If it's crap ... We'll tell you
When Sony had said to the world that Sam Raimi and company had given up on the Spider-Man franchise, fans would shed tears as it was announced that it was going the Batman Begins route of rebooting the entire series after only three movies and five years following the previous film. Not only that but unlike Batman, audiences had seen the origin of Spider-Man at length already so why retread it when it is considered one of the great superhero films and the film that really opened the floodgates in terms of all these other ones coming out? Well, Marc Webb and company (and yes, the director's name is actually Webb) have to be given credit for honestly trying to make a new version of Spider-Man that stands apart from the original Sam Raimi trilogy!
While the film really suffers from going through the same old things that audiences already went through in the original Spider-Man, there are enough interesting variations and modernizations to make it appealing. For one thing, the original film was very much about Peter Parker growing into the role of Spider-Man in an epic sense whereas this film seems to be a lot more intimate and heartfelt in terms of how they approach telling the story. Instead of acting as a typical Hero's Journey type scenario, it plays with the idea of every singular person's story in the intimate sense: who am I and where do I belong? It also lightly touches on the fact that Peter Parker's parents were very secret individuals and left Peter on a doorstep almost in a Harry Potter type of way which is very different from the previous version. However, the most frustrating aspect of this is the fact that the reasons why probably won't be revealed for another few movies and it's not that interesting of a question to ponder on about. What comes after the abandonment becomes the most interesting part of the movie. Peter Parker's character arc is much more developed than any of the other films and his story goes above and beyond the call of duty for an origin film for Spider-Man and it really gives you the reason why Spider-Man is ultimately the iconic legend that he is in the pop culture.
Not only that but Andrew Garfield essentially makes the character his own and builds more upon the character than Tobey Maguire ever could. For some strange reason, his portrayal came across as a mould of many different facets which include the anguish of Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause, the natural charisma and curiosity of Jimmy Stewart and the playful mischievousness of Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. While this observation could be seen as a mishmash of character elements that seem out of place, it actually goes to show the strength of Garfield's performance and interpretation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man! While Tobey Maguire played both parts as straight as possible, he never gave off the confidence or genius of what both parts needed to be. His Spider-Man never seemed strong enough of a hero to really make up for how pathetic his Peter Parker was. Meanwhile, Andrew Garfield plays off the teenage angst as something that has deeply affected him psychologically and while he encounters a lot of tragedy, he is able to escape that and he becomes the seemingly inhuman force that is capable of fighting a whole gang of thugs whilst preventing a massive beam from falling on a massive group of people! As Spider-Man, Parker is virtually unstoppable and is able to make Christopher Nolan's Batman look like he's slumming it but thankfully the film reminds us time and again that Spider-Man is still a man and the bearer of more battle scars than anyone. Sadly the biggest mistake that is made in the story is that Peter's revenge on the mugger who killed his uncle is left unsatisfied here. The biggest reason for Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man at all was so that he could more or less make up for that selfish act of vengeance (subconsciously) and that's left unresolved for another movie which doesn't make any sense. It seems like the writers got distracted by the bigger story-lines that dealt with Gwen Stacy and Dr. Connors and they never really bothered to finish that up so now it just leaves the impression that Spider-Man's quest will partly result from the fact that he's seeking revenge and it just doesn't fit.
Even though the revenge story barely goes anywhere, the near perfection of how the other two story-lines are dealt with is more than enough to forgive it. Emma Stone has always been beautiful and talented but she radiates like Grace Kelly in this film and she truly proves herself once again to be one of the finest actresses working today. Even though it would be easy to cast her as Mary Jane given her spitfire confidence and sarcastic wit, Marc Webb makes the inspired choice of casting her as Gwen Stacy: the ideal girlfriend who is smart, funny, honest and caring. She is definitely the girl that would be perfect for Peter and not only that but Garfield and Stone's chemistry is electric! Every scene with them is passionate and it is clear from the very start that they care about each other and it makes for one of the most well written romances that have been put to screen in a long time. It's also quite strange because of the way it's executed since a good portion of the film feels like a modern teen film that would be directed by Alfred Hitchcock if he were still alive. When it comes to the people surrounding Peter and Gwen, all of the characters are written perfectly and every actor fits the role just as well. Martin Sheen gives a role as small as Ben Parker as much weight as the presidential character he portrayed in The West Wing, even though his monologue towards the end is a bit much. Sally Field makes for a perfect Aunt May and shows the sturdy side of her that hasn't been explored before on film and Denis Leary gives one of the best performances of his career in this film as Captain George Stacy, Gwen's father and the hard-edged, no nonsense, New York edition of a character like Commissioner Gordon (which in this case is a very good thing). The only thing that could be said about these characters as a negative is that something really bad happens to one of them which foreshadow a darker event in the story of Spider-Man and for an origin film, it just brings the tone down more than it should. It should have been saved for the second film so that this film could have its appropriately triumphant conclusion.
