Comic Book Villain: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

Manhattan has and always will be the never-ending playground for Spider-man as he skitters across the walls, swinging from one building to another. Though barely ten years old, viewers will question whether a reboot of the SPIDER-MAN franchise was really even necessary. Can you still provide something new to the audience while still taking cues from the same source material?

Overall, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is far better than SPIDER-MAN 3 and is on par with the first SPIDER-MAN.

The movie’s modern re-imagining comes from THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, done by author Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley. With the setting around the year 2000, Peter Parker is writing on his blog and surfing the web, unaware he will later on be bitten by a radioactive spider. The moral message remains the same as Peter fails to stop an armed thief, the same one who eventually murders his Uncle Ben. Poised to be a trilogy, screenwriters James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC), Alvin Sargent (UNFAITHFUL) and Steve Kloves (the HARRY POTTER movies), take the story back to zero and imagine a new origin tale, much like Bendis and Bagley did.

Proving himself as a leading man, Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker as an inarticulate slacker, unable to spit out his feelings to his dream girl. With the mask on, Peter has plenty of wise-cracks, throwing smart-alecky remarks at his opponents; which was clearly missing from director Sam Raimi’s version. In Garfield’s interpretation, Peter is picked on in school but as Spider-man, he gets to take out his frustration on the hoodlums, being a bully to them. Viewers finally get to see Peter’s genius, watching his inventiveness at work as he constructs a homemade police scanner and tests the web-shooters for his costume.

Instead of focusing on Harry Osborne and J. Jonah Jameson, the reboot centers on some of Spider-man’s other supporting characters. Fred “Flash” Thompson (Chris Zylka) is the bully who first humiliates Peter, then later on becomes his best friend. Who knows if the trilogy will follow the storyline where Flash and Peter compete for Gwen’s affections. Younger and more aggressive, Captain George Stacey (Denis Leary) makes it his top priority to apprehend Spider-man, who is seen nothing more than a vigilante.

As many comic book fans know, Gwen Stacey was originally the first love of Peter Parker before the introduction of Mary Jane Watson. In the Ultimate Marvel Universe, Gwen Stacy first appears in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #14 as a teenage girl at Peter’s high school. In this continuity, she has a punk-like personality, and at often times is rebellious, as she pulls a knife on a classmate who is bullying Peter. In the animated series, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, Gwen (voiced by Lacey Chabert) is a lab assistant at Dr. Curt Connors’ laboratory, much like in the movie.

Emma Stone brings such an incredible warmth and charisma to the very likeable Gwen Stacey. Midway through the film, Stone has this great scene, where she is playing off of Garfield’s awkwardness. With perfect timing, Stone always knows how to hit the right comedic notes, particularly in the scene where she is trying to keep her father from entering her bedroom. There is such believable chemistry between Stone and Garfield, which is director Marc Webb’s strong suit, whose previous film is (500) DAYS OF SUMMER.

In the first five issues of the ongoing SPIDER-MAN comic, Todd McFarlane wrote and illustrated “Torment,” which is one of the best story arcs featuring The Lizard. During the late hours of the night, the Lizard is going on a killing spree, terrorizing the citizens of New York. Spider-man hunts the Lizard through the streets and sewers of the city, hoping to put an end to his homicidal rampage. The story plays out like a monster/horror movie, as the Lizard tears and claws his way at Spider-Man, who barely makes it out of their bloody battle alive.

The film’s battle sequences between the Lizard and Spider-Man are wonderfully staged across the buildings, rooftops, and bridges of Manhattan. Though the CGI of the Lizard is flawed at times, there is much to be entertained by these well-choreographed sequences. Mostly known for his comedic roles, NOTTING HILL and PIRATE RADIO, Rhys Ifans does a great job with the dramatic flair, representing Dr. Connors/The Lizard as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

Viewers will clearly see the major differences between Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s versions of Spider-man. There is the cheese factor that plays out in Sam Raimi’s trilogy. The cheesiness is just over-the-top silly, leading towards the ridiculousness, in SPIDER-MAN 3. What works best about Webb’s direction, he removes the cheese and settles for a darker and serious tone, though too much like BATMAN BEGINS. “With great power comes great responsibility,” were the last words of wisdom from Uncle Ben, played by Cliff Robertson in Sam Raimi’s version. Quite possibly better, Martin Sheen does a wonderful portrayal of the same role, saying those famous lines differently and realistically. Both versions share a post 9/11 social commentary, much like Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, but the message is different. In the face of a catastrophe, New Yorkers are seen participating, giving out a helping hand to Spider-man, a native of Queens, when he needs it most.

Since THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was a box office win, taking in $62 million over its first weekend, there will no doubt be a sequel. Comic book fans who are more nostalgic will prefer Raimi’s version, which is much closer to creators Stan Lee/Steve Ditko’s version. Those who want to see a different and darker take, will choose Webb’s version, which is closer in tone to Bendis/Bagley’s re-imagination.

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Christopher Gibson

Chris can be found only at night, playing vast hours of XBox 360, reading uniquely disturbing novels, and scouring Netflix for late sixties horror flicks. He has 69,000 Gamerscore and counting. Supposedly at the age of three, he beat Super Mario Bros. on NES, though possesses no recollection of this. Writing novels since the age of fourteen, he hopes to one day publish them. On Friday nights, he is seen at the local indie film theater, then the pubs next door shortly after, for thorough critique among friends. Follow him on Twitter @Literaryman420 

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