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I would guess that I’m not the only one who was skeptical when hearing of plans to release a new Spider-Man movie so quickly on the heels of the Spider-Man trilogy of films starring Tobey Maguire. The trailers for the upcoming Spidey adventure offered little reassurance, making The Amazing Spider-Man look about as un-amazing as an animated movie’s part-three sequel. Media coverage leading up to the film emphasized the teen aspects and appeal of this project, which focuses on Peter Parker as an average, unpopular high school student.
Though the movie has enough problematic content to make it inappropriate for kids, it avoids fulfilling the foreboding expectation of a glorified teen romance picture cloaked in Spider-Man’s, money-making name. Instead, the film honors the moral integrity of the Spider-Man character and legend, while adding creative twists, sweet humor, and impressive production values to make this take on the superhero well worth watching.
Great stories always bear retelling. The Amazing Spider-Man shows that the history of Spider-Man’s beginnings is one such story.
Even people who have never picked up a comic book may know of Peter Parker, the high school student who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae in New York City. The 2002 Spider-Man showed Peter at that stage of life, already living with his Aunt and Uncle. What may be less widely known is how Peter got there. The Amazing Spider-Man gets its chance to set itself apart from the recent trilogy of movies by opening with a look at Peter as a young boy.
Peter appears to be just like any other kid, playing hide and seek with his scientist dad, while his mother is somewhere in the house. But when Peter finds a ransacked room instead of his father, his parents come sweeping in and, clearly disturbed by the break-in, they whisk Peter away, along with some papers his dad, Richard, grabs from a hidden compartment.
The Parker family stops at Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae’s place, where Richard tells Peter that he is to stay there, without his parents. Peter is left with the relatives, with only Richard’s inadequate explanation that he and Peter’s mother have work they need to do.
Fast-forward years later, and Peter, now a high school student, is still with his uncle and aunt. His parents died in a plane crash after leaving him, making Peter’s living situation permanent. His aunt and uncle are good at making sure Peter feels loved and secure, but there are occasional moments that reveal his grief and questions about his parents’ death.
A discovery of Richard’s papers and a newspaper clipping leads Peter to Oscorp, where a scientist who once worked with Richard is still conducting the same type of research into cross-species genetics. It’s here that Peter has a run-in with the infamous spider that causes some interesting changes in the high school student.
As if normal hormonal fluctuations aren’t enough for a teenager to handle, Peter suddenly has to deal with a myriad of physical changes that are anything but normal. Add to this equation the distraction of young love, as Peter finally starts to get a response from his crush, Gwen Stacy, and it’s a formula for disaster, if not handled properly.
Unfortunately, there was no dose of responsibility in the spider’s bite, and Peter is decidedly deficient. His uncle’s admonitions about moral obligation fall on deaf ears until Peter’s act of angry carelessness causes a devastating tragedy. Filled with a rage at the perpetrator of the crime that is strong enough to mask his own feelings of guilt, Peter uses his Spider-Man abilities to attempt to track down the criminal and make him pay.
It takes a police captain to help Peter see that he’s far more vigilante than hero as he flippantly hassles criminals, laughing at their incompetence against his powers. Just as Peter starts to learn that saving people is a much better job for Spider-Man than bounty hunter, a monster who is more than Peter’s match unleashes much greater danger on the city. If Peter is to win this fight and protect the city, he will have to follow the teaching of his father and uncle, sacrificing everything to do the good he is able to do.
Story sound familiar? In some ways, The Amazing Spider-Man is by necessity similar to the 2002 Spider-Man. Necessarily, that is, because both versions make an attempt to maintain accuracy to the tradition of the Spider-Man origins account. The newest film wisely slips in enough small differences to the repeated events so that the details aren’t completely redundant and viewers can enjoy a sense of uncertainty of when and how even the familiar events will unfold.
The filmmakers’ evident commitment to honoring the original Spider-Man story is crucial, as it’s likely the reason why the strong moral message that is the foundation for his character remains unsullied, coming through with shining integrity, despite Hollywood’s usual attempts to “reinvent” such uplifting content right out of remakes and new takes on old material.
Though a works-based idea, there is puissant truth in Uncle Ben’s words to Peter that, if he is able to do good for others, he has a moral obligation to do so. Uncle Ben says this obligation is not “a choice, but a responsibility.” A choice is always involved, of course, so Uncle Ben is a bit off in his application, but the sentiment is admirable and a much-needed message for this world.
The idea of moral obligation to help others is at the core of Peter’s personal journey throughout the film, which renders this and other Spidey origin accounts so compelling. When Peter first discovers his newfound powers, he abuses them, using them for revenge against criminals and a high school bully. Uncle Ben calls Peter out for the vengeful behavior toward the bully (though he has no idea that Peter used superhero powers to accomplish it), making it clear that even a bully doesn’t “deserve” to be humiliated. Peter’s character flaws and immaturity allow for a plethora of lessons to be emphasized, and this film doesn’t miss the opportunities, portraying the ideals of kindness, compassion, self-sacrifice, love, family, forgiveness, and others.
This movie offers a central character that undergoes a clear change, a growth that viewers can relate to, as well as applaud. Peter’s story is the tale of a boy becoming a man, a selfish human becoming a servant, a vigilante becoming a hero. And, as Peter progresses, he teaches others by his example to do the same, inspiring New Yorkers to rise up around him, becoming heroes themselves and adding to the movie’s positive content.
