The Surprisingly Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man is my second-favorite comic book superhero, second only to Batman. (Only a week and a half till Dark Knight Rises!!) I really loved the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi Spidey movies, the second one in particular is one of my top-ten favorite movies of all time. Admittedly, the third one went a bit off the rails, but I still enjoyed it.

I was among the many people who were skeptical when I heard that they were redoing Spidey. It seemed especially odd considering that Spider-Man 3 was only five years ago, and it’s only been ten years since the original. I was also skeptical about the director, Marc Webb, who up until now has been known mostly for directing music videos and the low-budget “(500) Days of Summer,” which I haven’t seen.

I was also skeptical about the star, Andrew Garfield. The logic behind casting a 28-year old English actor as an American teenager was somewhat lost on me (though admittedly, Tobey Maguire was in his mid-to-late twenties when he made the first one). I was encouraged when the casting of Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was announced, because she’s a really good actress and I have a huge crush on her. (Fun fact: she’s known as a redhead but she’s a natural blonde, so she’s pretty much perfect for Gwen. Not that I’ve looked this up or anything…)

Now please allow me to explain something. One gripe comic nerds had with the Sam Raimi films was that Spidey’s web-shooting was an extension of his spider-powers, as opposed to the comics, where he made mechanical web-shooters of his own design. This changed riled a lot of comic nerds, but frankly, it never bothered me. It seemed a lot more logical to me that the web-shooting was another one of his spider-powers, since it never made sense to me that he would get all of these spider-abilities EXCEPT for that one. I could also never buy that a high-school kid could effortlessly whip up this amazing device that all of the world’s greatest scientists would be scratching their heads over. I guess the placement of the web-shooters on his wrists is a bit random. If he got real spider-powers, wouldn’t the webs shoot out of his butt? I guess the idea of Spidey swinging around New York shooting webs out of his ass would have been a bit much.

Now that I’ve left you with that image, let’s move on to the new movie, “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Seemed like a somewhat self-serving title, as if the filmmakers are trying to make the viewer think that it’s a good movie. And yes, I know that was the name of Spidey’s original comic series, so you don’t need to remind me.

But let’s move on from all the naysaying and talk about the film.

It was great.

I loved it.

I am happy to say that every single one of my skepticisms was proven to be unfounded. Sure, there’s a certain sense of déjà vu at first, since the first half or so of the movie covers ground that we’ve mostly already seen. But it still manages to feel fresh, and you can tell that the filmmakers put a lot of effort into making sure that the familiar territory is still interesting. There’s a new subplot about Peter Parker’s parents, and the research his father was working on before he died (or did he…).

The question of where Peter’s parents were was never addressed in the Raimi films, because it wasn’t important to that story. It is important to this film’s story, and it’s more than just padding. It gives Peter added motivation, and it also provides him with a formidable villain, the Lizard, aka Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. As Dr. Connors, he’s a bit dull, but as the thoroughly nasty Lizard he’s much more interesting, and more than a match for our hero.

Speaking of our hero, Garfield makes a very appealing and likable Peter Parker. And if there’s any one thing you need from an actor playing Peter Parker, it’s likability. He’s probably the most likable comic-book superhero alter-ego there is. He’s the only one who still has to do his homework after he beats the bad guys. Garfield makes him into a troubled but very likable character, and I’ve gotta say, a very convincing teenager. His body language and his mannerisms are perfect. He won’t quite make you forget Tobey Maguire in the role, but he puts his own spin on it that feels appropriate for the character and has you rooting for him all the way. Aunt May tells him late in the film that “If there’s one thing you are, Peter Parker, it’s good,” and Garfield’s performance has you agreeing with her.

And speaking of likability, there’s really no more likable actress out there than Emma Stone, in my humble opinion. I suppose I may be biased, but she too is impossible not to like. She projects strength and vulnerability in equal measure, and she seems like a real person, as opposed to just a pretty face who requires rescuing all the time. And of course she is very pretty, as Peter’s aunt and uncle remind him more than once.

And about those web-shooters. The way this film was structured reminded me of “Batman Begins,” in that it takes the time to explain where the gadgets and the costumes actually come from. In this film, the web-shooters are an invention of Oscorp, Peter just tinkers with them to turn them into his web-shooters. This is far more plausible than it would be if he had just come up with them on his own. The other thing I liked about this is that the technology helps make it believable. Maybe part of the reason Stan Lee had Peter coming up with the web-shooters on his own was that he couldn’t think of any other way for them to come about. Well, the miracles of modern technology have helped solve that problem for him. (And speaking of Stan Lee, he makes another highly-entertaining cameo appearance.)

This film was one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in the movie theater in quite some time. It’s well-acted, the plot comes together really well, and the special effects and action sequences are great. Following Spidey as he swoops through New York remains as thrilling as ever. The movie is funny, smart, action-packed, entertaining, and it has that emotional connection that Raimi’s Spider-Man films did so well. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” to me at least, managed to more than justify its existence. I think it’s safe to say that it is my second-favorite Spidey movie, second only to the great “Spider-Man 2,” which is pretty high praise (this is coming from a guy who saw Spidey 2 in theaters no less than four times). I find myself looking forward to the already-announced sequel (speaking of which, be sure to stay tuned through the first part of the end credits).

There’s a great scene in the film where (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) Spidey saves a kid in a car that is dangling precariously from a bridge. The car inevitably catches fire and the kid starts to panic. Spidey, unable to reach him, and because the kid is frightened by his mask, takes off the mask to reassure the kid that he’s just a normal guy. He tosses the mask to the kid and tells him to put it on, because “It’ll make you strong.” Watching this film will make you strong too.

I’m sorry I doubted you Spidey. Won’t happen again.

Welcome back.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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