Action, 136 Minutes, 2012
No matter where you fall on the question of a character reboot this soon after the Sam Raimi trilogy or the whole “Mary Jane Watson versus Gwen Stacey” thing or even the “biologic versus mechanical web shooters” decision it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a damn good movie. That said it’s impossible to talk about this without drawing comparisons to Sam Raimi’s masterful effort released a very short 10 years ago – but we’re not bitter!
(Although to be clear: Yes, it was absolutely ridiculous to reboot the character so soon; Mary Jane every-little-tiny-inch of the way and damn, those biological web spinners did make things much simpler didn’t they?)
This film gives us a more modern take on Spider-Man and Peter Parker. This means that Peter is a handsome, misunderstood, skateboard-riding teenager and Spider-Man is a cocky, wise-cracking, smart-ass. While Peter is still very likable he’s a far cry from the lovable, awkward nerd that many of us have come to love. This is more of a McFarlane Spider-man than a Stan Lee Spider-man (and some people may even understand what that means).
The story is pretty complex and moves quickly from action sequence to action sequence so we really don’t get to know this Peter very well. While this isn’t really a bad thing overall it may make you pine for the emotional connection that was so easy to make with Toby Maguire. The supporting cast was well-selected but tended to be even more overshadowed by the action sequences. Martin Sheen was approachable and warm as Uncle Ben but (apparently due to some paranoid fear of ever referencing Raimi’s film) was never allowed to come out and say “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Emma Stone was adorable and desirable as Gwen Stacey but not really accessible. She kinda, well, seemed to have a pretty damn big stick up her butt for the entire movie. Dennis Leary, playing himself perfectly, was excellent as her police chief father. The biggest disappointment was Sally Field as AuntMay. She was given absolutely nothing to work with and spent nearly every scene looking the same exact brand of worried. Actually – strike that – the biggest disappointment was the complete lack of J. Jonah Jameson! Maybe they realized that nobody could top J. K. Simmons?
Dr. Curt Conners and The Lizard were an excellent choice for the reboot. Rhys Ifans plays the character with a tragic sentimentality that’s refreshing while it lasts. The film (somewhat ham-fistedly) sets up the Green Goblin for the inevitable sequel but should take a lesson from itself: some of the lesser known characters can be used exceptional well if given the chance. The battle sequences are stunning and play the “strength versus agility” angle with a subtle deftness. In a similar vein the web-slinging scenes are absolutely breathtaking and, especially those shot in first person, vertigo-inducing. It’s the closest that we’ve ever seen to actually being Spider-Man.
In the end summation that’s really the core of the difference here. This film is fast-paced, event-driven and video-game inspired. It has little depth but it’s everything you could want in a bombastic summer action movie. Raimi’s Spider-Man, in contrast, was a softer, much more approachable, character-driven story filled with introspection and surprising depth. Honestly both of these are great movies and well worth your time… but being honest, only one of them is truly a classic (and it isn’t the one I just saw).