A few thoughts on the new Spider-Man movie

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man over the weekend. While not a perfect movie, it works. Here’s why, as spoiler-free as I can be while still making my points:

1. Casting of Peter and Gwen: I was never a fan of Tobey McGuire as Peter and Kirstin Dunst as Mary Jane, especially the latter. Peter is a boy – later a man – who’s often uncomfortable in his own skin but finds situations in which he can excel once he loses himself in an acivity, first in science labs and then in a costume fighting crime. McGuire’s characterization was of a mopey sadsack. Similarly, Dunst’s Mary Jane never had the backbone and drive of the character. Stuff just happened to both of them. Eduardo SaverinAndrew Garfield captures Peter’s awkwardness but also his ego. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is certainly different from the comics but isn’t afraid to push Peter around when he deserves it.

2. The evolution from Peter Parker to Spider-Man: Yes, it’s told largely in a montage but the movie shows Peter as a problem-solver and that’s what’s great about reading Spider-Man. The book always makes an effort to show Peter thinking through his problems in order to solve them, mainly through serendipitous occurences. (I’m thinking here of his fall into the wrestling ring.)

3. Aunt May and Uncle Ben: Maybe I’m just a sucker for anything involving these two but the thread of sacrifice that runs through the Spider-Man comic really played out on their faces in the film. Even knowing Uncle Ben’s fate and how much it’s telegraphed in the film, I was still caught up in the scene when it happens. Hearing Aunt May say “I can’t sleep” to Peter after he’s been off Spider-Man-ing was a great moment. Also, I will watch Martin Sheen do pretty much anything.

4. Mechanical web-shooters: Always, always, always. Not to keep hammering this point but if you give Peter organic web-shooters then it’s just something happening to him. Much easier to show great responsibility following great power if the hero makes things happen for himself.

5. Humor: This is a funny Spider-Man, especially while fighting. He’s no sadsack.

6. Spider-Man can’t always web-swing: Maybe I missed this in the earlier films but they seemed to always show Spider-Man using webs to get around. It’s impossible to do that. So I liked how this film showed him using cars, buses, sewers and other ground transport to get around. Spider-Man is a comic grounded in realism so this was a nice touch.

That having been said, there were a couple things that didn’t work for me.

1. Peter and Dr. Connors / Peter and Captain Stacy: The relationships between these characters aren’t very deep. In the comics, they are, and it makes what follows have deep meaning and developing the themes of sacrifice and ambition. Sure, the comics have many pages and this is a two-hour-plus film. But if you want a payoff in the third act, you need to plan for it. One more scene each of Peter with both Dr. Connors and Captain Stacy and I think the movie could have hit those beats.

2. Peter and Flash Thompson: There’s a scene that is supposed to explain how Peter and Flash go from bully and target to friends but it doesn’t work that well. Again, one of those things that central to the comics that gets a bit lost here.

3. The big climactic battle: Tough to go into this without being too spoiler-y or expounding on #1 in this section but…eh.

4. All the talking machines: Do all science contraptions count down and announce what they’re doing in specific detail? Seems like that would take a lot of programming. This is a minor quibble but it was really distracting.

Curious what other people thought about the movie, especially comics geeks.

2 comments for “A few thoughts on the new Spider-Man movie

  1. July 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Scott,

    Love your writing. Some quick thoughts/responses:

    -Flash Thompson as bully. How on earth does a science high school have a basketball team, let alone dumb jocks?

    -Gwen Stacy. While her personality didn’t completely line up with the comics, her look certainly did. She was a living, breathing, John Romita drawing.

    -I didn’t like the emo guy as Peter, and I couldn’t accept him as a high school student. He looked too old, and I was taken out of the movie every time he was walking the halls.

    -How much access do science labs give interns these days? Gwen Stacy sure had a lot.

    -The skateboard scene. Total pandering. They may as well have put a pair of Warped Tour tickets in his back pocket to drive the point home.

    -The Lizard. Total one-note villain. In my fantasy world, I would have loved to have seen a Kraven the Hunter, reality TV, script concept.

    -The movie, on the whole, wasn’t all that “fun” to watch. In fact, there were long stretches that I thought were terribly dull.

    Just my twelve cents (the cover price of Amazing Fantasy #15).

  2. Scott Smith
    July 19, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I totally forgot about the “why is a jock at a science school” thing. Bothered me, too. And the skateboarding.

    Please pitch your Kraven script to Sony.

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