Matt Adler has seen AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and has a spoiler filled review to prove it!!

SPOILER ALERT !!

Hey folks, Matt Adler here. I had the opportunity to catch an advance screening of The Amazing Spider-Man on Thursday, and let me tell you… the trailers do not give you the full scope of this movie. It’s a VERY different film than the Tobey Maguire series, both for the changes it makes to the Spider-Man mythos, and for the portrayal of its lead by Andrew Garfield. Read on to find out more if you dare. Spoilers ahoy!

The film opens with a young Peter Parker, who still lives with his parents Richard and Mary. Readers of the comics will remember that his parents were government agents who apparently died on an undercover mission against the third Red Skull. Here, they’re not secret agents, but they are no less secretive; they’re scientists with deadly knowledge they are determined to protect. After their home is ransacked, they send Peter off to live with Richard’s brother Ben and his wife May. They never return, and later in the movie it’s implied they’ve met some nefarious fate at the hands of Oscorp, a company very interested in Richard’s research into cross-species genetics, and run by… well, you ought to know who.

It’s a real trip to see Sally Field and Martin Sheen cast as Aunt May and Uncle Ben. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, they’re fantastic actors, so who can complain about that? On the other hand, they’re so well-known that you’re always aware you’re watching Sally Field and Martin Sheen instead of Aunt May and Uncle Ben. I’ll say this though, these are roles where they’re not afraid to let them show their age… I even think they may have added a little make-up and padding to help Sheen “fill out” the role. If not… sorry Martin! No offense intended.

Flash-forward to Peter’s teen years, and he’s a skateboard riding school photographer. The skateboard thing had me wincing a bit. I’m not saying every skateboard rider is James Dean, but it just feels wrong for Peter Parker. My Peter Parker is a strict bookworm, non-athletic type. Even his hair and style of dress just seems a little too well-adjusted to teenage life. He doesn’t need to be wearing a sweater vest like in 1962, but I imagine nerds in any era walk out of the house looking like they were dressed by their mother (or aunt).

Speaking of flashing, as usual, Peter is the target of school bully Flash Thompson. This Flash is particularly brutal, giving Peter a vicious beatdown when Peter initially stand up to him (making it that much more satisfying when Peter not-so subtly shows off his newly acquired spider-powers in a rematch later in the film). Gwen Stacy is also introduced at this point, and I was a little dismayed at how casually she treated Flash’s brutality.

In keeping with her comic book origins, Gwen is the brainy science-oriented girl, in contrast with Mary Jane’s more fun loving party girl personality (not that Kirsten Dunst really reflected that in the first three Spider-Man films). Emma Stone gets a lot of great scenes in this film, even getting to help Spider-Man out in high danger situations. She’s pretty much everything you’d want in a superhero girlfriend, and she’s got a kind snarky, spunky attitude that lets her hold her own in conversations with the lead. And the makers of the film have made the gutsy choice to have Peter reveal his secret identity to Gwen right away. The scene in which it happens is kind of awkward and out of place, but it does enable Gwen to be a more active participant in Spider-Man’s adventures. On the downside, it removes a lot of the conflict between his dual lives; how can Gwen ever really be angry with him when she knows he’s out risking his life to save others?

Back home, Peter finds his father’s old briefcase, and Andrew Garfield gets to demonstrate his major advantage over Tobey Maguire; he emotes. Boy, does he emote. There’s a kind of wrenching anguish coming from him every scene in which the topic of parents, and his seeming abandonment by them, comes up. Maybe he carries it too far; there was always a pathos to Peter Parker, but this borders on brooding.

In the briefcase, he discovers his father’s notes, and a picture of an old colleague, Curt Connors. After looking into it, he discovers that Connors is hosting a student internship (applications are now closed) at Oscorp. Peter’s daring plan is to walk into the Oscorp building, where he is told at the desk to grab “his” intern ID badge from among the badges sitting out on the desk (the receptionist doesn’t even ask him his name). He discovers that his classmate Gwen is the lead intern, and of course she recognizes him. He is then permitted to walk around the facilities unsupervised and enter freely into unguarded rooms where dangerous experiments are contained.

