In 2002, for example, Sam Raimi’s first Tobey Maguire–starring Spider-Man film clearly took place in the post-9/11 world, with lots of patriotism and New York rah-rah sentiment.
2008’s The Dark Knight undeniably made statements about the political climate and actions taken by George W. Bush’s Homeland Security team.
Now we have a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, and it, too, feels timely.
The Amazing Spider-Man recasts Peter Parker as less of a nerd who gets strong and can defend his city, and more of a bullied loner who gets the chance to get even and show up those who have made him seem weak.
Instead of “With great power comes great responsibility,” now we get Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) telling his nephew, “If you have the ability to do good things for others, you have a moral responsibility to do those things. Not a choice; an obligation.”
So yes, this Spider-Man is about taking the (more heroic, sometimes lonelier) high road and standing up for the little guy who can’t help himself. It’s an anti-bullying message that feels appropriate for these times, and it’s a much more positive message than the Raimi series left us with in 2007, when Spider-Man 3 took a very dark (and not terribly satisfying) turn.
In fact, it’s not just the thematic nature of The Amazing Spider-Man that takes the high road. It’s the whole movie. Which makes it a welcome and pleasant surprise.
Much of the credit, of course, goes to the appropriately named new director Marc Webb, whose last film was the indie romance (500) Days of Summer. Refreshingly, Webb has created a film that’s bright, colorful, alive, and full of energy. None of that glum, “why so serious” stuff here. Webb’s film is slick without being plastic, youthful without feeling like an episode of Glee, and that makes it a heck of a lot of fun.
Webb selected a perfect actor to portray his version of Peter/Spidey. Andrew Garfield, previously best known for playing Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, gives a charming and sympathetic performance that makes you root for him and enjoy going along for the ride. If you don’t smile during the scenes in which Peter has fun on the basketball court, or in the shipyard where Peter learns to swing, then you’re just in the wrong movie.
Those scenes are emblematic of this film’s spirit. The spider-strength is, for Peter, liberating. It makes him cool, gives him confidence, and loosens him up. Garfield makes you believe that all this is happening, that it’s real and possible, and very exciting.
Of course, it’s not all about fun and excitement. Garfield also effectively captures Peter’s transition from lonely to empowered to vengeful to heroic, and that journey (well plotted by Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves) makes him a more fleshed out character than even Maguire’s Peter was.
Another improvement? The love interest, Gwen Stacy, who is played by Emma Stone. Comic book fans know that early on in Spidey lore, Gwen owned Peter’s heart, and here, it’s not hard to see why these two are into each other. Emma’s bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and confident air make her a real catch. Better, though, is that she has real chemistry with Garfield. (But who doesn’t? Ryan Gosling was similarly lucky in Crazy Stupid Love last summer.)
Blah blah blah … I just really enjoyed this movie. It’s well cast, well paced, the 3D effects are cool, the requisite Stan Lee cameo is funny, and I think, even though there are some departures from the core Spider-Man mythology, that most of those make for a better movie.
(It is kind of weird, though, how little regard Peter has for hiding his identity and his strength. But oh well.)
When it was first announced, few thought that the Spider-Man franchise needed a reboot, given that the last film in the series was in theaters just five years ago.
But in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, the time was right. Sometimes a reboot can be worth it.
I’m giving The Amazing Spider-Man a B+.
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.