When I saw Spider-Man for the first time nine years ago, one line really stuck out to me. The Green Goblin tells Spider-Man, “In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you.” I couldn’t help thinking that he was referring to the audience members. Sure, we all liked the movie when it was new, but would we turn on it if they made even one bad sequel?
I don’t think people hate the Spider-Man series even though it ended on such a poor note with the third film. But it has been tainted. Spider-Man 3 emphasized the flaws in the first two films and left a sour taste in a lot of viewers’ mouths, mine included.
When The Amazing Spider-Man was first announced, I was skeptical. But as its release date got closer, I couldn’t help getting excited. I like superhero films, and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to start fresh, learn from the mistakes of the past, and reintroduce an iconic character in an innovative way. When I saw it last week, I learned that I was right on all three counts.
To me, The Amazing Spider-Man is on par with Spider-Man 2, which is the biggest compliment I can give to it because that is my favorite film in the series. So I’m going to share 12 things The Amazing Spider-Man did better than the films in the original Spider-Man trilogy. Let’s swing away!
1. High School Setting
The first Spider-Man film throws us into the story at the tail end of Peter Parker’s senior year of high school. He graduates before reaching the midway point of the film and from then on we follow his adventures as he bravely tries to eke out a living on a photographer’s wage. The new film made the smart choice to set the story firmly in Peter’s high school years. The most interesting part of Peter’s life takes place while he is trying to figure out how to balance his studies and juvenile problems with his superhero life. The further we get from that, the more things get out of hand, as we saw in Spider-Man 3.
As a side note, I think what the name “Spider-Man” implies is part of Peter Parker’s disguise. Peter was just a kid when he gained his spider powers, but having a name that includes “Man” in it makes him sound like more of a threat to his enemies than, say, Superboy or The Boy Wonder.
2. Peter Parker Is a Scientist
I never got the impression in the original trilogy that Peter was deeply interested in science. Sure, he said he read Norman Osborn’s scholarly paper and he could hold his own in a scientific discussion with Doctor Octavius, but he wasn’t much of an inventor or anything like that. In The Amazing Spider-Man, though, we see him figuring out complex equations and showing a real aptitude and passion about science. He also has a creative electronic lock on his bedroom door that he seems to have invented for himself. Even little things like that tell us a lot about his character. Oh yeah, and he invents his own web shooters.
3. Web Shooters, Not Organic Webbing
Speaking of which, isn’t it nice to see Spider-Man with web shooters, not webbing that comes from his body? That was one of the things that made it so cool when he got the Alien Symbiote in the comics – it produced webs for him so he didn’t have to worry about running out all the time. Having a limited supply of webbing adds suspense and opens up new problems for Peter to overcome. Spider-Man 2 did a good job of trying to make up for the organic web’s seemingly endless supply by cutting it off at inopportune moments. But still, I think the door is wide open for creative ways to handle web shortages in future installments of the new Spider-Man series.
4. Spider-Man’s Physique
I admire Tobey Maguire’s dedication to bulking up to a superhero physique for all three Spider-Man films. It’s especially amazing when you consider the fact that between the first two films, he lost a lot of weight to star as a jockey in 2003’s Seabiscuit. But did Peter really need to look like a bodybuilder right after being bitten by the genetically enhanced spider? It’s much more believable that the spider bite would harden what’s already in Peter’s body, and later he would develop a bulkier physique. Andrew Garfield looks much more like the Peter Parker I imagined from early Spider-Man comics. No one would really believe he could be a superhero because of how scrawny he is, but looks can be deceiving.
5. Uncle Ben’s Death
In Spider-Man, the death of Ben Parker feels a bit rushed. Peter finds his uncle dying on the street, and within seconds he’s chasing after the culprit. This swift pace doesn’t give us time to process the tragedy of this moment or the turning point it is in Peter’s life. The Amazing Spider-Man handles this much better. First of all, Uncle Ben dies instantly, so Peter doesn’t get the consolation of even seeing him one more time after their argument. Plus, Peter doesn’t just run right out and catch his uncle’s murderer. He waits a few days and broods over his death before finally forming a plan of action. It’s really well done.
I still wish that someone could finally get it exactly right and have several days pass between Peter letting the thief go and finding his uncle murdered at that man’s hands. That is one of the most traumatic experiences in comic history because it drives home the point that our actions have long-term consequences.
6. Motivation to Become a Vigilante
In Spider-Man, Peter designs his costume to become a wrestler and earn enough money to buy a car to impress Mary Jane Watson. He then becomes a crime fighter because of his uncle’s noble advice about using his power wisely. That’s pretty cool. In The Amazing Spider-Man, however, Peter doesn’t even think about creating a costume until his uncle dies and he starts hunting down the killer. He’s acting on instinct and rage at first, lashing out at anyone who matches the description of the killer. But he soon calms down enough to think things through logically, and he develops the suit piece by piece until it becomes a functional piece of equipment to aid him in his quest for vengeance.
