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PLOT: We all know the origin of Spider-Man. Peter Parker (high school student) is bitten by a special spider that gives him spider powers. But this movie does manage to (somehow) make the origin interesting instead of just feeling like a retread.
Peter’s parents leave him with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May at a young age (for protection). Peter finds a briefcase of his father’s that contains some secret documents that lead him to Oscorp, where he leaves his tour group and gets bitten by the fated spider. Even though the next part shouldn’t be a spoiler, I’ll refrain from saying it anyway. I’ll just say he learns his lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” and if you know what that means, you know what happens. If you somehow don’t know, then you’ll find out. He meets Dr. Curt Connors who is pressured into human trials of a new experimental serum (okay, that sounds a lot like Raimi’s first movie now that I think about it). Connors decides to test it on himself and things go…horribly wrong. Throughout the last half of the movie, Peter learns all about responsibility and doing the right thing.
REVIEW: Let’s break this down into a few different categories to critique individually.
(characters): I thought all the characters were very rich and well rounded. Dynamic, I guess you could say. They all felt very real and complex. All the dialogue and interactions felt natural. I rarely felt like the dialogue was cheesy or fake or being forced. The writers (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves) did a very good job at having the characters say things that they would say. Which is kind of, like, a writer’s job? I guess? But it’s easy to screw up with movies like this. And for all the characters in the movie to have the depth they do, it’s quite the accomplishment, and my hat goes off to them.
I thought this version of Aunt May was really great. I think both the original trilogy and this reboot did a great job with Aunt May. Making her stronger and more able. In the comics she’s a frail, annoying lady who goes to the hospital and rags on Peter a lot. But this version of Aunt May is just as good as Sam Raimi’s from the previous movies.
Also, this version of Peter Parker was closer in some ways to the original comic, but at the same time further away. In this version, he has no friends. Harry Osborn isn’t even in the movie or mentioned at all. In the previous movies, Harry was Peter’s best friend and Peter also knew Mary Jane since they were little. But the way he differs is that in this movie, Peter is actually generally a cool guy. He may not have friends, and he may be smart, but he’s not a dork or anything. He’s witty (even before Spider-Man) and he rides a skateboard. It’s not necessarily a bad change. It’s just different.
(Fun fact before I move on; Alvin Sargent co-wrote Spider-Man 2 and 3, Steve Kloves wrote ALL the Harry Potter movies, and James Vanderbilt wrote The Rundown and Zodiac.)
(actors): All around, the acting was superb. Even Rhys Ifans, who I don’t think fit the role of Dr. Connors, was still good. He just didn’t fit the role. Everybody else fit their roles very well, though. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy? Lord have mercy. She’s just about as pretty as can be and absolutely adorable and lovable. Andrew Garfield does a great job as Parker. He captures the wit and snarkiness as well as the internal struggle Peter has to deal with. Garfield has proven with the few roles he’s done that he’s got some acting chops. Comparing him to Toby Maguire, I don’t know if either of them is necessarily better than the other in the role. Their Peter Parker roles were different. I think they both pulled of their versions exceptionally well. I think I have to give the edge to Garfield, though. Because he’s a big fan of Spider-Man and it shows in his performance. And he pulls off the comedic side of Peter better than Maguire.
(story): The story here was very fluid and well constructed. It didn’t seem like things were being introduced randomly or suddenly or for no reason. And the pacing was perfect. Nothing felt like it was happening too fast, but it didn’t feel like it was dragging along either. If Goldilocks had to choose between three movies, she’d probably choose this one. It’s just right. I was a little disappointed, because at a certain point towards the climax I thought to myself “OH SHOOT THEY’RE NOT GONNA ACTUALLY DO WHAT I THINK THEY’RE GONNA DO!” and then they didn’t. And I was like, “Oh.” Disappointed as I was, perhaps it was for the best, because it might’ve made the movie a lot longer. And at a runtime of 2 hours and 16 minutes already, that probably would’ve created the dragging feeling I was talking about earlier. And that’s another thing; this movie absolutely did not feel like 2 hours and 16 minutes. It didn’t really feel like anything. I didn’t find myself checking my watch. I didn’t even catch myself saying “What it’s already over?” at the end.
