Saturday, July 7, 2012

A review of the Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man

“I was just a young, unthinking teenager…when I first became Spider-Man…But, the years have a way of slipping by …Of changing the world about us…And, every boy…sooner or later…Must put away his toys…And become…A man!”

A reminder, my reviews are generally for comic books fans and that I try not to give anything away. In this review, the Spoiler section discusses many more issues in depth.

Once upon a time, at the beginnings of the 1960, there was a young high school kid, who lived in Forest Hills with just his mother.  He was shy, wore glasses, and had photography as a hobby. 

That boy was me and, in 1962, I bought Amazing Fantasy off the newsstands and later Spider-Man 1-160.  I was excited but greatly disappointed in the TV show. I had to wait until 2002 to see a real movie.  Despite some quirks, that was my Spider-Man up there, and I like that movie and especially Spider-Man II. Spider-Man III not so much.  I felt the casting was mostly great,

Tobey Maguire was perfect as Peter Parker, Cliff Robinson was a great Uncle Ben and J.K. Simmons was perfect a J.J.J.  Kirsten Dunst  and Willem Dafoe were serviceable, and, but for me were not standouts. But Rosemary Harris, as Aunt May was. She brought great depth and strength to her character and shared that with Peter. In my day, Spidey was bitten by a radioactive spider, here a genetically altered one, and, it was better for the movies for his webs to be organic, and something the Comics Code might have stopped in 1962.

I wasn’t excited about a reboot. You see, today we use the term “reboot” as not starting over, clean, from the beginning, but just a rewriting what has gone before. To me, that is mostly what the Amazing Spider-Man was about. The best reboot in comic’s history was the 1956 Flash. The idea was brought back as a completely different character, with a different back story and name. It inspired so many others. The James Bond movies update the character with every new “Bond” but it really isn’t a reboot.

The movie the Amazing Spider-Man was a disappointment; this was not my Spider-Man.  First, to “look” different they felt they had to change things.  So Peter starts off in high school, where he should be 16 or 17. But they cast a 30 year old actor to play him! Andrew Garfield is not bad, but he does not fit the role. Neither does Emma Stone, who is ten years too old. Frankly, Sally Field as Aunt May is way too young! You see, as with Dr. Strange, Ditko’s other great Marvel creation; we are given an older, frail person who is a mentor to the hero. Frail is important because we know they won’t be around forever and our heroes, Peter or Stephen better learn now. Of course it also opens many plot complications. Sally Fields, a wonderful actress, (I like her, I really, really like her) but she doesn’t fit.  She is not frail, with someone needing to care of her.  You see they know Garfield is thirty years old and is not a kid.  They know you know it. So even though they placed him High School, they have him acting as if that was his job, not his school.  In fact, he needs no notes when he is late to class. And he apparently doesn’t live in Forest Hills anymore.  He does go to Midtown High, which he did in the original comics.

You see, it’s important to have the scenes where a mature, smart and older woman, comforts a 16 year old and tells him about life and girls.  In fact their scenes don’t make senses. Peter comes home battered, and of course she is worried. But Peter is 16 and what the hell is doing out on a school night? And Ditko’s Aunt May would not let him go out again without telling her what happened.

Not that she or Martin Sheen is given anything real to do. Or Say.  There is no humor here (OK one good joke) and no humanity. They feel they are cleaver switching things, so it is not the same burglar that kills Ben. Nor does Ben tell us what comes with great power. Instead, they give him a silly unquotable substitute that makes no sense. 

Gwen Stacy, as played by the very appealing Emma Stone, was not Spidey’s first girlfriend, Betty Brant was.  But we will not see Betty here, as J.J.J.’s secretary because, he isn’t here either.  Part of the lure of Spider-Man was his action in his first story, not stopping a burglar, would have repercussions for Ditko’s entire run, up to issue #38. There are no repercussions; Peter does not need a job. Yes, he fools around with a camera, but I noticed it was one that uses film in a world that has gone digital. The relationship with Gwen is accelerated and goes rather smoothly although she does not have maid service here.*

I have mentioned this before, but there now seems to be a formula for the origin in every super-hero movie, and since I know the story in most and have seen in here, I wished it was not rehashed. The formula:
  1. We are introduced to the soon to be hero and the friends and family around him.
  2. He gets his powers.
  3. He usually loses a few friends or relatives (Jor-El and Lara, Martha and Thomas Wayne, Uncle Ben, Battling Murdock, Dr. Reinstein, etc.)
  4. Hilarity ensures as the super hero discovers his powers, although we never learn how they learned to sew their costumes.

The villains go two ways. First, they usually follow at least the first two steps above. But, to save time, I notice in Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four and now here, the villain’s origin is tied into the heroes. Well, here we have the Lizard and, believe or not he gets tied into Spidey’s origin. In fact Peter actually shows more regret for helping create the Lizard than for the shooting of Uncle Ben. The Lizard is not the one we know from, the comics, he is more of a Hulk character here. And the end is just preposterous.

