I was originally in the naysayer camp about how it was too soon for the Spider-Man franchise to be rebooted. Rumors/stories abound regarding the contract Sony has with Marvel so there was a cynical element to the complaining; allegedly, Sony can continue making Spider-Man films as long as they’re less than x number of years apart. As much as I have defended Spider-Man 3 from the purists, a fourth chapter would’ve been pretty difficult: the cast was aging, Sam Raimi was losing interest, the villain list was shrinking and where else can the story go? Sony could’ve changed everything, move on like nothing “happened.” It works for James Bond. It utterly failed with Batman.
I feel rebooting or waiting another five years were the choices. Given the contractual rumors, rebooting won.
Again, I wasn’t terribly interested. I was a huge Spider-Man fan as a little kid. Then I moved on to the X-Men during my teens/college years and graduated to DC stuff, where I remain. With the Summer 2012 choices, The Dark Knight Rises was the horse I was betting on in the superhero races despite DC having a crappy record at the box office. When there were trailers showing Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s father, I began to warm up to the movie. Initial reviews made me back off, especially when the endorsements came from one person I have friendly pop-culture disagreements with (we have many more shared loves though) and another who thinks Sarah Palin spouts nuggets of wisdom. (Trust me, people’s brains are wired very similarly on many subjects such as all the Libertarians who get a hard-on from Firefly.) The clincher was my comic book store being disappointed. Trust me, the crew at Rogues Gallery is very level-headed, thoughtful and polite; it’s no Android’s Dungeon.
What got me to see Spider-Man then? Two things. My friend Tony who gave a good explanation on the strengths/weaknesses he saw. I was also in South Austin one Sunday and had time to kill.
The story starts from a different beginning but follows the more recent version done through Marvel’s Ultimates line of comics, the same source for this Summer’s The Avengers. Sam Raimi’s trilogy stuck closer to the original Stan Lee-Steve Ditko material from 1962. What does this mean to non-comic book geeks? Amazing opens with Peter Parker as a child playing hide and seek with his father. During their game they discover that Dr. Parker’s study had been broken into. Peter’s parents make concerned faces, quickly pack, rush over to Ben and May’s house, leave Peter there and die in a car accident. Fast forward a decade. Ben is cleaning out the basement due to a flood. He finds some old briefcase his brother left and gives it to Peter. The briefcase contains mostly personal effects: glasses, photos and newspaper articles. Then Peter finds a secret pocket containing some detailed notes surrounding a peculiar formula. This leads the hero into poking around Oscorp (Harry Osbourne’s corporation, the guy who was the Green Goblin in the previous series), in an attempt to get an audience with head researcher Dr. Curt Connors, a former partner of Dr. Parker.
The trailer covers the rest. Peter gains his spider-like powers. Dr. Connors transforms into the Lizard. Fights ensue. Peter develops a relationship with Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Parker. Gwen’s father is a high-ranking cop out to capture Spider-Man. So on and so forth.
However, I did like it in some ways more than Raimi’s 2002 version. In Amazing, Uncle Ben and Aunt May are younger. They’re still working but you can tell they’re closing in on retirement. They are more integral to the story too. In 2002, Uncle Ben spouted off a cliche passing as wisdom and gets murdered. This Uncle Ben (played really well by Martin Sheen) has a stronger father-like presence in Peter’s life so when he is killed, there was a real emotional investment. Aunt May (Sally Field, equally impressive) isn’t a helpless retiree for Peter to panic about neither. The man who shot Uncle Ben does become the crux of Spider-Man’s raison d’etre yet (minor spoiler alert) Peter never catches him. Finally, this interpretation goes with Spider-Man’s traditional means of making his webbing, via gadgets strapped to his wrists.
There were things I didn’t like too. The worst was how Peter gains his powers. Raimi’s genetically altered spider has been the most plausible explanation since most people know a radioactive spider does jack, even if it survived the exposure. Amazing is just plain stupid and baffling. The other was Peter revealing his alter ego rather quickly to Gwen and Captain Stacy.
As Tony told me, the movie has trade offs and comparing it to what Raimi did well a decade ago can’t be avoided. I would still give Amazing a shot, especially if The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers weren’t enough to scratch your superhero itch. Does it warrant a sequel? Sure. This means you should sit through the closing credits because the Marvel movie tradition is added to the Spider-Man franchise.
The Alamo treatment made it more enjoyable. I was a bit late so I didn’t get to see much of the fun they added. All I recalled was an Electric Company sequence involving the educational show’s core characters (Easy Reader! Detective Fargo North! Paul the Gorilla! Jennifer of the Jungle!) and some goofy safety tips. By now, I think Amazing is at the dollar cinemas and will hit the rental/DVD circuit by Thanksgiving.