Friday, July 13, 2012

Comparing the Spider-Man movies

I'm a huge fan of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, and by that I mean I loved the first two movies and pretend like the third one didn't happen. I am in the camp that approves of the reboot, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man despite having to sit through yet another origin story. If you're wondering whether to see it in 3D, I'd recommend it.

Rather than offer an ordinary review of this new film, I thought I would get into the specifics and talk about what exactly worked and the few things that didn't. I also wanted to compare this film to Raimi's first Spider-Man, since they both deal with the origin story, though they tackle it very differently.

Be aware that there's going to be massive spoilers below, so don't read this unless you've already seen the movie or don't mind spoilers. So yeah, consider this a huge SPOILER WARNING!

Peter Parker
I really liked Andrew Garfield as Peter. While Tobey Maguire did a great job himself, Garfield showed us a Peter profoundly traumatized by the loss of his parents, and later Uncle Ben. He was sad and angry and confused and curious and insular all rolled into one. This was a very troubled Peter and I thought Garfield brought more range and depth than Maguire.

As Spider-Man, Garfield really shone. This is the cocky, smart-mouthed Spider-Man we never, really got from the Raimi movies. I liked how his wise-cracks came from a place of anger, especially as he was hunting down the criminal who killed his uncle. This was a teenager barely keeping a check on his rage while he figures out this whole hero business.

One of my favorite scenes was when Peter was waiting for The Lizard to show, and so naturally he pulls out his cell phone and plays games to pass the time. It's a small character moment that demonstrates that Peter is still more of a Spider-Teen than a Spider-Man.

Overall, I think Andrew Garfield was the better Peter Parker.

The Spider Bite
This time it wasn't a field trip, it was Peter Parker sneaking into Oscorp while trying to figure out what his dad was working on. Peter just blithely walks into a chamber full of spiders and of course gets bitten. I found this sequence ineffective, and it's the classic trope of moving the plot along because the main character does something foolish for no reason.

The Raimi Spider-Man did it better.

Becoming Spider-Man
First, Peter had to figure out just what powers he had and how they worked. The movie assumed that the audience was familiar enough with Spider-Man that we never got any long explanations about how he can stick to walls, his super strength, and his spider-sense. I was all right with that.

Like the first movie, this one featured a sequence when Peter couldn't control his ability to stick to things, and the fight in the subway was very funny as a result. His constant apologies as he was beating everyone senseless made it a great scene. I'd say that it was just as effective as the scenes in the original.

The second part, of course, is Peter's decision to become a hero. I liked that at first, Peter wasn't interested in being a hero, just tracking down the man who killed his uncle. He has to slowly come to realize his greater responsibility, especially when he realizes that The Lizard is his fault. It's a more natural character arc, and I'd say I liked this movie's take on it better.

Aunt May
Sally Field is a fantastic actress, but I just didn't like her as Aunt May. I do get where she was going with her portrayal, a grieving widow struggling to raise her nephew alone. In any other movie she'd be perfect, but Aunt May is supposed to be a defiant firecracker, fully capable of putting Peter in his place.

Rosemary Harris was the better Aunt May.

Uncle Ben
Martin Sheen, on the other hand, was an inspired choice for Uncle Ben. While he never got to say the "Great Power" line, it never appears in the movie, he manages to get the point across quite well. Ben Parker is a man of honor and integrity, and Sheen radiates that attitude in the little screen time he has. Still, would it have killed them to include "With great power comes great responsibility?"

While Cliff Robertson did a great job, I'd have to say I much preferred Martin Sheen.

Uncle Ben's Death
In many ways, Peter is a lot more responsible for Uncle Ben's death this time around. After storming out of the house, Peter tries to buy milk but is two cents short. Since the clerk won't spot him two pennies from the take-a-penny tray, Peter leaves, only to watch a street thug grab a handful of money from the register while the clerk's back was turned. Peter's reward for doing nothing, the milk the clerk refused him. Naturally Peter doesn't help track down that thug for the clerk. The dude was a jerk, he deserved to be robbed.

Of course, that same thug then kills Uncle Ben, who had been chasing after Peter trying to find him. He dies because of two cents. That's what Ben's life was worth to Peter, two cents. How does that not forever change you?

Not only that, but Peter accepting that milk made him part of the robbery, and refusing to help stop the thief an accessory after the fact. Legally, Peter could be guilty of felony homicide because he was part of the crime that resulted in his uncle's death. That's pretty messed up.

I like this version a bit better than the original because we didn't have to put up with any silly wrestling, and it makes Peter's guilt all that deeper.

The Costume
In this version, Spider-Man reminds me of a basketball because of his suit's scaly, rubberized texture. Despite that, I thought it was a great design and looked fantastic. I'd say it's slightly better than the original, but it's still the same overall aesthetic. Don't mess with the classics.

The Web Shooters
Instead of being organic, these are the traditional cartridge based shooters. I have no idea how he was able to get the components in the first place since they were designed by Oscorp and highly experimental. The movie glosses over the detail of how an ordinary high-school student is able to get his hands on that stuff. (I wonder if that's in a deleted scene.)