Completely gone is the scene where Peter becomes a wrestler and lets a burglar get away. Instead, they substitute a scene where Peter is 2 cents short at a local convenience store and lets a robber get away, because the cashier insisted on the 2 cents.   This, of course, takes only a minute, when the original took probably ten.  But it makes Peter look petty, not angry, and dilutes the impact the original in both the comic and movie had on me.
The Lizard here is computer generated and looks great. He is, mostly, three times the size of Spidey. The scenes of Spidey, virtually flying though the city are totally realistic, they look so good.  Spidey’s costume looks like it made of rubber and not cloth.  And yes, the Spider bit also gave Peter the power to sew!  He sews his own costume.

The 1959 movie, “The Alligator People” involves a doctor that creates potions from Alligators to accelerate the healing process of injured people and to grow back limbs. At one point, the doctor sounded just like Connors did in explaining the process and motivation. At the end, Bruce Bennett (who looks like Dr. Connors) is belted by gamma rays turns into a human alligator. Stan Lee: “As far as The Lizard is concerned, I really can’t remember if I saw “The Alligator People” or not. I often used animals, insects and birds as names for characters, as evinced by Dr. Octopus, the Vulture, the Falcon, the Scorpion, the Ox, the Black Panther, etc. etc.”

If you liked the first two Spider-man movies and were not thrilled with the third, I suspect you won’t like this one. I didn't.  I did not see the movie in Imax, simply because the Imax movie in my neighborhood is so loud it leaves my ears ringing.

Oh, Boy, the Spoilers:

Peter Parker, here, is not the shy retiring and reserved type. From the beginning he confronts Flash Thompson, something very different than the original character. In fact he searches out Curt Connors to find out what he knows about Peter’s parents. This is so secret that Ben and May don’t want to tell him.   Curt Connors, who appeared as the Lizard only once in the Ditko era, was a friend and ally of Spider-Man, not so here, he was a sympathetic figure, with a wife and child, and a substitute for Uncle Ben.  Here is a loyal, and evil employee of Oscorp trying to create a cure for the ill (but unseen) Norman Osborn, rather than a substitute to Uncle Ben.  He also knows some terrible secret regarding the missing parents of Peter Parker, which again, is out of character for everyone.

Peter at age 16, writes the formula that converts Connors into the Lizard. Unlike the original character, Connor’s likes being the Lizard, and keeps changing back, much like he was turning into the Hulk.

Further, Peter kind of steals his web technology from Oscorp, where, apparently anyone can sneak in and go to restricted parts of the building.

The Lizard's  plot is to launch a “missile” that will turn everyone in the city into a lizard.  That is not a Spider-Man plot, that is a bad Japanese movie. In fact the only good joke in the movie occurs when the Lizard is attacking, people are running and Capt. Stacy says, “What am I, The mayor of Tokyo?”  Gwen, a 16 year old, who serves as an intern at Oscorp has access to the entire building and can run any experiments she wants in empty labs, comes up with the cure to the Lizard’s plan.  Wow.

The ending just made no sense. Get this, the Lizard has taken over the city and is heading to midtown to launch his missile at the Oscorp building. The Mayor ordered an evacuation; everyone has either left or is leaving the city.  OK?  On the lower east side of Manhattan, captured by the police, Spider-Man is shot in the leg and is weak, limping and bleeding. (This is silly, we know he is going to win), and he has eight minutes to get there!  So how does he get to the Lizard? A crane operator, who Spidey once helped, calls other crane operators to go to their cranes and line them up perfectly so Spidey can swing across the city and save everyone.

OK Let’s review:  The city is evacuated, with trains, and buses traveling away from the city, and 25 crane operators are able to get to the top of their 100 stories buildings, turn on their cranes and point them in the right direction in less than four minutes. Remember time is “real” here there is a countdown.

Oh, yeah, after this scene, Peter doesn’t limp.  In fact he doesn’t have to see a doctor to get the bullet removed.

At the end of the movie, after a minute of credits, we see Connors in jail (remember in the comic he was not evil and served no jail time) and a mysterious voice asks him if he told Peter about his parents!  Wow, I guess will have to worry about that.

* Miss Stone appeared in the movie, "The Help"


  1. Barry,

    I had no plans to support the producers for their reboot, so thanks for the summary. (And I won't even comment on the aberration of the costume...)

    While the Raimi films aren't perfect (#3 gets sloppy here and there!) I really enjoyed them. I agree with your opinions of the cast. Man, did I think their Betty Brant was a cutie! Really done in the Ditko style.

    The first film perfectly captured the origin of Spider-Man, right down to the wrestling angle. Goblin, while visually a different take, still had the basic Ditko look (the wicked face mask and glider/pumkin bombs). Doc Ock was amazing. A singularly unique Ditko design for the ages! Those films, to me, are the Ditko Spider-Man films. Let the new audiences have their 'Ultimate Spider-Man' or whatever they're going for...

    Look at me, talking about a 10 year old film on your post about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN....Oh well, I don't thing either of us minds!

    Thanks and see you around,


  2. Javier, I appreciate your comments, they are valid and import. Betty was played by Elizabeth Banks who has become a pretty big star.

    You know, if they felt that their Spider-man was getting old and needed to be replaced, I'd get that, but they replaced him with a a slightly younger 30 year odl.

  3. Barry,

    Your review points to a lack of thought or direction in the movie, which is unfortunate. And why would they want to eliminate the important humor relief of J. Jonah Jameson?