How Does 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Stack up against Other Superhero Heavyweights?

Columbia Pictures
Two years ago, Columbia Pictures took a big gamble when it decided to reboot its highly successful Spider-Man franchise. Starting from scratch, only ten years after the first Spidey movie hit the screen, The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM) features an entirely new cast, new storyline, and new director. TASM is a milestone in movie history, because it's the first major superhero to get a reboot this soon after debuting in theaters. I've been a supporter of Columbia's decision to start fresh, because I felt the original trilogy, while excellent in many areas, crashed and burned in the third installment. It was time for an overhaul. Did Columbia's gamble pay off? Read on, and see.

TASM sticks fairly close to Spidey's comic book origins, but adds a few elements that give the story some fascinating wrinkles and lays the foundation for more installments. (Columbia has already announced that two sequels are being planned.) The biggest improvement in the storyline from Sam Raimi's films is the inclusion of the mystery of Peter Parker's parents. Early, brief scenes with Mr. and Mrs. Parker suggest they had ties with the mega-corporation, Oscorp. Although we're only given hints, it appears that Peter's mom and dad (and their genetic experiments for Oscorp) seem to have an important role to play in Peter eventually becoming Spider-Man. As the trailers have shown, Peter is driven by his desire to discover what happened to his parents and what role Oscorp had in their disappearance. I can't wait to see where the writers take this plot thread in the sequel, because it opens up entirely new territory not seen in the original Spidey trilogy.

So, how does TASM compare with 2002's Spider-Man? Overall, I think it's a worthy successor to Sam Raimi's vision of the character. The cast of TASM is excellent all around, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone having real on-screen chemistry as Peter and his first love, Gwen Stacy. The movie is also helped tremendously by a great supporting cast, including Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter's Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Some of the best scenes in TASM involve Peter's home life with his aunt and uncle, especially when Ben admonishes Peter for his irresponsible behavior. Well-directed and well-written dramatic scenes like that helped propel TASM slightly above its predecessor.
Columbia Pictures
Another cast member who stood out was Rhys Ifans, who plays the brilliant genetics researcher, Dr. Curt Connors. As I wrote earlier in the year, I wasn't familiar with Ifans before he was selected to play Connors, but he was a great choice. If you've seen the trailers, then you know that Connors tinkers with reptile DNA in order to re-grow his missing right arm, and by extension help other amputees. Needless to say, something goes horribly wrong and Connors is transformed into the monstrous "Lizard". Ifans has insisted in interviews that Connors isn't the typical "mad scientist", but instead he's a sympathetic character and one who just wants to help people. Thanks to Ifans fine work, I really did like Connors and sympathize with his plight. In fact, I think the movie would've benefited by devoting more time to Connors' backstory and trimming a few minutes elswhere.

I've heard some people complain that TASM was too slow in the first half, but I have to disagree. I think director, Marc Webb, smartly emulated his colleague, Christopher Nolan, and gave Spidey the "Batman Begins" treatment. Meaning - firmly ground the character in reality and give at least a semi-plausible explanation of why Peter would don tights and become a masked vigilante. Webb had to give us a sense of who Peter Parker was before becoming Spider-Man, or the entire movie would've failed. Case in point is the scene in which Peter stops the high school bully, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), from beating up a classmate. That was an excellent scene that established Peter's good nature and set up another meeting between the two characters later in the film.

Despite the great cast and directing, TASM did have some weak spots. My main complaints center around plot points that require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief. For example, Peter apparently finds a limitless supply of artificial webbing from Oscorp to use in his home-made webshootters. How convenient. Unless I missed it, the movie never explains how he got the webbing, or for that matter, how he instantly obtained a perfectly constructed costume. Another scene that used twisted logic was one which Spidey lays a trap for The Lizard in the tunnels beneath New York. The scene gave the impression that Spidey's mechanical webshooters could shoot his web about mile, which would be quite a feat for a contraption that a high school kid cobbled together in his bedroom. Of course, all superhero movies require the audience to not question the laws of physics, but I could've used a little more realism in some of the scenes.
So, in a summer in which one superhero movie became a pop culture phenomenon (The Avengers), and another is waiting in the wings to conclude a groundbreaking trilogy (The Dark Knight Rises) - How does TASM stack up? While the other two movies mentioned are clearly more ambitious on many different levels, TASM puts a unique spin on a character who celebrated his fiftieth anniversary this year. Spider-Man has been around so long and his story is so well known, that it's a challenge for any filmmaker to do something fresh and original with the character. I believe Webb and company accomplished that, for the most part, by giving us an updated Spider-Man movie that's in tune with today's sensibilities. Thanks to Nolan, I think the audience's taste in superhero movies has matured a lot in the ten years since Raimi's movie was released.

While I'll always be a fan of Raimi's Spider-Man, a lot has changed in the intervening years, and what worked in 2001 wouldn't work today. TASM doesn't have the visual spectacle of The Avengers or the dramatic intensity of Nolan's Batman films, but it's a well-crafted, entertaining superhero tale. Hopefully, Columbia Pictures will sign Webb for the sequels and allow him to take Spider-Man into more areas in which he's never ventured. I'd like to hear your thoughts on whether TASM was a success or not. Tweet your opinion to @capesonfilm