Thanks to this clear and inspiring journey, The Amazing Spider-Man is like a fresh breeze of change from the anti-hero trend that is so painfully popular in every genre of film, even down to the Prince Uncharmings in kids’ animated flicks. The new Spidey movie is free from the boredom of such characters, as anti-heroes can do nothing but stay their same dissipated selves; they can’t learn or change. Dynamic, not static, characters are always the feature of any classic, timeless tale, and The Amazing Spider-Man filmmakers choose wisely in following that tradition.
The filmmakers made another smart choice in matching the moral emphasis of the film with less problematic content than the norm. Violence is the worst issue, with many fast-paced action sequences, one gory killing (viewers see the claws of a monster go through a man’s body) and two bloody deaths (a large amount of blood is shown seeping from the wounds and gets on Peter’s hands), the physical transformation of people in what is clearly a painful process, and Peter’s plethora of cuts and bruises.
One scene includes some crudity, as Peter yells “crotch” when about to attack a car thief and then shoots a web to cover that area of the thief’s body. This moment is somewhat redeemed by the fact that it is firmly planted in a sequence meant to showcase Peter’s cocky and juvenile attitude in his early days as Spider-Man.
One completely inappropriate element occurs when Peter accidentally rips the shirt off of a woman on the subway, revealing her bra. He hasn’t gotten the hang of his sticky, spider-like fingers yet, and he doesn’t know how to detach his hand from her shoulder, where he had innocently placed it to comfort the woman. Viewers can only see the shirtless woman in a couple brief shots as the scene picks up pace, and a man with the woman initially makes an attempt to cover her.
Surprisingly for a PG-13 film, there is relatively mild language. There are a few uses of “Oh, my g--“ (spoken in a time of great emotional agony), but other language issues are confined to one use of “a--,” one of “d---,” and three of “h---“.
Another negative element comes with a statement that Peter makes at the end of the film, saying that promises one can’t keep are “the best kind.” The promise that Peter is indicating he’s going to break was one he reluctantly, barely made under duress and should never have made in the first place, so it’s difficult to fault him much for intending to not keep that particular “promise.” But his statement regarding promises in general, though it’s jokingly said to send a message to Gwen, could be harmful if taken seriously.
The media-promoted teen romance angle also avoids being of as much concern as one might have expected. The worst of such content comes with two teens shown making out (mostly just ardent kissing) by Peter’s school locker. Peter and Gwen engage in some overly passionate kissing themselves, which doesn’t seem to bother Gwen’s mother as much as it should, but the teens’ physical involvement stops there. Gwen is, it should be noted, guilty of wearing some super-short skirts that set a bad example for teen girls.
This film contains more potentially problematic content than it should, to be sure, and these issues render the movie a bad choice for kids. Mature teens and adults, however, should have little trouble gleaning more positives than negatives from the uplifting messages that overcome the movie’s overall minimal dangers. Other filmmakers should take a cue from the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man: Popcorn and soda slide down much easier when one isn’t constantly choking on offensive content.
Of course, food and drink may not be a priority for viewers, as they might be too busy enjoying the creative skill of this production team and cast. The CGI is expertly done, living up to the bar set by other recent superhero movies and even marking an improvement from the other Spider-Man movies. The graphics are matched by excellent cinematography and thrilling action sequences. Veteran film composer James Horner adds his credibility and special musical talent to the movie with a score that lives up to his reputation, though it’s applied a bit too heavily at times.
A well-written script provides the foundation that is perhaps most responsible for making this movie memorable. Building on the successful story basis of the Spider-Man legend, the screenplay adds some fresh elements of its own, including the spot-on, moving, and often humorous dialogue that portrays the comedy and emotions of ordinary life.
All the pieces fall into place when impressive actors are given the task of speaking those words and bringing the scenes to life. Taking on the daunting task of the role that made a name for his predecessor, Andrew Garfield shows he’s no runner-up with his genuine portrayal of the iconic superhero. He’s consistently believable as Peter, seamlessly portraying the comedy, vulnerability, grief, impulsiveness, painful growth, and eventual heroism of his character’s arc.
Peter’s onscreen relationship with Gwen is also enjoyable thanks to Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry. Stone is an actress who always makes an impression with her authenticity, and her turn as Gwen is no exception. Without seeming to try, she steals every scene she’s in with a naturalness that few actors manage. Some of her early scenes with Garfield are particularly charming thanks to the actors’ abilities to play off each other, ad-libbing actions and walking over each other’s lines in a realistic and humorous depiction of adolescent awkwardness.
There’s nothing awkward, however, about this new introduction to the Spider-Man saga. The film would do even better to omit the negative elements that it does contain, but the strength of the movie’s laudable messages does much to overcome the problems. For the most part, The Amazing Spider-Man shoots out straight threads, avoiding tangled webs and sticky situations.
So is there really a need for another Spider-Man movie? When it’s an additional opportunity to communicate positive messages to the movie-going public, then the answer is yes. When it’s a meaningful story about a young man learning to be a real hero, then yes. When it’s The Amazing Spider-Man, yes.
Check out these similar titles:
Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures, 2002)
Spider-Man 2 (Columbia Pictures, 2007)
Spider-Man 3 (Columbia Pictures, 2007)
For more ideas, check out our What to Watch page!