So I’m likely seeing The Amazing Spider-Man this week and I’m actually really pumped for it, much more than I was a few months ago when that really “meh,” vaguely Twilight-ish first trailer hit the Net. By all rights, I should be irked by the film’s very existence—the final part in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy came out only five years ago—but I can’t find it in me to generate even a modicum of outrage. And that’s because, as unpopular an opinion as it might be, I didn’t really dig Raimi’s trilogy. Specifically, I don’t think the movies did the character and his universe justice, even the critically-lauded Spider-Man 2.
But glancing over the smorgasbord—some might say plethora—of trailers and clips released over the last couple months, I’m seeing glimpses of a movie that is as true to the character of Spider-Man as Batman Begins was to its eponymous hero.
I never bought Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, simple as that. Even his Peter Parker wasn’t all that effective. One of the really endearing things about the character is, as nerdy and awkward as Peter might be in everyday life, he’s able to become the wisecracking cool kid everybody likes when he pulls on the mask. While Raimi’s movies had their fair share of snarky Spidey moments, they always seemed to fall flat, in large part because of Maguire’s delivery. There was no real confidence to it, and instead of being smart-alecky Maguire’s Spidey came off passive-aggressive, with emphasis on the passive side, like a high school nerd shouting at a laughing bully’s back, “Yeah, you better run!”
With Andrew Garfield, though, I’m sensing that edge that was missing from the Raimi films. Take this clip that shows Spider-Man taking down a carjacker. Not only does he effortlessly string the guy up, but he’s hilarious every second he’s doing it. Sure, Garfield’s voice cracks as much as Maguire’s, but there’s still bite to it (not to mention he’s supposed to be portraying a teenager anyway). And moreover, he’s having fun. Spider-Man is dedicated to protecting the lives of the innocent, but damn if he doesn’t have a good time doing it.
Raimi spent two movies setting up the character of Dr. Curt Connors, one of Peter Parker’s university professors and his future opponent the Lizard. I emphasize ‘future’ because the character’s arc never panned out, with Raimi leaving the series after Spider-Man 3 and before Connor’s could inject himself with the drug that would inadvertently turn him into a vicious humanoid reptile. With the reboot came recasting, and Dylan Baker was the second person after Billy Dee Williams to be Billy Dee Williamsed.
And yet, after seeing a few clips of Welsh actor Rhys Ifans in the role of Connors, I can’t help but think that he’s better suited to the role. Baker played Connors as a thoroughly nice guy, and while there’s a definite tragic element to the Lizard’s story there’s still the fact that his repeated transformations feed off the more unsavoury aspects of the poor doctor’s personality. Shed, a four issue 2010 story arc written by Zeb Wells and pencilled by Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios, explored Connors’ struggles with the territorial and sexually dominant impulses in his “reptilian” brainstem and the resulting horror when the scientist permanently gives in to those primordial parts of his psyche. I’m getting a similar, sinister vibe from Ifan’s portrayal and if it’s there in full force for the actual movie I think we’re looking at a really good on-screen Spidey villain.
Which is not to say that Raimi’s selection of antagonists was horrible: Alfred Molina was undeniably awesome as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 and, for all the slag hurled at him, Topher Grace’s Venom is hands down a better take on the character than the character’s original incarnation in the comics. But Willem Dafoe’s genuine malice as Green Goblin in the first film was hampered by a goofy, seemingly Power Rangers-inspired metal costume, and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman was just not interesting. With the exception of Venom, all of the selected villains were chosen by Raimi to embody Spider-Man’s earliest adversaries, and while the nostalgia factor is a nice touch half of them felt half-assed. Which is sad, considering there was a lot of potential there (although a vastly different interpretation of the character, check out Green Goblin in the Ultimate Spider-Man series; he’s perhaps one of the most unsettling villains in comics).
I won’t lie: with the exception of Thor, Hellboy and Swamp Thing, I generally prefer my superheroes to be a little bit on the lithe side. Perhaps I’m soured on big, tank-like figures because of Rob Liefeld, but slimmer characters, like Spider-Man or Animal Man or Jim Aparo’s Batman just seem better suited to fast-paced combat. Regardless, Tobey Maguire’s—or rather, his stunt man’s—slightly stocky build never really jived with me. Neither did the suit, for that matter. With performances, you can notice the subtle different between an actor playing a part and an actor utterly inhabiting a role. Likewise, I never saw Maguire’s Spidey-suit as anything more than a costume, while Garfield’s getup just seems practical enough—or maybe just shot with the right amount of lighting—to look real and not like a Power Ranger.
And the action I’ve seen just seems more Spidey-like. While I’m not the biggest fan of Todd McFarlane, there’s no doubt his depiction of webslinging was above and beyond anything drawn previously in the comics. I’m getting a similar vibe from the new film: the fights and chases look twisty and dynamic, and more in line with how the Spider-Man of the comics fights in comparison to the comparatively clumsy Maguire.
So yeah, while I can’t attest to the film’s quality, having not yet seen it, I honestly have a good feeling about this one. Will it be on the same par as The Dark Knight or The Avengers? Maybe not, but I’m sensing a solid flick.