene. James Horner, one of my favorite composers, writes the score for the film. The score he pens is pleasant to the ears with a nice mix of electronic elements and traditional instruments, with some highlights being the enigmatic piano keys that recur throughout the film, Peter and Gwen’s slow-burning love theme, and Spider-Man’s messianic main theme. Basically, James’ score goes a long towards making Spidey’s origin story feel like the stuff of legends.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a solid superhero movie. It’s weighed down by a case of deja-vu and a weak villain, but it’s a charming, stylistic start to a franchise that was unfortunately short-lived.
* I’m not the only one who laughed at how Peter got bitten, right? He actually walked into a cage full of spiders, was surprised when they started falling on him, and started trying to shake them off like a dog. You couldn’t pay me enough to go in a room full of spiders.
* “Save him, or we’ll both lose our heads” Heh, that would have forshadowed Dr. Ratha’s death scene before it was cut.
* The super-spider didn’t just bite Peter. It burrowed into his neck and made webs in there. Ouch, and gross.
* The New Yorkers in “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies are pretty nuts. You’ve got all of Peter’s classmates doing nothing to stop Flash’s bullying when it’s happening right in front of them, a bunch of hooligans trying to beat up a teenager on the subway, trigger-happy cops almost shooting Spidey and a webbed-up crook. And that’s before we get into the sequel, where Spidey tries to talk down a dangerous and unstable mutant, and everyone nearby treats it like it’s entertainment.
* This scene of Peter humiliating Flash is so satisfying. And as an added bonus, he took the non-violent approach.
* Fred and Wilma, cute reference. The part where Fred ate Wilma wasn’t cute though.
* “Careful, I don’t want to sting you. Human trials aren’t til next week” Think of it, Spider-Lizard.
* “It feels better, right? Look, your uncle died. I’m sorry. I get it. I’m sorry. Okay?”
* Nicky promises to come after Peter since he’s seen his face, but nothing ever comes of that threat. Perhaps he would have turned up again in “The Amazing Spider-Man 3”.
* A lot of people consider Spidey’s suit in this movie to be ugly, but I kind of like it. In terms of style, it fits with how this Peter is kind of a punk.
* “Peter, listen to me. Secrets have a cost. They’re not for free. Not now, not ever”
* “If I wanted the car thief off the street, he’d be off the street” “Then why wasn’t he then?” Oh snap.
* “Up your what now, dad?”
* Heh, Dr. Ratha’s chaffeur is named Alfred.
* All the lizards in Manhattan flock to the sewers to meet their lizard king, which makes me wonder if a lizard king is anything like a lion king?
* “I know what this is” “What is it?” “Everyday, for as long as I can remember, my father has left every morning and put a badge on his chest, and strapped a gun to his hip. And everyday, for as long as I can remember, I haven’t known if he was gonna make it home”.
* “No” “Yes” “No” “Yes” ‘Spongebob, when are you gonna learn that no means yes?‘
* “I’m gonna throw you out the window now” “What? Auuggghhhhh!”
* “It’s heading to OsCorp, and your daughter’s there right now. You have to let me go”.
* What part of you hold your fire did you not understand, you moron?
* James Horner’s score during the crane swinging scene is absolute perfection.
* It’s sad to think this is the last time Gwen saw her daddy alive, and she was worried about Peter at the time.
* “I was wrong about you, Peter. The city needs you. Here. You’re gonna need this. You’re gonna make enemies, people will get hurt. Sometimes people closest to you. So I want you to promise me something, okay? Leave Gwen out of it. Promise me that. Huh? You promise me”.
* “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Mr. Parker”. “Yeah, but those are the best kind” And just like that, the Grim Reaper grinned with anticipation.
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- Bros Before Superheroes by JDPhoenix.