Back in the day, about half a century ago, Marvel Comics did a David & Goliath number on industry giant DC. It was a team effort to be sure, but the creativity of three artists who brought life to Stan Lee’s often pedestrian scripts brought about the miracle. Jack Kirby and Gene Colan are both dead, while Steve Ditko, the man responsible for the now familiar appearance of Spiderman lives in relative obscurity in New York City, while writer, Stan Lee, does his Alfred Hitchcock parodies in most of the films based upon their Marvel Characters.
As is often the case before art becomes product, creativity was given free reign, and Ditko’s definitive style was perfect for the well meaning hard luck teenage hero, Peter Parker. His fine lined drawings seamlessly combined the realistic with the abstract; his depiction of faces and the emotions conveyed therein has rarely been rivaled. For the three plus years he drew the young superhero, his film-noirish artwork with its many menacing shadows impeccably rendered all the angst and danger of his hero’s world.
Andrew Garfield, a 28 year old actor, does a more than reasonable job portraying the young hero, but one is left wondering why not use a teenage actor to portray a teenager? Emma Stone, likewise in her 20’s, does an admirable job portraying a 17 year old Gwen Stacy, who in the comic book scheme of things doesn’t enter Peter Parker’s life until issue #31, and only as a college friend and unrequited love interest, is here sucking face with Parker on their first date. Stone usually steals the scenes in which she appears. Rhys Ifans makes a tolerable villain, the Lizard, who succumbs to the side effects of a serum meant to regenerate his missing arm while working for the sinister Osgood Corporation. In the pantheon of Ditko Spiderman villains, the Lizard first appeared in issue #6, and Curt Connors, his alter ego, had no connection whatever to Norman Osgood’s company, as if that mattered. And so it goes. Artistic license?
As a film that pays slightly more than lip service to its comic book roots, The Amazing Spiderman is more than tolerable; the question being why anyone found it necessary to “reboot” the movies when the first three installments had already set the scene so recently. It’s true, that this version is easier to swallow than the previous origin, as the tone and hero more closely resemble Ditko’s vision, even if the previous telling more closely resembled Lee’s script for Spiderman’s first appearance back in Amazing Fantasy #15. The choice to modernize both stories as opposed to making them period pieces plays down to the perceived audience, most of which wasn’t following Spiderman in 1963, assuming, perhaps correctly, that an era without cell phones and high tech would be of small interest to today’s comic book to movie crowd.
The best parts of the film, oddly, are the scenes in which Garfield and Stone banter, brimming with teenage angst, often saying nothing coherent yet communicating eloquently nevertheless. The scenes in which Spiderman is shown swinging through the canyons of Manhattan are downright scary, unlike those in the previous three installments where all of that looked like fun. Parker’s home life with Aunt May (Sally Fields) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) are well done except for the slapstick of Peter’s reaction to his miraculous spider bite when he breaks everything he touches for about five minutes. The battles with the Lizard, on the other hand, are almost laughable, as the damn thing should have rent him to pieces.
Noticeably missing are J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle and Spiderman’s perpetual foil; Betty Brant, his original love interest; Liz Allen, the female high school antagonist and counterpart to Flash Thompson. Denis Leary is given the role of foil in the film, as a police Captain who is also Gwen’s father—odd how in all of New York City every case involving Spiderman also involves Captain Stacy.
The disappearance of Peter’s parents—not something from the original Lee/Ditko years, becomes a plot device book ending the film and purportedly tying it to the next installment of this version of the saga. Yadda, yadda, yadda…
Ultimately one is left wondering what happened to the world since those hectic 1960’s. They never seemed all that innocent back then, but in comparison to today’s culture in which nearly every one walks (and drives) chatting like a magpie with a microwave processor pressed against their head, oblivious to the danger, the traffic, and the world about them, they do seem so much more real. The Amazing Spiderman, on the other hand, seems anything but, and its inevitable success and very being under the circumstances serves as a reminder that the holy trinity has become avarice, vacuity and self-aggrandizement as film makers play everything for money and fluff to an audience willing to gobble it all up.