A final note, they did a lot of things in accordance with the comics, but there were also a lot of things they changed. Some of the things they changed I didn’t like, some of the things I did like, some of the things were just changes that I didn’t feel one way or the other about.
(love story): I’m glad they went with Gwen Stacy as the love interest here. She was Peter’s first love interest in the comics (although in the comics he meets her in college). She’s also just a great character. You just fall in love with her as much as Peter does. And (dare I say it) I like her more than Mary Jane Watson. Obviously, something happens between Gwen and Peter that cause them to not be together anymore and eventually he finds his way to MJ. And in the interest of not spoiling anything, I won’t tell you what that thing is. But I will say that it will absolutely happen in the next movie. Maybe at the end of the movie, but it will happen. Probably. Also, in the movie Peter tells Gwen that he’s Spider-Man, and in the comics he doesn’t. Mostly because before he gets a chance to, she comes to hate Spider-Man for uninformed reasons. I don’t mind the way they went in the movie, though. Peter needs SOMEBODY to confide in about his crime fighting persona. And it helps draw them closer together.
Okay, I haven’t been talking much about the specific love story in the movie. Here it goes, as I’ve said about other things in the other categories, this relationship felt very real. And felt like it progressed naturally. It didn’t feel forced. It didn’t feel random. It didn’t feel out of the blue. It didn’t move to fast. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It did kind of move fast. But it didn’t feel like it moved faster than it should’ve.
(villain): Alright, I’ve been praising this movie up and down and it may seem like a very biased review. But here’s where you’ll find my problem with the movie. Pretty much my only problem.
The Lizard looked stupid. It looked real stupid. The first transformation scene was good. The makeup when Dr. Connors wasn’t fully the Lizard but still had some lingering features was really good. But the Lizard in full Lizard mode was awful. The design looks like the original one from the comics. Which was stupid as well. He has a flat face and just…looks…stupid. Honestly, just adding a snout (making him look more akin to a velociraptor or iguana) would’ve made a WORLD of difference. That alone might’ve changed my opinion on the whole thing. That is the best incarnation of The Lizard. Here’s a comparison:
To be fair, they did kind of do a mixture of both. Because while he looked like the original design, he was huge, had claws, and had a big tail. But he still looked stupid. All it takes is a snout. Perhaps they were going for a more “realistic” look. Trying to do what it would look like if a human really did transform into a lizard. But I don’t care. It still looks stupid.
As for the actor who plays Connors (Rhys Ifans), I still didn’t think he was a good fit for the character. I had a feeling based on the trailers, and just the general look of the guy. I tried to give him a chance. I remember thinking Heath Ledger was a terrible choice as The Joker and I was happily wrong. But this remained a bad casting choice after watching it. The guy they cast for Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3 (Dylan Baker) was a near perfect casting choice. And it’s sad to see them build up the character for two movies and not get a chance to give us the payoff. And honestly, after they canceled Spider-Man 4 and announced the reboot, I didn’t care about The Lizard anymore. The previous character development was wasted and casting someone else just wouldn’t be good. I would’ve rather seen a different, more interesting villain.
(closing thoughts): But you know what? It’s a testament to the movie (director Marc Webb, the writers, the cast, everybody) that despite my big problems with The Lizard, the actor playing him, the fact that he’s even in the movie, I still was able to look past all of it and love the movie. In the end, the story itself and the characters were so great that it wasn’t like they built a brick wall where me pulling out the brick of The Lizard would cause the whole wall to fall. To use a relevant analogy, it was like an intricate web. The Lizard was one strand of the web, and pulling that out, it still stands and is still strong.
It’s so good that in spite of having the worst villain of all the Spider-Man movies previous, it is my favorite Spider-Man movie. I got a little misty-eyed more than a few times throughout the movie.
I didn’t really like the design of the Spidey suit. The black eyes and whatnot. But honestly, I didn’t even really notice or care most of the time. It only stood out to me a few times, but not enough to be significant.
I give this movie a 7/10.
It got a lot of things right, but it’s not without its faults.
Here are the list of villains that need to be in the future installments of the Spider-Man franchise. The bold ones are ones that I think are highly probable for the next two movies:
Jack O’Lantern (seriously. He may sound dumb, but he’s actually really awesome in the comics)
Will o’ the Wisp
– Eric Toribio