Almost all of the major superhero franchises came into their own over the last ten years. In the case of Batman and Superman, there have been hits and misses for decades. Christopher Nolan just recently created the definitive cinematic Batman while Zach Snyder may finally resurrect the long defunct Superman series. The early 2000s saw a flood of comic book movies inspired by the critical and commercial success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and, of course, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). Both franchises eventually concluded with diminishing returns, with the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the questionable but nonetheless profitable Spider-Man 3 (2007). In the case of the Spider-Man series, the third installment in the Raimi-directed trilogy was the biggest draw of that year. At least from a studio perspective, changing things up was not needed.
Inevitably, creative differences between Raimi and the studio led to a clean slate. The unusual choice of Marc Webb for director ((500) Days of Summer) highlights the difference between the two Spider-Man series. One embraces its comic book action sequences without being overly cheesy, while the other focuses very heavily on Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as a high school student, loner, and outcast. Granted, there are plenty of similarities between the new and old films. Some will complain that The Amazing Spider-Man suffers from showing the same sequences as the old series but with unnecessary changes. Luckily enough, the drama, dialogue, and acting carry the film through a flawed but ambitious new origin that firmly differentiates it from the previous series.
The biggest differences include focusing much of the film on Peter’s school and family life, as well as swapping Mary-Jane Watson for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as his high school girlfriend (this actually makes The Amazing Spider-Man truer to the original comics). A brand new addition to the story not seen in any other Spider-Man comic is the mystery of what happened to Peter’s parents. Their involvement in genetic research as a part of Oscorp adds new depth to the origin story, making Peter’s spider bite no longer a crazy coincidence. As a counter to Spider-Man’s powers and origin, this film brings us the long-promised villain from the last franchise—the Lizard (Rhys Ifans)—as a similar product of animal research and genetics (poor Dylan Baker).
Another very notable difference this time around is the retooling of Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) death at the hands of a robber that Peter has the ability to stop but doesn’t. Purists will revile the absence of the line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Sheen’s portrayal of Uncle Ben is still dignified and he still serves as Peter’s surrogate father and guiding light in Peter’s otherwise lonely and confusing existence. Sheen’s new interpretation brings to mind Michael Caine’s Alfred in Nolan’s Bat-films. It may be different than what most audiences are used to, but Sheen and Caine are both better actors than their predecessors and add emotional depth to characters who are sometimes underplayed.
The Amazing Spider-Man‘s real success is that it brings new angles to a story that’s been told in many different forms over and over again since 1962. Spider-Man’s original self-made web shooters are back, emphasizing Peter’s genius level ability as a young scientist. It’s highly likely that the now confirmed new trilogy of movies will all see Peter as a high school student, as opposed to Toby Maguire’s college aged hero. The high school setting and emphasis on Peter Parker’s coming-of-age story is what makes this new adaptation more dignified and subtle than the previous series. While Marc Webb’s staging of action sequences without question lacks the flair that Sam Raimi brought from his B-movie/horror filmography, his understanding of the material should be enough to make fans hopeful for a more consistent trilogy this time around.