What a difference a decade makes. Why, in that period of time, it’s possible to forget you’ve ever seen a specific movie, almost like it never existed.
Well, no, it’s not like that all, of course. Those of us over the age of thirteen do clearly remember the blockbuster films we saw just ten years ago. The question Columbia Pictures seems to be asking with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man is whether or not it matters.
Will audiences actually care that the same Spider-Man origin story (nerd, spider bite, weird powers, girl, costume, vigilante) was told just a few thousand days ago in the Tobey Maguire starrer, Spider-Man? Or that the last film in that franchise came out just five years ago? Virtually all signs say they won’t care… in droves.
A whole, whole lot of people will see The Amazing Spider-Man over this coming long holiday weekend, and the vast majority of them will have seen Spider-Man just ten years earlier. That is more than just a little weird, but that’s the entertainment environment we live in today so we just have to roll with it.
And really, damn, check out the card for tonight! Garfield versus Maguire! Webb versus Raimi! Stone versus Dunst! The Lizard versus the Goblin! This could be one helluva fight.
You probably know the broad-strokes of this story from comic books, from the first films and general cultural zeitgeist. For those just joining us, they are:
Boy gets bitten by spider and hot girl simultaneously. Gains enormous powers of libido and spider-strength. Acts like a dick and gets his uncle killed. Makes costume. Fights small town crooks until a super-foe emerges. Girl in jeopardy. City in jeopardy. Big fight that involves swinging through the streets of New York. Defeat bad guy. Get girl. Prep for sequel.
So, let the two sides in this fight agree, that is the basic plot of both movies. This means, as we like to say so much out here in Hollywood, “it’s all about the execution.”
Andrew Garfield, who did such a stellar job in The Social Network, gets to be the nerdy high school kid, Peter Parker. Garfield, in real life, is pushing thirty, slightly older than Tobey Maguire was when he put on the Spidey suit.
He gets to act the hell out of his subplot, a new twist that has Peter’s dad being a scientist who, along with Peter’s mom, deserts the young kid, never to return. Cue mystery. Then, throw in the fact that Oscorp is somehow mixed up in the whole thing and you’re good. I did keep thinking that a cameo from Dick Cheney would have been awesome.
This version goes for a darker tone than its predecessor — almost like Christopher Nolan got his hands on it (which will be its own Smack when The Dark Knight Rises hits screens in a few weeks). As it is, this one is directed by Marc Webb who so far as anyone knows, has only directed one previous feature, (500) Days of Summer. On the other hand, just when I start to talk about a darker tone, I think of Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, and all I can imagine is how she lights up a screen like no other. So, there’s all that. Oh, did I mention that those damn scientists are manipulating human and animal genes up in Oscorp Tower, and you know no good can come of that, right?
The two genetic freaks created here are Spider-Man and the Lizard, who make a pretty good couple, although not in the same sense as Peter and Gwen, who have actual on-screen chemistry in a good way.
Quick refresher on Spidey101 — remember all the stuff that we stipulated were the same in both films? Well, this one has something else, too: The sense of awe and wonder audiences felt seeing this story presented on the big screen for the first time. I mean, you never forget a spider-bite, but your first one, man, we all know that one is seared in your memory, vivid any time you think about it, powerful, undeniable. Spider-bites, people, spider-bites!
The point is that everything felt so new, sparkly and shiny when Maguire put on the suit. Every frame. He manages a very sympathetic and credible loner, social loser type who gets powers, responsibility and the girl, and seems blown away that this is happening to him of all people.
Kirsten Dunst plays screen interest Mary Jane Watson. Heat with her leading man? Not so much.
The father issues in the original film are not between Peter and his dad but between Peter’s best and only friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) and his dad Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe).
Peter Parker becomes the Spider-Man. It’s an origin story, and in origin stories, originality’s gotta count big-time. So, despite the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man has filled in some of the details in deeper ways, the points still fall into the column of Spider-Man.
Since there are bound to be similarities there, the details become important. Direction, acting, effects, design and, yes, writing. Both films deliver an effective cinematic origin and first adventure, setting up the character and his world in ways that satisfy. Let’s break down some of the pieces.
Let’s start with Peter Parker. Like his predecessor Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield looks and is too old for the part. They’re both excellent actors, but they have each adapted to a script and a tone that evokes different performances. Maguire has an innocence about him, while Garfield looks and feels street-smart. Garfield also has the more character-driven story. Plus, he looks like the comic book Peter Parker more than Maguire. Round, Garfield.
Leading ladies? Emma Stone. Her eyes are so big in one scene (or maybe it was the curved IMAX screen) that I thought she was a human/alien hybrid, but she absolutely pops from this screen. And the screen heat and chemistry between Garfield and Stone vastly exceeds Maguire and Dunst. Round, the new hotties of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Villains? Both films have a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on with their dark antagonists. Both are huge intellects who become their worst selves and need to be saved. Dafoe in Spider-Man has more to say about this than Rhys Ifans in The Amazing Spider-Man, but Ifans and his transformation to the Lizard is so nicely done. Round, tie.
Let us know what you think about the two films in your comments, vote in the poll, and visit The Smack, over at Facebook, and tell it the way you see it. Don’t worry. We’ve seen these films. They can both take a punch.
People are going to be debating the special effects of both films and talking about how they relied less on CGI the second time around. Look, the effects in Spider-Man were amazing, but they weren’t as believable as they are in the new film, where they feel less amazing. I paid a lot less attention to them in this reboot because I was completely pulled into the story. Obviously, when the studio suits chose a director, they did it for Webb’s demonstrated success depicting the agony of young love in Summer, and not just because he had an appropriate last name.
The stakes in The Amazing Spider-Man feel real, and the action is grounded. Although the script flirts several times with going into head-slapping coincidence, it stays where it needs to be and the overall effect is that people will tear up in parts of this film and even smile for young love, and also, they will profoundly understand Peter Parker’s lifelong pain at being abandoned by his parents.
One thing I liked more about the original is the sense that Peter Parker actually has friends. I’m unaware of any friends he has in The Amazing Spider-Man. He is really, really a loner. Yet, there is no question that the characters that do exist in this reboot feel more authentic and real. The film makes you care.
Within the action film full of super-heroics that is The Amazing Spider-Man is another film, one that almost feels like an indie relationship film, about a kid coming of age in a time of bullies, falling in love for the first time, being all screwed up in his head about family issues of abandonment and death; it’s all there.
Oh, hell, the truth is that film schools probably ought to have students study Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man as a way to dissect all the many thousands of different decisions that come into play in the making of a successful film. But director Marc Webb has made a number of them differently than Sam Raimi and has created something smarter.
The suits obviously rebooted this franchise so fast and so furiously over financial issues, not love. In the end, it doesn’t matter. They found some authentic, true art. It’s not that what came before was bad — not at all. It’s just that The Amazing Spider-Man is better. I can’t wait until they reboot it again next month…