Okay, let’s stop right here. Maybe this isn’t the crux of the movie (although considering we’re about to experience Spider-Man’s origin, that could be argued). But come on guys. Would it really slow the movie down THAT much to introduce a modicum of logic into this sequence? Make it just a LITTLE more difficult for him to gain access to such closely held corporate secrets? Not only that, but Peter is shown to be a brilliant science student in his own right. How is it possible that his classmate has become the lead intern for Oscorp, and he hasn’t even heard of this internship before? This whole sequence really took me out of the film. Anyway, the climax of this bit is that he walks into a room where “biocable”, super-strong webbing generated by genetically-engineered spiders, is being created. Naturally, one of the spiders bites him, and that’s that. Frankly, it’s a little anti-climactic.

We then get a whole series of mishaps with Peter discovering his powers for the first time. The existence of biocable provides the impetus for the reintroduction of the web-shooters (where the first three films had him generating his own organic webbing). I’m usually a traditionalist about these sorts of things, but I have to ask; what’s the point? Is anything really served by going back to the web-shooters, and removing web-spinning as one of his natural abilities? Like a lot of the changes in this movie, this feels like change just for the sake of drawing a distinction from the earlier films, and thereby justifying the reboot.

Peter is introduced to Connors at the lab, and later visits him at his home, where he reveals that he’s the son of his former colleague, and uses his father’s notes to assist Connors in completing a formula that’s confounded him for years; a serum that utilizes reptilian DNA to restore health to sick people and even regenerate lost limbs—such as Connors’ missing arm. After being confronted by his superior at Oscorp who reminds him that company head Norman Osborn is dying and insists that he begin human trials immediately, even though test subjects might die, Connors refuses and is summarily fired. Seeing this as his last chance at a cure for his own condition, Connors injects himself with the serum, and becomes the villain known as the Lizard.

I have a few problems with Connors’ character here as compared with the comics. One of the things that makes the Lizard such a compelling villain is his total duality. As Connors, he is a good-hearted, well-meaning scientist who just made a tragic mistake; as the Lizard, is a completely cold-blooded reptilian monster with loathing for humanity, including his human side. It’s a totally separate persona. Rhys Ifans, however, plays the Lizard as simply Connors gone insane. Also, even in human form, Connors isn’t quite as sympathetic; in the comics, he’s a war veteran with a wife and son. Here, he’s working for an evil corporation and clearly has some knowledge of what happened to Peter’s parents which he’s withholding. When he does revert to human form, he makes no effort to seek help for his Lizard problem, instead continuing his experiments on his own in hopes of finding his own cure. Perhaps because of this, Peter never really develops the close relationship with him that he does in the comics, where he protects Connors’ secret while trying to help him, and a grateful Connors becomes his ongoing ally. Here, Peter brings in the police and Connors eventually winds up in prison.

But before that can happen, Peter has to become Spider-Man. He’s got the powers courtesy of Oscorp, now he just needs the motivation. Traditionally, Peter comes up with the costume and goes out using his powers to make money, getting a swelled head as a result of the fame he achieves as a performer, which leads to a fatal mistake. That’s how the comics and the Maguire movies had it, and it was a subtle commentary by Lee and Ditko on the pitfalls of celebrity. That’s abandoned here; instead, Peter is just having a bad day after an argument with Uncle Ben and being given a hard time by a clerk at a store, so when that store is robbed, he lets the robber get away and the rest is history. Which scenario is more dramatic, more compelling? You be the judge. Either way, the guilt over Uncle Ben’s subsequent death provides the impetus for him to go out as a masked vigilante. Unsatisfyingly, we never get the dramatic confrontation at the end of Amazing Fantasy #15, as he never manages to catch the killer here.