The original movie gave Peter organic shooters which were a part of him However, it made no sense that they'd be in his wrists. If they were truly organic, they'd be located somewhere else, the place on a spider's body where silk usually comes out. But I don't think audiences would ever be ready for that version of Spider-Man.

I give the edge to the new movie, but only because web-shooters are an original part of the canon and make more sense than the organic ones.

The Love Interest
Gwen Stacy. Again, this movie stays true to the original story, as Peter didn't meet Mary Jane until well after high school. I liked this Gwen Stacy, and Emma Stone had a lot of great chemistry with Andrew Garfield. She was smart, strong, and didn't spend half the movie screaming.

We also didn't have to wait for the sequel for her to find out about Peter's other life. She immediately becomes Peter's ally, and that avoided a lot of secret identity nonsense that plagued the original Spider-Man. The scene where Peter tells Gwen he's Spider-Man is wonderfully awkward, especially since Gwen's father, Captain Stacy, is tasked with bringing down Spider-Man.

Both Emma Stone and Kirsten Dunst did a great job in their movies, but I just think Gwen Stacy was utilized far better than Dunst was as MJ.

The Villain
Rather than an ego-maniac in a Power Rangers mask (thanks Weird Al), our villain is an old scientist buddy of Peter's Dad. Doctor Connors turns himself into a giant lizard trying to grow back his arm, and naturally this makes him go nuts. He's a very sympathetic character, struggling with guilt, morality, and his desire to heal himself. The design of The Lizard was also excellent, and he never became silly or cartoonish. Going full CGI was the right call.

I liked that Peter is the one who gives him the final key to unlocking The Lizard. Once again, this is a problem of his own making, and I liked that as a motivation. Peter is learning to take responsibility. He made this problem, he's got to fix it. It gave him a great connection to his adversary, one that went both ways.

The fight scenes were brutal, particularly his attack on Peter's high school. This film had better action sequences and fights than the original, and it really felt like a Spider-Man comic come to life. The action went from floor to ceiling to walls, through walls, and everywhere else. It was frenetic but still comprehensible.

Overall, the Lizard was a better villain than the Green Goblin. However, Willem Dafoe knew how to chew the scenery, and I preferred him as an actor to Rhys Ifans.

The Menace
You can't have Spider-Man without someone declaring him a public menace. This is the first movie without a J. Jonah Jameson. Instead, we have Captain Stacy, played perfectly by Dennis Leary. (Who better to play a no-nonsense New York cop?) I liked that Captain Stacy wasn't a bad guy, he was trying to do his job and then some idiot kept messing everything up. He had a point about Spider-Man being an amatuer, which Peter was.

Naturally, this sets up having to work together with Peter at the end to not only save his daughter, but also all of New York. As Peter learns to be a better hero, Captain Stacy learns to trust Peter. It's a nice moment.

Still, I have to give the edge to the original movie on this one. It's not quite Spider-Man if Jameson isn't there calling him a wall-crawling menace. I'm sure they'll take care of that in the sequel.

The City Loves Him
Despite being called a menace, the people fall in love with Spider-Man because he's risking his neck to save them. (And their kids.) I loved the moment when all the construction workers positioned their cranes so Spider-Man could get to Oscorp tower and stop The Lizard. It was a city banding together to help one of their own, especially since the guy who puts it together is the father of a kid Spider-Man saved from The Lizard. It's very moving.

While it was fun seeing the people of New York pelt and jeer the Green Goblin, Spider-Man getting an assist from the cranes is the better moment.

The Sequel
Both films set up the sequel. In the original, Harry Osborn vows vengeance on Spider-Man and MJ suspects Peter might be Spider-Man after they share a kiss..

In this version, Dr. Connors has a conversation with a mysterious man about Peter's parents. Clearly something is up, and we'll learn all about it next time. Plus, we never see Norman Osborn in this movie, we just know that he's dying and desperate to save himself, perhaps setting him up as the Green Goblin for the sequel.

I'd say both movies set up the next installment well, but this one gave us a definite direction in the plot and I can't wait to see where it goes. Spider-Man 2 turned out to be not only a sequel better than the original, but one of the best super-hero movies ever made. Let's hope the next Amazing Spider-Man can live up to that.

Now if we can just get Nick Fury to extend an invitation...

Stan Lee
As usual, Stan Lee makes a cameo, this time as a clueless, headphone-wearing librarian completely oblivious to the epic fight behind him. It's a hilarious scene and definitely worthy of the man who pretty much created almost every Marvel property we know and love. In the original movie, Stan-Lee plays a bystander who yanks someone to safety in a blink-and-you'll miss it moment. It's good but not great.

This movie had the better Stan Lee cameo.

Bruce Campbell
Sadly, Bruce Campbell is not in this movie. Advantage: The original Spider-Man

There you have it. While I do love the 2002 Spider-Man, I have to say that this new version did many things better. Both are great movies, and I can't wait to see where this rebooted franchise heads next.  My only real disappointment with this film was not having Nick Fury show up at Peter's doorstep at the end of the credits, but with the runaway success of The Avengers, my guess is that it's only a matter of time.

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