The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

I really like this movie. It’s highly underrated. I don’t care if this is a movie nobody asked for. I don’t care if this is a reboot nobody asked for. Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is a darn good superhero origin story. One that just happens to feature my favorite superhero of them all.

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Why do I like it so much? I think Andrew Garfield is a much better Peter Parker. He emotes more, and he easily sells the whole anguished teenage vibe the film is trying to get across. People have criticized Garfield for being too attractive for the role, but something like attractiveness is so subjective that I find it’s almost silly to try to mount serious film criticism on this basis. Garfield should be viewed as a rising star in Hollywood; an actor with much potential. It’s awesome to see an actor of his caliber play out a character as iconic as Spider-Man. He’s made the character his own, with charismatic, comical stutters and skips as nerdy Peter, and playful quips as an almost cocky Spider-Man. Whereas Raimi flew right past Peter’s high school life in his film series, both Webb and Garfield embraces teenage Peter.

Coupled with a new mystery surrounding his parent’s death, teenage Peter works really well because he has something to be anguished about. It’s as if he has lost a part of himself in the process of living without his parents, and it is this emptiness that paves way for the identity-searching experience of becoming Spider-Man. Although this means Uncle Ben becomes suddenly less important in the screenplay, this is just one of many instances that keeps this Spidey origin story fresh despite revisiting a majority of the same plot elements. I admire the creativity coming from Mark Webb’s team, and I actually think this active attention in making a different Spider-Man film also helped fix up some of the major issues of Raimi’s version, namely Kristen Dunst.

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Don’t get me wrong. Mary Jane, in my mind, is Peter Parker’s definitive love interest. But you know, it really didn’t seem like Emma Stone got the memo. After seeing so many dud romances in superhero films, it’s obvious when you see something special. And Garfield and Stone has it. Their eyes light up when they see each other. Sparks fly whenever they share the screen. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is when Peter asks out Gwen Stacy. One can accuse Garfield of overacting, but Stone? I think she nails it. She’s sure of herself, but noticeably nervous. She knows what she wants, but she’s not forceful about it. She gives Peter hints and waits (humorously long) for him to ask her out. She is witty, sarcastic, cheery, and just full of personality. Holy crap! Gwen Stacy is a strong female character! In a superhero film? Could it be?

This may have been the only superhero film where I wanted to see more of the romance and less of the action. And while my wish would be granted in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I think this is a direct result of Sony’s willingness to bring in a director who had only one romantic comedy/drama under his belt. I haven’t seen (500) Days of Summer, but The Amazing Spider-Man has put that movie towards the top of my watch-list.

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Of course, the romance would mean nothing had it not been placed in a good Spider-Man story, and in my opinion, The Amazing Spider-Man gives Peter Parker the Batman Begins treatment. Okay, no, this movie is nowhere as good as Batman Begins, but it does make Peter into a seriously troubled individual before transforming him into a costume-wearing superhero. The fact that he is taking the law into his own hands is heavily considered, as the police force of New York plays a big role in the movie trying to apprehend this masked vigilante. Peter even gets a chance to explicitly defend Spider-Man to Gwen Stacy’s father, Captain Stacy, over dinner, and seeing how upset Peter gets over this conversation really conveys the growing importance of Spider-Man to Peter Parker.

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Throughout the movie, what Spider-Man means to Peter takes on many different forms. At first, it’s just a red mask and pair of sunglasses lens as a way to protect his identity while he searches for his Uncle Ben’s killer. The costume is just a means for revenge. But as he becomes painted as a hero by the citizens of New York, he starts to see himself as hero. He upgrades his costume and fights crime, but perhaps out of self-ego. Ironically, his transformation isn’t fully complete until he gives up his mask to a boy stuck in a car. His name is Jack. He’s scared. He screams for help. And when the car catches on fire and Peter asks him to climb up the car, he says he can’t.

Jack, in many ways, is Peter. He’s “just a normal guy” who got stuck in a terrible situation. It isn’t his fault that he’s stuck in this terrible situation, buckled down to a car hanging over a large river, just as it isn’t Peter’s fault that he got abandoned by his parents. Then Peter tells Jack to put on the mask because it’ll make him stronger, and all of a sudden, he starts to climb. He becomes empowered to escape his situation. Spider-Man takes on its final form here.

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Spider-Man is catharsis for Peter Parker.

I love Spider-Man because he is the one I feel most inclined to take after. He’s not from another planet or a billionaire. He’s Peter Parker. A guy who just got lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. To me, Spider-Man represents the hero inside all of us, because after watching a Spider-Man film, that’s all I want to do. I want to put on a mask, build my own web shooters, and save people’s lives. And the fact that this movie gets it. Just gets it. Is amazing to me.

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This isn’t to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is amazing in its entirety. The action is particularly flat, especially when compared to Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, though I appreciate how spider-like Spider-Man fights in this film. The villain is also noticeably weaker than Doc Ock, opting to turn to the let’s-make-the-villain-crazy-after-he-gets-drugged route of William Dafoe’s character, which meshed in much better with Raimi’s comic-book tone. There were also a few too many cliffhangers for my personal liking, like with Gwen Stacy’s relationship with Peter and Uncle Ben’s killer. But in the end, these are relatively minor problems in an otherwise great origin story.

Every since you were a little boy, you’ve been living with so many unresolved things. Well, take it from an old man, those things send us down a road, that make us who are we. And if anyone is destined for greatness, it’s you son. You owe the world your gifts. You just have to figure out how to use them. And know, that wherever they take you, we’ll always be here. So come on home Peter. You’re my hero, and I love you.

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Peter’s English teacher claims there is only one plot in all of fiction: who am I? Rarely is that story done as well as Peter Parker’s in The Amazing Spider-Man.

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