Much has been made over some of the scenes in the trailer which seem to show a snarkier Spider-Man (“Oh no, you’ve found my weakness! Small knives!”). It’s true, Garfield’s Spider-Man does seem to have more of an edge; he’s angry, and he doesn’t hesitate to take it out on the criminals he finds, as his crime-fighting is no longer simply out of a sense of responsibility, but an ongoing search for the killer. But frankly, the script could use some work in the snappy dialogue department; a lot of Spider-Man’s intended humor just didn’t seem to get laughs, at least in the audience I was with.

One of the standouts of the film is Dennis Leary as Captain George Stacy, Gwen’s father, and the head of the police department’s efforts to rein in this new masked vigilante. He gets a number of excellent scenes facing off against Peter Parker, including one where they have an almost political argument over Spider-Man and the merits of vigilantism, as well as a hilarious scene where Peter attempts to convince him that a respected scientist has transformed himself into a giant Lizard. Stacy is there for the climactic final battle, using his shotgun to help Spider-Man fend off the Lizard, and if you’ve read the comics, you have some idea of what the ultimate outcome is.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this film. Even if you didn’t like the Maguire films (and no one could fault you for disliking Spider-Man 3), I think watching this film will give you an appreciation for how faithful they actually were to the comics, because this relaunch takes a totally different track. I understand when a film has to make changes from the source material because something might not translate across mediums, or something feels dated. But like I said, many of the changes here feel like they were made simply to differentiate this new incarnation from the last series. On that basis, I’m not sure a retelling of the origin was needed; the movie might have been better served by a short recap of who Spider-Man is and how he came to be, and work in the Lizard elements from there. But then again, you can’t blame Marc Webb and the rest of the people who worked on this film for wanting to make their own mark on the Spider-Man mythos– and that they have certainly done, providing a new vision, a compelling tone, and plenty of room to expand in the movies to come.

Matt Adler is a writer/journalist, currently writing for AICN among other outlets. He’s been reading comics for 20 years, writing about them for 7, and spends way, way, too much time thinking about them, which means he really has no choice but to figure out how to make a living out of them. He welcomes all feedback.

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2 Comments to “Matt Adler has seen AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and has a spoiler filled review to prove it!!”

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  1. JD (Host) says:

    I see that you have mixed feelings about this film. I do NOT. I loved every thwippin’ minute of it and I can’t wait to go back to see it again this weekend!!

    As a lifelong “Spidey Guy”, I am totally aware of all the changes that they’ve made to story here and they don’t bother me in the slightest.

    This was the most perfect Spider-Man movie we’ve seen to date, IMHO.

  2. I def enjoyed this more than I anticipated. And thank GOD for whoever edited that sucker because I was not liking a lot of what I was seeing out there. And I watched everything thrown at us.

    I think Dennis Leary was more or less a J Jonah Jameson for this flick. He was my least favorite character, but that doesn’t mean he was terrible. For someone to butt heads with Peter, it worked.

    Martin Sheen and Sally Field nailed Uncle Ben and Aunt May…and not so much the comic book characters, but Peter’s guardians. So when Ben bites it, it sucks.

    I also felt like this was familiar territory in regards to the villain. I just felt like Doc Connors was just there because we needed a bad guy. Much like Doc Ock in Spidey 2. Just not enough time to focus on him and what he was going through. Yes…he didn’t have an arm. Yes, he knew Peter’s father. But minus a couple scenes to show his humanistic side at Oscorp, I just didn’t really give a hoot. I just wanted to FWD to Spidey stuff. But I know, 20 more minutes of this film and people would have lost interest.

    Andrew knocked Peter Parker and Spidey out of the park. Emma Watson, you showed Kirsten Dunst UP! Nothing great, but compared to so many roles where women play a damsel in distress, this was some of the better ones.

    As a refreshing take, yes, this worked. The effects, the action, the story, very well done. Do I think Marc Webb NEEDS to come back. Not at all. But this is a good start. I just hope they get the mask coming off out of their system next time around.

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