Spider-Man has always been my favorite super hero. Always. I'm pretty sure I was born with an awareness of Spider-Man that persisted throughout my life. Sure, I watched Super Friends when I was a kid, but it was nothing when compared with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or any of the other Spider-Man cartoons. And nothing beat the theme song from the original animated series from 1967. I even loved the cheesy, live action, TV series from the 70s. Why? Because it was Spider-Man. At 7, I just didn't care how bad it was.
And, then, I waited... and waited... and waited for the movie. I grew up with the promise of the movie always. Seriously. The Spider-Man movie went into pre-production in the late 70s and just stayed there and stayed there spinning and churning, but something would happen every time they thought they were going to get started on it.
Superman had a movie. And then more movies. And they all sucked.
Batman got a movie, and it sucked, too. Not like Superman, but Burton butchered it. And those movies just got worse and worse.
And, still, Spider-Man didn't get made. It was horrible.
I'd waited nearly my whole life for the announcement that production was actually slated to begin on a Spider-Man movie in 2001 (after hiring Sam Raimi as director in 2000). I was more excited for it than I had been about the Star Wars prequels, if you can imagine that, although I was more than a little concerned over the choice of Raimi as director. I mean, when you look at what Raimi did before Spider-Man, it doesn't inspire the greatest confidence that he'd be able to handle a super hero movie. So, metaphorically speaking, I held my breath and waited.
Spider-Man was my first favorite super hero movie. That sounds a bit wrong, because if there are super hero movies, by default, you have to have a favorite, but, trust me, it's not the same thing. As much as I loved the first X-Men movie (and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (he was/is perfect for that role)), it didn't quite rise to the level of what I would call a favorite even if it had been my favorite. Yeah, see, just trust me.
Here's the thing, Raimi made a near perfect adaptation of the Spider-Man comics and everything I'd always loved about Spider-Man. It took me back to being 4 years old and reading The Amazing Spider-Man #15 for the hundredth time (that was the first appearance of Kraven the Hunter, for those of you that don't know, and it was my favorite issue for years and years (a near-mint copy is currently worth $2000, and my copy was "donated" to something or other without my permission when I was kid (not that mine was mint, but, still...))). Raimi captured the essence of Spider-Man and put it up on the movie screen for us to see. Even though not quite all the facts were correct (there was Mary Jane instead of Gwen Stacy, for instance), he bounded up the heart of Spider-Man and made it into a movie.
In making adaptations, that's a difficult thing to do. It just doesn't happen all that often, and I can name the movies on one hand that have pulled it off: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, and The Lord of the Rings (yes, I know it was three movies, but it was only three movies for the same reason that it was three books). So, even though everyone says Spider-Man 2 was the best of the Spider-Man movies, I don't believe it, because Spider-Man came to life in the first one.
As you might have guessed, all of this is leading to the newest Spider-Man offering. I finally managed to go see The Amazing Spider-Man this past weekend (actually, the weekend before (this review got delayed a week)). I was... unimpressed.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie, and I loved (finally!) seeing The Lizard onscreen. I've been waiting for him to show up for, well, years, especially since Connors has been bouncing around in the background of the other Spider-Man films. However, it should have been Spider-Man 4, not a re-boot. In starting over, they failed to recapture the essence of what is Spider-Man, instead giving us some new version that gets (most) of the facts straight but doesn't give us the heart and soul that Raimi did. In short, they gave us a good movie but a poor adaptation.
And, for the second time in one weekend (see my review of Brave), I walked out of the theater from a good movie completely unsatisfied.
I hear people saying that this new one is better than the other one, but I don't think I believe that even just measuring them movie for movie. Sure, the special effects are slicker in this one. The movie is flashier. The Lizard looks great. But, beyond that, the movie is just formula. I think people are tricked into believing this one is better because it's darker and prettier, so to speak. But the characters, with the exception, maybe, of Gwen are less developed, so it's a story that's hard to get involved with.
I didn't care when Ben died because we don't really see Peter care. We know, intellectually, that he cares, but we never feel it. And the way that he died felt pretty contrived. The whole movie is like that. We know how we're supposed to feel about various things, because we know the Spider-Man mythos. The producers or the director or writer or some combination of them know we know these things, and they rely on our pre-knowledge to give us access to the feelings that the movie ought to be evoking so that they can actually gloss over all of that stuff. In truth, I feel sort of gypped.
Perhaps the movie's biggest failure, however, is the reduction of Peter's motivation to being Spider-Man to one of revenge (or "getting even" as Uncle Ben says) and guilt. This is the same thing that Nolan did with Batman in Batman Begins. It's as if there can be no other motivation for a super hero. This is where the heart of Spider-Man is lost in this new movie. Spider-Man is not about revenge. It's all about "with great power comes great responsibility," and it's the absence of this one line from the movie that may be it's most egregious error.
The reason for the success of the comic book was that it asked the question of what a normal kid would do if he got super powers and answered it in a realistic way. Peter's first motivation was to use his new power for fame and fortune. The introduction of tragedy into his life becomes not a motivation for revenge but a reason to look at himself, see where he failed, and become a better person. Spider-Man becomes a character that is motivated to do good because it is the right thing to do not because he's seeking revenge against criminals or wallowing in guilt. Sure, those things come up, but they are not the motivating factor. [Later, Marvel would decide to give us a character motivated by revenge, so they gave us the Punisher.]
The new Webb movie (I know, ha ha, right?) reduces all of the complicated emotional trauma of being a teenager into one driving emotion, getting revenge against the people that have done Peter Parker wrong. Starting with Flash and moving through his vendetta against long-haired, blond criminals. He morphs that with guilt over the fact that Peter feels like he created The Lizard, and that whole thing about the heroes creating their villains is also something I'm rather tired of seeing used; it gave me flashbacks to Burton's Batman, "You made me!" So, yeah, I came away unimpressed.
Which is not to say, again, that it's not a good movie. It's totally enjoyable and exciting. The Lizard looks awesome and the CG work is excellent. They use a number of iconic Spider-Man poses in the movie, which was nice to see. Denis Leary and Emma Stone are both great. Sally Field was out of place, although Martin Sheen was pretty good. There was nothing to distinguish Andrew Garfield other than his build, though. He did an adequate job, but he didn't really pull off the nerdy, awkward teenager thing. If you like exciting super hero movies, it's certainly worth seeing in the theater.
But it's not my Spider-Man movie. Sam Raimi made that one 10 years ago, and Sony would have done better to just carry on with the new cast and director building off of what Raimi started rather than trying to start over.