I remember when I went to watch the first Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi, in theaters. It was a time long, long ago when most of the current fans were still too young to clear the PG 13 rating. The year was 2002. I was, as most people were that day, very excited with the prospect of a superhero movie finally done right, and one about Spider-Man, my second favorite superhero, to boot. But when it ended, I remember thinking, "was that it?"
I looked around me and everyone else seemed to have enjoyed it, and I felt like I was missing something. Could it really be that that campy cartoony thing was actually good? Nobody had a problem with the fact that the Green Goblin looked like he could at any time grow 100 feet tall and start stomping the city before being stopped by a giant robot composed of the vehicles of each of the main characters? Was I just imagining that the acting was stilted and that the situations were ridiculous and forced? It was confusing.
I still can't see the charm that the rest of the world saw in Raimi’s Spider-Man, even after he released the second one. Maybe I was out the day they were handing out “appreciate the Spider-Man movies” glasses, or maybe it’s a genetic defect that distorts my perception of that specific film. I felt more adequate when everyone agreed that the third one was just a little better than having emergency prostate surgery without anesthetics, but the fact that the others compared favorably to it is as much of an achievement as winning the silver medal on a contest to see who’s better at differentiating vanilla ice-cream from raw sewage.
Now, many years have passed, and they rebooted the franchise. Finally, I’ve had the pleasure to watch a Spider-Man movie that kicks ten different kinds of ass from here until the next leap-year.
First, let me backtrack a little bit and get the bad aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man out of the way. There certainly are things in the movie that hamper its path toward complete amazingness, the most glaring of which being its several attempts to self-consciously differentiate itself from the previous franchise while still telling the exact same story, like a new girlfriend suddenly dressing like your ex because she feels you’re being distant lately and thinks maybe that’s how she will get your attention back. I felt it was all very unnecessary, because, firstly, this movie's tone is so distinct from the former installments that it’s in and of itself enough to justify its existence Secondly, if they really wanted to tweak the plot, they should have gone the whole way and really changed up some fundamental stuff. If people can get away with an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet set in Miami, surely it wouldn’t be that absurd to mix the Spider-Man mythos up a little bit. Let the fanboys whine, they’ll buy the goddamn ticket anyway.
It’s also a bit annoying that, as much as Marc Webb, the director, is great at extracting very natural performances from his actors, they still have to stammer and fidget so much. It stinks of “trying too hard” at some points, and it distracts from the rest of the movie.
That being said, Andrew Garfield is a much more fitting Peter Parker than our old Tobey Maguire. He really pulls off the nerdy vibe, and he has those soulful eyes that made me well up every time he cried. And Emma Stone (who should be investigated by the INS because I’m absolutely sure she’s not from the same dimension as the other, uglier women we have here on Earth) delivers a much more charming and engaging romantic interest for our hero.
The characters as a whole, are all more complex and well-rounded than their previous incarnations, making it easier to identify with their struggle.
Most of all, though, as I’ve said before, it’s the tone that really elevates the movie. Unlike Sam Raimi, Marc Webb doesn’t try to apologize for the film by cartoonifying and infantilizing it. Watching the new Spider-Man felt like reading the comic books when I was a kid, where the stories took themselves seriously and you were expected to read them straight-faced and be absorbed by the conflict and the drama, no matter how absurd it all was. It was pulp entertainment, like a soap-opera or adventure serials, and that’s what made it exciting and magic. You were immersed in a sea of creativity, where the real-world agony and despair we all feel some time or other exists, but so were fantastic resolutions we wish were possible for ourselves. We were inspired and reinvigorated by reading them. It felt like Don Quixote reading Chivalry romances, and Marc Webb knows that and respects that.
A lot of people would say that bringing realism to a movie about a guy who can hurl people like footballs and sling webs that cling to everything except his own hands is futile and silly, after all it’s all so out there anyway. But that argument don’t jibe; if fiction really worked like that, then there would be no problem inserting giant pink dinosaurs from space who shoot candy apples out of their noses in the movie either. Hell, throw them in the Iliad, too, while you’re at it. It’s all about humans talking to gods anyway, who cares?
The Amazing Spider-Man is not the best super-hero movie I’ve seen (that would be The Avengers), but it’s a damn good one, and a fitting translation from the comics. One that I’ve been waiting for for a long time.