Peter’s motivations make sense in both films, but the newer one feels more realistic and natural. Peter doesn’t just dress up for the good of the community. He has a serious goal in mind, and he refuses to deviate from it until a bigger threat comes up.
7. Sarcastic Remarks
In the comics, Spider-Man is always spouting off witty remarks while he’s beating up bad guys. This makes it both thrilling and hilarious to watch him fight crime. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate very well into the original trilogy. The wittiest he got was lines like “Say cheese!” “Here’s your change!” “I’m the sheriff around these parts,” and my personal favorite “It’s you who’s out, Goblin. Out of your mind!” Oh, slam. The new Spider-Man does a much better job balancing heroism and comedy. I love all of the insights we get into his character as he partakes in thrilling action sequences. His entire conversation with the car thief is full of gems, especially the part about his fear of small knives. Simply brilliant.
8. Aunt May Relationship
I once heard someone give a detailed explanation of why Aunt May is the worst thing about the first three Spider-Man films. I’ll distill them for you. Basically, she always brings the movie to a screeching halt and shares information in the least interesting manner imaginable. I know she’s old and slow, but couldn’t she please pick up the pace a little? These are action movies, after all.
To solve this problem, The Amazing Spider-Man keeps Aunt May’s role to a bare minimum. I think she gives one brief speech at the end, and that’s all. I found it extremely effective when Peter comes home after big fights at different points in the film. Each time he has more brutal injuries, and Aunt May reacts with increasing alarm. At first, she’s a little perturbed, but then she becomes horrified at the sight of him. The last time, they don’t have to say any words to each other. Her motherly instincts kick in and she just does her best to comfort him. Now that’s touching, not tiring.
In the original Spider-Man trilogy, what you see is what you get. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a style that works well for most action films. But the lack of subtext or mystery makes them a little less entertaining on multiple viewings. Interestingly, few things are cut and dry in The Amazing Spider-Man. By the end, we still don’t know the fate of the man who killed Ben Parker, the full story of Peter’s parents, hardly anything about Mr. Osborn, and much more. I’m excited to see where the story is going because I don’t know how all of these plot threads will be resolved.
10. Love Interest
There are a few problems with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson. First of all, she’s too perfect. She doesn’t have many character flaws, like she does in the comics. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to imbue her with the backstory of Mary Jane and the personality of Gwen Stacy, and the two just don’t mesh. Second, her relationship with Peter is frustrating, not romantic. They’re constantly having misunderstandings. At first, I thought it was because of Peter’s secret identity, but no, they intensify after she discovers his secret. By the end of the third film I started to wonder if they’d be better off going their separate ways. Third, she’s just a damsel in distress. That’s her main purpose in all three films – someone for Peter to rescue in the climax.
The makers of The Amazing Spider-Man make Gwen Stacy the love interest, and they give her a lot of things to do. She doesn’t act like her life revolves around Peter. She’s busy at a job that becomes important to the story, and she isn’t taken prisoner at the end, but she contributes to the resolution. Also, her dad is the Chief of Police, so she’s thrown into the middle of a serious conflict between a vigilante and the law. Thank goodness the filmmakers got the relationship between Peter and Gwen just right. Peter reveals his secret to her early on to prevent misunderstandings and they share a lot of great scenes together. I wanted to cheer at the end when they did away with the notion that the hero somehow protects his girlfriend by refusing to be with her. This isn’t Smallville, for heaven’s sake.
Even though a lot of the action takes place at night, the first three Spider-Man films are surprisingly bright and colorful. Spider-Man doesn’t have to worry too much about bad weather, injuries or other problems keeping him from doing his job. He might get a few light wounds, but nothing life-threatening. But in the new film, Spider-Man gets tasered, shot in the leg, clawed deeply in the chest, and much more. And his injuries don’t just magically go away when the fight is over. He has to go home and try to explain them to his distraught Aunt May. Plus, he keeps making mistakes and leaving clues for the police, which ratchets up the suspense on whether or not he’ll be arrested or killed.
12. Planning Ahead
Not every film series needs to be planned as far ahead as Star Wars to be successful. For example, many of the Star Trek films turned out great, and there was never an overarching story that the filmmakers thought up for all 11+ films. The first two Spider-Man films did a great job connecting to each other, even though the second film wasn’t developed until the first became a huge success. However, the third one completely dropped the ball. At that point it became apparent that the filmmakers hadn’t thought out a plan of action on how to bring the relationships and overall story to a satisfying conclusion. The first two films were fine on their own, but the third film led nowhere. It felt like everything leading up to it was in vain, a la Alien and Aliens. Some planning would have really helped.
It looks like the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man aren’t repeating that mistake. They announced that they’re already working on the script for the second film, and they have a good idea for where they want the story to go in the next two films. That might sound presumptuous to plan so far ahead, but I think it is good storytelling. Begin with the end in mind. Don’t just create characters and a story and hope they all turn out for the best. Make sure you’re building up to something in the end. And I’m pleased to see that The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t just going to be a great standalone film, but part of a larger web.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images from the Spider-Man films are the copyright of Sony Pictures.