Was a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise really necessary only five years after the original, Sam Raimi-directed trilogy ended with the underwhelming “Spider-Man 3″?
Maybe not so much; this revamp was reportedly prompted by Sony’s desire to retain the rights to the Spider-Man property. In short, if this movie hadn’t been released in 2012, Marvel Productions (owned by Disney) would have gotten the rights to make future films about the web-spinner, and we might have seen a new iteration of Spidey swinging with The Avengers.
Not happening any time soon, as Sony ramped up a new take on the franchise with “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb in the driver’s seat. And to his credit, Webb did a nice job with the property, adding some new twists and tones in hopes of doing for Spidey what Christopher Nolan did to “The Dark Knight.”
He may not have hit those heights, creatively or commercially, but “The Amazing Spider-Man” is certainly a worthwhile film in its own right, and on Blu-ray it’s a pretty spectacular experience.
The re-imagined story offers a new spin on how mild-mannered high-school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) becomes the web-spinning hero. Some elements are familiar from the previous films and the comic-book gospel—you can’t deviate too much from the “bitten by a spider” angle, after all—but there are substantial changes as well. Parker’s parents—never explored in the original trilogy and barely in the comics—play a pivotal role in the opening section showing him as a child, and there are hints that a bigger plan was in motion than just the coincidence of a random bite from a genetically enhanced arachnid.
And we finally see the Lizard! One-armed scientist Dr. Curt Connors appeared in the Raimi Spider-Man films, but we never got to see him transform into a reptile—until now, that is. Now played by Rhys Ifans, Connors works at Oscorp (an indication that we will see Norman Osbourne in this world, perhaps as his alter-ego Green Goblin, as well as his son Harry, in future films set in this continuity). In fact, Connors’ efforts to use inter-species genetic splicing for such pursuits as regenerating lost body parts play a crucial role in Parker’s transformation.
Of course, things go awry (don’t they always?) and Parker, who has taken on the guise of Spider-Man, is in pursuit. And of course, there’s a girlfriend around to be a damsel in distress, but not Mary Jane in this version. Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, Parker’s early girlfriend in the comics.
I was glad they took a fresh approach with a new villain this time around—reviving the Green Goblin for this go-round would have been like dredging out Lex Luthor again and again in the Superman franchise, or bringing back The Joker endlessly against Batman. Spidey has amassed a great rogues’ gallery of villains in the comics over the years; why not use them?
Andrew Garfield brings a jittery, boyish enthusiasm (and big hair) to the role of Peter Parker and his web-spinning alias. More frenetic and scrambled than the comparatively cool Toby McGuire, he emphasizes Parker’s confused teen side, a fitting metaphor for the iPhone generation.
The Lizard is a cool villain, delivered well via state-of-the-art CGI, and the re-imagined origin story adds new shades and twists (unexplored in the Raimi films) to Parker’s beginnings.
The film does have some questionable story beats. It felt to me like Parker’s transition to Spider-Man happened rather quickly and abruptly this time around. It seemed like in one scene he was bitten, in the next his powers started to manifest, and a few scenes later he was in costume and fighting crime. Voila. I felt the first Raimi film better captured the wonder and excitement of a boy realizing he has great powers, and then learning the hard way the responsibility that comes with that power. This one seemed a little rushed and jarring.
There are other changes, and—cool, why not? Why keep it the same? In this version, webs don’t just organically shoot out of Parker’s arms; he invents the webbing like in the comics. There’s no J. Jonah Jameson—Parker doesn’t work for The Daily Bugle, at least not yet, but he is a photographer. Instead of Jameson, Denis Leary is Spider-Man’s main antagonist, who also happens to be his girlfriend’s dad, police Captain Stacy.
The Blu-ray transfer is sparkling and the sound mix is crisp and punchy. A lot of the action in this film—most of it, as I recall—takes place at night, and some Blu-rays I’ve reviewed recently (the otherwise excellent “Cabin in the Woods” comes to mind) did not do a good job of presenting the night scenes. Dark was too dark. “The Amazing Spider-Man” gets night scenes right; they come through sharp and clear, and there’s no confusion about what’s going on, even when the battles with The Lizard go underground.
The disc offers a good array of bonus features, including deleted scenes, audio commentaries, art and promo material galleries, screen tests and stunt rehearsals. You can spend plenty of time with this one.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a brave reboot that takes chances with its source material and often succeeds. As it was commercially successful, it will be the start of a new franchise with this cast and storyline. Despite its flaws, it takes some bold storytelling chances that mostly pay off and, I’m sure, will continue to pay off in films to come. I’m looking forward to seeing them.Buy The Amazing Spider-Man (Three-Disc Combo) on Amazon