Spiderman, Spiderman, friendly neighborhood Spiderman…
Spiderman, Spiderman, friendly neighborhood Spiderman…
Wait a minute… is this record skipping? Pardon my confusion, but wasn’t it just ten years ago that the nerdy Peter Parker was bitten by a spider and turned into a teenager with super strength and the ability to spin webs? Didn’t we just see a blockbuster where his mentor turned to himself for human testing, inadvertently creating a monster and villainous foil for the geeky do-gooder? Didn’t we already see Uncle Ben get killed in that alley? What, might I ask my dear readers did we need another Spiderman origin story for? And how, with all of this going against it, with almost all of its ideas already used up in a prior film, did this film turn out so spectacular and even more surprisingly seem like something new?
What could have been a simple cash grab and redux of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is a film with startlingly real emotions and a hero that is far more relatable to this generation than any prior film incarnation of the webbed comic book hero. Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker felt an awful lot like Clark Kent, this Spider-Man far more closely resembles the dark knight of Gotham City than the man of steel, often brooding and full of brazen intensity. Not just ripping off director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan’s vision, however, the character is also a punk and unlike Batman revels in his newfound powers, always pushing his powers to the brink of stupidity. This is a teenager, one without any real idea of what he’s doing or what he should represent.
This aspect of the character, while touched on in the original film, is perhaps the main reason behind the reboot, allowing for a lot of clever jokes, but more importantly the grounds for what will drive the film to heights not seen in Raimi’s origin story: the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). As individual performances these are strong, but as a couple they are near perfection. Each awkward moment, each stab of wit-filled sarcasm, and finally the truthful longing to be together that they share, makes one thing clear: this is the best couple seen in a comic book film to date. More romantic comedy than summer blockbuster, this film has much more in common with director Marc Webb’s debut, 500 Days of Summer than Marvel’s The Avengers, once again showing a couple with a vast array of obstacles in their way, but unlike Tom and Summer, a couple where both are as fully committed as the other. Comparisons by some to the Twilight films seems an insult; while certainly a relationship set in a high school, there is nothing immature about this indelible and memorable pairing.
While the romance in the film hits in every way one could possibly hope for, another thing that makes this film stand out from the other Spider-Man entries is the strength of Peter Parker as a character. Never whiny, this teenager as portrayed by Garfield is one who is emotionally shattered, close to fracturing, but also full of a silent strength that will lead him to continue, even when he has no clue what his next move should be. Much like Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, this Peter Parker is not played as a cornball hero, but a real human being and one who quite simply has been through hell.
Even though parts of the tale are familiar (perhaps too familiar at that), there are other elements in the film’s storyline that set it apart, including references to Peter’s parents and the mystery behind their sudden disappearance when he was eight years old. Also different is the lack of the Osbornes (despite almost half of the film being set at Oscorp) and the Daily Bugle (JJ Simmons was indeed sorely missed as the hysterical newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson), allowing the film to establish its own identity. While the police storyline, revenge plot, and romance all succeed in this regard, one area of severe weakness in the film is any and all of the action surrounding its villain.
Although as Doctor Connors (Also known as the Lizard), veteran actor and comedian Rhys Ifans, attempts to add breathe some life and add a sprinkling of paths to the character, as written the villain is a cartoonish stick figure with no real motivation. More a weak rip off of a velicoraptor fresh out of Jurassic Park that just happens to have a God complex than a truly intimidating presence, it is hard to take this character seriously. Indeed, pretty much any of the action sequences between Spider-Man and the lizard seen like knock-offs of better films, including Raimi’s original trilogy. There is nothing new to the combat here and most of the time the audience will hope that a scene will end quickly so as to get back to the quirks of the Parker-Stacey relationship or the frantic search for answers to Parker’s past.
That in a nutshell can describe this film. More about relationships than spectacle this charming tale seems unique in the superhero landscape. While certainly there are issues with the film including a lackadaisical film score, clunky editing, and some characters in need of refinement, at its core there is something vibrant and beautiful. This Spider-Man is far more interesting to watch than Maguire’s and certainly more exciting to root for. Unlike the past version, he is not the ultimate vision of sacrifice; this is a selfish kid who is trying to do right, but who struggles at times to do so. Neither, however, is this character, the emo mess shown in Spider-Man 3 that was unbearable to watch. No, this is a character filled with a great many layers and who will hopefully be explored in even greater detail in the coming years by the same cast and crew. They have earned the opportunity.