Since the Lizard has been built up by Raimi with the presence of Dr. Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 & 3, it's about time that he finally appeared in reptilian form! Unfortunately, the design of the Lizard is so unbelievably bad that it's just frustrating to watch during these fight scenes between him and Spider-Man! This New York City is supposed to be a heightened reality like Christopher Nolan's Gotham City but no matter how real or practical everything is with Spider-Man, the Lizard looks more like a cartoon than the actual cartoon and if you're going to make the Lizard more "grounded", don't give him a humanoid face and let him keep the accent and capability to speak along with blatant Joker scars on his face! If the Lizard is supposed to be the Lizard of the comics, he should be terrifying yet tragic at the same time but whenever you look at the Lizard here, he just looks like a reject from the Jim Henson collection of puppets and animatronics. How is he supposed to be threatening when he's always grinning and speaking in a Welsh accent? Regardless of how badly the animators and visual effects artists failed on the design of the Lizard, Rhys Ifans turns in a performance that is complex and fascinating. He's certainly a more believable choice for both Dr. Connors and the Lizard than Dylan Baker was even though he only got to play Dr. Connors but that's neither here nor there. He comes as a man burdened with pain and he leaves with even more but what lines are given to him as the Lizard are so unbearable and indecipherable that whatever tragic aspect he tries to convey is lost and he just becomes a stock bad guy. He could have been on the same level as Loki from Thor & The Avengers which is why his treatment in this film is so incredibly disappointing and embarrassing!
Since the Lizard is supposed to be the big bad guy in this film, the action scenes never feel all that suspenseful which is the part that the "Alfred Hitchcock teen film" is sorely missing. Since Spider-Man gets bloodied and bruised, the audience will care but the Lizard is such an unworthy opponent that it gets really boring at times to see Spider-Man dodging him because it seems all too easy. The Lizard gets a few good shots in but for the most part, Spider-Man gets the last laugh almost in a contrived way. There's no real sense of danger or threat and the problem goes to both Spider-Man and the Lizard. The Lizard looks too goofy and ridiculous while Spider-Man just seems too lucky that the Lizard is almost incapable of any critical thinking to really do any damage to him. Another thing that's troublesome is that the script establishes Irrfan Khan's Dr. Ratha as an important character but once the Lizard takes over the film as its major villain, he just disappears and is never brought up again. One thing that was put under a different light that was used incredibly well though was the character of Flash Thompson, played excellently by Chris Zylka. While Flash Thompson is the asshole that one would expect when coming into a Spider-Man story, there is actually a character arc for him as he warms up to Peter after he gains the spider powers. He goes from hating Peter to being scared of him and ultimately to being kind of compassionate for him when all the tragedy that befalls him happens. Thankfully, despite all the darkness and heaviness the film bears on its shoulders, it's balanced by some excellent comic relief and a sense of reality for who these characters are in these extraordinary circumstances.
For all the faults that the movie presents, it unexpectedly succeeds by making a really solid teen film through the eyes of Alfred Hitchcock and through the use of honored Spider-Man characters. While the actions scene may be undercut due to the disappointments of the Lizard, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy's love story is what differentiates this from other superhero movies and it's what makes it so meaningful and palpable. It's about people's relationships to each other whether it's their parents, their significant others, their mentors or their enemies and for a gargantuan summer blockbuster to still maintain a heart and soul that is more powerful than the muscle of the piece, this film deserves major props! Let's just hope that the filmmakers improve from what they did this time and intensify the action to complement the intensification of the love story.
Rating: High Matinee!