Five years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 came out to critical and fan disdain, Sony decided to release a new Spider-Man film. It’s easy to understand why they would take such a step; despite its critical drubbing, Spider-Man 3 made a pile of money. But they broke away from the Raimi/Maguire films and rebooted, in part because Raimi said he couldn’t deliver a satisfying number four on their deadline. I’m thinking it’s also because they were looking at marketing research numbers and wanted to skew a little younger.
Which makes sense because time was taking its toll. At the time that The Amazing Spider-Man came out, Tobey Maguire was on the wrong side of 35, not great for a character whose major appeal is his youth. So no matter how much loyalists loved him in the role and some still cry for a Tobey comeback, Tobey Maguire (now over 40) will not be playing Peter Parker again unless they do a Spider-Man Beyond, with Maguire as a grizzled old Parker coaching a kid to take over the mantle of Spider-Man.
So they brought in director Marc Webb, a music video director who had done just one feature previously, with a new script from a story written by James Vanderbilt (who had also been one of the screenwriters of the aborted Spider-Man 4 movie). Alvin Sargent, credited screenwriter for Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and 3, also got a screenplay credit, as did Steve Kloves, who had just spent apparently half a lifetime writing scripts for ALL SEVEN Harry Potter films.
At first, it’s hard to tell just what’s supposed to be different, as the opening credits feature the same sort of 3-D animated flybys of spider webs that opened all three Raimi films. But then things take a decidedly different turn.
We see young Peter playing hide-and-seek with his dad (and in a nice bit of foreshadowing of this film’s villain, we see a toy dinosaur on the coffee table in the background of one shot). Peter discovers that his dad’s office has been broken into, which freaks Dad out so much that he grabs Mom and Peter (and an official-looking file that he stuffs into his briefcase) and flees the house, leaving Peter with Uncle Ben and Aunt May before disappearing into the night.
Fast-forward to now, with Peter Parker now a teenager (played by a decidedly non-teenage Andrew Garfield, almost 30 when the movie came out).
Peter is a skateboarding slacker, shy with girls, but not afraid to be brave when the situation demands it. When he sees mean jock Flash Thompson picking on a smaller kid, Peter draws Thompson’s ire onto himself by committing the unspeakable sin of using Flash’s given name, Eugene.
Flash beats Peter prettily mercilessly, until he is saved by the arrival of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is tutoring Flash after school.
She saves him, get it? It’s like backwards and feminist and shit. Gwen talks Flash down. He’s obviously intimidated by her, not just because she’s smart and pretty, but because (although it’s never mentioned in the film) she holds his sports eligibility in the palm of her hand. Later in class, Gwen flirts with Peter a little, which Peter thinks is cool, because he has been staring at her from afar (and taking pictures, which is jest a little stalkery).
After school, Peter returns home to Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and they have gone a little star-crazy on the casting with Martin Sheen and Sally Field, although I don’t mind that they’ve made Aunt May look a little younger. It may not be comics accurate, but I always thought the comic book Aunt May (and Rosemary Harris in the Raimi movies, as much as I love her) looked more like Peter’s grandmother than his aunt (then again, this is apparently based more on the comic book Ultimate Spider-Man, which I never read, so…).
Peter manages to deflect their concern about his facial bruises with some help from a timely basement flood. In the process of rescuing stuff from the water, Peter finds his father’s briefcase, which includes this ominous security badge.
So Peter’s dad wasn’t just some random office schlub, but a genetics researcher at Oscorp. And we know what species he was working on, because we saw a spider mounted under glass on his desk in the first scene. Also, Peter finds that secret file we saw his father shove into the briefcase earlier, hidden behind the lining of one section of the case.
Urgh, so many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I like the fact that we’re actually talking about Peter’s parents, who have been mostly treated as if they never existed over the course of the Spider-Man series (comics and movies). But on the other hand, I always side-eye attempts in the movies to tie everything together.
Uncle Ben comes in later to tell Peter that his father’s former co-worker, Dr. Curt Connors, might have some information on why Peter’s father left so suddenly. To the Internet! Peter learns that Connors is researching cross-species genetics, trying to eliminate all human weakness to create a master race, because that never goes wrong.
Peter goes to visit the Oscorp offices, featuring a giant holographic portrait of “Our Founder” Norman Osborn with the face almost completely in shadow which is not just the most sinister thing ever.
Who would ever want to work here if they have to walk past that every day? They must have a great health plan, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, Peter is mistaken for an intern and is able to infiltrate a tour group led by… Gwen Stacy, which seems awfully convenient. Gwen is smart and all, but a high school student as the “head intern” on a cutting-edge science project? Wouldn’t that go to a college student, and even more, like a college senior rather than a high schooler? But it does let us meet Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose interest in Gwen may not be entirely about her brain, if you know what I mean. I mean, the script never goes there, but there’s a vibe in this first scene. Oh, and he only has one arm.
Peter sneaks away from the tour group almost immediately after seeing a sketchy corporate dude with a file that bears the same special characters–Ø Ø–as the file in Peter’s father’s briefcase.
