There's rumor of a new species in New York. And, it can be aggressive, if threatened...
Originally conceived as Spider-Man 4, the slated fourth film in the Raimi franchise, James Vanderbilt was hired off his work on the film Zodiac to pen script treatments for what would become three new Spider-Man films. This new trilogy would have made six total Spider-Man films in one franchise, hinting at the possibilty of introducing all-new villains and character story arcs. This also made sense as the previous two Spider-Man films in The Raimi Trilogy had suffered major pushbacks due to Sam Raimi being unhappy with hired screenwriters and their reworking of scripts, which was getting costly for Sony to hire new scribes for every movie, in order to please their director. Avi Arad and Sony made the decision to cut down on time between films by having scripts ready to go from Vanderbilt, which could also work as stand-alones or reboot films due to the new story lines. This ended up working in Sony's favor as Sam Raimi did not adhere to the studio's wishes, and inconsiderately kept hiring new writers for the pre-production work on Spider-Man 4, while simultaneously asking the new writers to change the villain from The Lizard, who the fans, Avi Arad, and the studio wanted to feature, to creations of his own that did not match up with the Spider-Man mythos. This ended famously when the studio sat the camp-horror director down in one last discussion, which either resulted in the firing of Raimi or him walking off the project on his own accord. The one-time romantic duo of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who were committed to the project through Raimi, also followed him out the door. This gave way to a new direction and Sony decided to still make the film in the nature of a reboot.
The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM), while at one point having been considered the tentative working title of Spider-Man 2, was now a creature all its' own. With the previous director finally out, Sony could once again oversee their moneymaker by having the bulk of it filmed right on their own lot, instead of in remote places such as Chicago or Michigan for the whole movie, even though some of the film was shot on location in the Manhattan borough of New York City. They could also make sure no one else screwed with the story. They did that by keeping mostly the same production team and bringing back top-notch scribe Alvin Sargent, who all had worked on The Raimi Trilogy, to straighten out the kinks in Vanderbilt's treatment. The result is a great reworking of the comic book story which tells the origin of Peter Parker, rather than of his superhero alter ego, the wall-crawling, web-slinging web-head known as Spider-Man. Now I say great 'reworking' of the comic's story; and that's mostly what this film is as I will describe in the next section. Mostly, I felt that the film recounted the origins of the Parker family as best it could without giving too much away, and at the same time leaving it open-ended for the resolve to come full circle by the end of the series. The flick also gave way to the mystery of one OsCorp CEO under which company the movie's main antagonist worked. As a Spidey comic aficionado, I loved finally seeing The Lizard on screen, as well as finally seeing justice to the character of Gwen Stacy. These two elements gave me pure delight as a 'web-head', even though both were given liberties upon the original characterizations. Cases in point were Dr. Curt Connors' revamped story into the OsCorp/parents' arc and the modernized twist on Gwen's relationship with Parker. While I initially felt like the Connors twist was unneeded, I am now susceptible to the overall plot that will no doubt fold out in the series, and felt like his overall plot scheme was taken right from the source material. On the other hand, Gwen Stacy was a pure delight to behold. This love interest is iconic to any die-hard fan of the mythos, and yes, some liberties were taken with changing certain elements of her well-known romance with Parker from the comics, but at the same time these liberties are a fascinating 'what-if' to the adaptation, and I honestly can't wait to see where they will take her to next. One last thing on story that I would like to add, is that the personification of Spidey is finally spot-on. Fans of the character will be 'amazed' to witness the trademark wisecracking and c*ckiness that comes with the webbed mask, and appreciate the brilliant scientific mind of the genius-level high schooler.
Story (Comic Comparison)
Marc Webb and Sony drew heavy inspiration from the comic book Ultimate Spider-Man (USM), sprinkled with elements of flavor from the definitive flagship comic series, Amazing Spider-Man (ASM; the comic, not to be confused with TASM; the movie). I feel like The Raimi Trilogy was most likely made from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era of ASM and maybe also a slight pinch of the John Romita influence. Those films had intentional campiness and cheese, something Stan was well-known for, and while Gwen Stacy was created in this era, and mostly worked best under Romita, the character was more properly utilised with a serious take. This was found out in later years and even flashbacks to her character and romance with Parker in ASM. Marc Webb and company decided to keep this iconic personification of Gwen, and I believe I speak for most fans when I say: Thank God. Finally, a director that understands the significance of the mythos as well as takes the fans into consideration, this is what Spidey needed more than anything. Now this new franchise, I see as mostly taking influence from the Brian Michael Bendis-Mark Bagley era of USM, with perhaps a little bit of ASM's Conway/Kane era. The Gerry Conway and Gil Kane run was widespread and well-known for their take on Gwen Stacy, and I feel this is most likely where Webb picks up the classic trademarks of her character. Also, I speculate that Jeph Loeb's and Tim Sale's Spider-Man: Blue mini-series might have been used for basis on Gwen's persona here; the story of which focuses mostly on the beginnings of Parker's relationship with Gwen, where the tone is much more serious compared to the flamboyant nature of the Romita material. However, he does take major influence on a majority of the rest of the film from USM, citing Bagley's art as reference for Spidey's poses, amongst other things. So, to recap - The Raimi Trilogy: Lee/Ditko/Romita; TASM: Bendis/Bagley & Conway/Kane & Loeb/Sale. Gwen Stacy as the first girlfriend, Captain Stacy, the web-shooters, the science...these are all the correct pieces of the puzzle that is the beginning of the Spider-Man mythos, and I'm happy that they got it right this time. Some other elements such as the "untold story" Parker parents plot, OsCorp's experiments, Norman and a few other things while changed, complimented the story to a certain degree as a set-up for the new trilogy. I can't really speculate further as I have never read the USM series. Sorry guys, but I'm a die-hard ASM purist.
Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man: I watched Garfield two years ago in The Social Network, and while his acting was decent in that flick and outshined lead actor Jesse Eisenberg, I feared he wasn't 'amazing' enough to portray the wallcrawler. However, I turned out to be wrong, as he was leagues better here. His acting, coupled with the romance between his Parker and Stone's Gwen, pretty much carried the movie. He came off as the wiz-kid scientist without skipping a beat. A great casting choice all around.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy: The highlight of the movie. I have since boarded the Emma Stone bandwagon after seeing more of her movies. I began with Superbad, in which I though she was just the hot tall redhead, then I saw parts of Zombieland and learned her name and acting talents, then moved on to Easy A to prepare myself for her acting in TASM, in which I thought she shined as an actress. While I still think she is the spitting image of a real-life Mary Jane ripped right from the comic book pages, and should have been cast as such, her acting just shines through moreso in this film in her role as Gwen. I think there were better casting choices in the auditions for Gwen who resembled the character better, however after seeing the film, I doubt any of them could have pulled off the superb acting of Emma Stone. She's just great in any role.
Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard: Better by far than the last actor to portray this character in the previous series, Rhys Ifans, while sporting a cool name, gives us a mysterious glimpse into arguably Spidey's most well-known ally/villain. The problem with this role does not lie in the acting, but rather the writing of said character. We don't feel as much for this character as audiences simply because the film does not allow us to get to know him personally. We understand that he's connected to the "untold story" somehow but we do not receive the info. Ifans did what he could with how the character was written, and for that, I applaud him.
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy: Denis Leary is just a great actor in general. I didn't think he was right for the role when announced, but it's obvious they went with a younger take on Gwen's father, and I now feel it was the right move. Leary adds another notch to his acting belt.
Sally Field as Aunt May: Sally was the one actor in this film who basically had very little to do. She had relatively less screen time than anyone else in the cast. She's notable for appearing in producer Laura Ziskin's first and, ultimately, last films. Ziskin was married to Alvin Sargent and passed away from breast cancer just mere days after the release of this film. Both Ziskin and Sargent worked on all 4 Spidey films, and Ziskin and Sally Field formed a partnership on her first production company back in 1984. So most of Field's presence here is pure nostalgic, citing Ziskin as the reason for signing on to accept the role. Field's Aunt May is grounded in realism, something the last trilogy lacked heavily, and her character shows a deep amount of concern for Ben and Parker throughout the film. As I said, she had little to do but I felt her chemistry was omnipotent. Definitely a great actress, and whom of which I'd like to see more of in the sequels.
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben: Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben was spot-on for me. I don't really know how much more Uncle Ben an actor could be. I'm not really a Sheen fan nor am I #winning, but I must say that the Sheen dad sure has his moments.
Irrfan Khan as the guy who's not Van Adder: This guy was a douche. Suffice it to say, I thought he looked cool and everything in the casting announcements, when he was meant to be Van Adder... But then I guess the studio found out that Van Adder becomes the Proto-Goblin, so they changed his name specifically because of that. Pretty. Freakin. Lame. He can't act, and only took the part because his kid likes Spider-Man and convinced his daddy to do it. Plus, this guy adds nothing to the otherwise all-star acting, only sheds some light on the mystery of working for the never-present Norman Osborn. He either didn't try very hard to act decently, or is not a decent actor. Take your pick.
Marc Webb did a great job directing TASM. I was sceptical mainly because Webb's only other film was (500) Days of Summer, and before that, hadn't directed films before. So putting Sony's and Columbia's biggest moneymaker franchise in the hands of this guy made me somewhat uneasy. He did, however, direct a slew of music videos for the music industry including some of my recent Evanescence favorites, but while this may have worked for McG to work his way into the film industry, I still wasn't so sure about Webb. Then I heard of his (500) Days of Summer success. I still haven't seen that film, but I'm glad this was my first taste of Webb...wait, that came out wrong... Yes, Marc's filmmaking is a more gritty, subversive take on the webslinger, and I enjoyed it immensely. Although I really didn't like the POV webslinging style, anything's better than the Spydercam.
The visuals were awesome. There were a few points with The Lizard that could have been touched up, and honestly, Lizard could have looked way better with a snout, even though some early Ditko work doesn't have it, but it's just my take on it. The webbing was way better and looked more real than Raimi's. The web-shooters were cool, and had some CGI involved with them, even though wearing them outside the gloves and the flashing red lights on them would totally give them away to enemies (See: end of movie). The film had a "blue" quality to the prints that I really liked, since I'm a sucker for color schemes. Except for a few unnoticed touch-up flaws, the visuals were...spectacular? Sensational? Amazing?
This movie was embarrassingly better than the entirety of The Raimi Trilogy. The fault may lie in Raimi and his writers, basing his films off the 1960's era of ASM without modernization, while this film modernizes everything, and does so in a serious tone without the campiness. While some things may not fit like the Nike basketball costume, it's all an oblivious irrelevancy to the theme of the overall flick. So many things Raimi did in his trilogy made absolutely no sense in accordance with basing them off the Spidey mythos, and Webb & Co. manage to do it so much better, and perhaps more importantly, right. It's a precedence to what the series may become. 'Nuff Said.