Which leads him to the “Biocable Development Unit” and this creepy room full of hundreds of spiders.
While Peter is in the spider room, Sketchy Dude meets with Curt Connors and we learn that the secret purpose of the entire project is to save Norman Osborn from some unspecified medical condition. And time is apparently running out, because old Norman is in his last stages. Awfully convenient timing, given that the project was apparently started back before Peter’s dad left, and Dr. Connors has apparently never figured out the formula that Peter’s dad stole away in the ten-plus intervening years. How has this incompetent hack managed to keep his job all this time? Was he just a quota hire to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Back in the spider room, Peter stupidly twangs a web, which sets off an alarm and causes a dozen or more spiders to fall on him. He brushes them off and flees the lab before he’s caught, but he runs into Gwen on his way out, just in time to get bitten by one last spider he missed. His fake intern badge is confiscated and he is ejected from the building. He takes the subway home, and the spider bite is already affecting him. His senses and reflexes are heightened, and his hands randomly stick to things, like the shirt he rips off a pretty woman, leading to a fight with five or six dudes (the editing in the action scenes is often confusing) who all end up on the floor.
The fight is actually pretty funny, with Peter constantly apologizing as his reflexes and strength act almost without his conscious control. This continues the next morning as he accidentally destroys the bathroom in the process of brushing his teeth (echoing a similar scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is not a movie you should be reminding people of, just saying). He ends up holed up in his room, flinching at every random noise, realizing this all came about because of that spider bite.
To the Internet! He researches spiders and spider bites, until he has to stop because his keyboard keys are all stuck to his fingers. Instead, he visits Dr. Connors at his home, where he finds out that Richard Parker (his father) is the one who bred the super-spiders.
Back at school, Flash Thompson is picking on another innocent victim when Peter decides to intervene. Only this time, Peter isn’t helpless, so he hits Flash where it hurts, by out-basketballing him in front of all his teammates and then knocking him down as he’s driving to the hole. This white man CAN jump.
He shatters the backboard, and once again, the movie loses all credibility. Because instead of immediately being recruited for the basketball team, Peter is instead sent to the principal’s office, where he has to deal with a furious Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben tells him he has to pick up Aunt May that night.
Peter and Gwen have a cute moment where he kinda-sorta asks her out in a someday-maybe sort of way. Then he goes skateboarding and has a quick training montage where he learns to use his powers more fully. Then he is with Dr. Connors, where he gives him the formula that Peter’s dad apparently died to keep away from him. Way to go, Peter.
They test the formula on a computer-simulated rat, and it works perfectly in helping the three-legged virtual rat regrow its virtual missing limb, because no matter all the lip service about curing Norman Osborn’s Macguffinitis, we know it’s really about Dr. Connors’s missing arm. So they mix up the formula and give it to a real rat to see what happens.
Peter returns home to an even more furious Uncle Ben, because Peter forgot to pick up Aunt May. Wait, all that stuff happened on the same day? Uncle Ben chews out Peter and Peter blows right back up at him, where we learn the extent of the anger Peter usually keeps bottled up at his parents for abandoning him.
And this scene I love, because it’s raw and honest and gives Peter a reason to eventually go out and beat up on people. One place where the first Raimi Spider-Man stumbled was depicting the transition from shy, bookish Peter to masked-man-who-beats-up-on-criminals. We saw why he could do it with the guy who shot Uncle Ben, but why keep doing it? We get that here, and Garfield plays the hell out of it.
Oh, and speaking of Uncle Ben getting shot…
Peter runs out of the house after the argument. Instead of the classic comics tale of Peter entering a contest to stay in the ring with a professional wrestler, Peter goes to a convenience store, where he gets in an argument with the cashier over the Take-a-Penny-Leave-a-Penny bin. It’s ridiculously petty, so you can understand Peter not caring much when the store gets robbed.
But then the crook runs into Uncle Ben, searching for Peter, and Uncle Ben is shot. While I kind of like the new version of Peter’s letting the thief get away, the way the shooting is staged isn’t as effective.
Peter is grief-stricken, so full of guilt and rage that even Flash Thompson feels sorry for him, which is a nice moment for his otherwise really one-note character. Peter has a copy of the police sketch of the crook, plus a description of the star tattoo on his wrist. One night as he’s walking down the street, he sees a girl in an alley arguing with a guy who might be the guy. So Peter goes up and starts punching him, which is when the dude’s friends come out to play.
There’s a quick frantic battle between Peter, who at this point is just trying to get away in one piece, and all of these guys who seem to be almost as fast as he is, because no matter what wall he scales or how far he jumps, there always seems to be a guy or two right on his tail. The action choreography and editing are not top-notch in this movie, is my point.
Finally Peter manages to isolate the first guy on a rooftop and realize he doesn’t have the star tattoo. Then he falls through a roof and we finally get the pro-wrestling callback we didn’t have earlier in his origin story. As the gang members are yelling that they know his face, Peter looks up and sees this.
So now Peter Parker must become El Hombre Araña!
Be here next week to see him in an Amazing Grudge Match in Part 2 of our recap.