Andrew Garfield’s starring in The Amazing Spider-Man comes 10 years after Tobey Maguire started web-slinging, and five after the third and last of his Spidey screen appearances. So one of the questions hanging over the new film is: Why are we revisiting not only the character but also his origins so soon?
Aren’t memories still fresh? Maguire’s movies were huge, often memorable hits and continue to lure fans; Blu-ray versions of all three were released not long ago.
But only eight years passed between the nightmare of Batman & Robin, the last in a series of movies begun a little under a decade earlier with Tim Burton’s revisionist Batman, and the glory of Christopher Nolan’s revamping of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins.
Yes, there was close to a 20-year gap between the last of Christopher Reeve’s Superman adventures and the first (and, it turned out, only) performance by Brandon Routh as the son of Krypton in Superman Returns. But 2013 will see a new Superman film, Man of Steel, seven years after Superman Returns.
And we don’t stop the role-playing history there. Fans of TV and movies know that Superman was also played by George Reeves, and that the lineup of screen Batmen includes Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and, most recently, Christian Bale, who will once again play Batman for Nolan in The Dark Knight Rises later in July.
For that matter, stage and screen have given us repeated Hamlets and Robin Hoods. Even Jason Bourne, played most famously by Matt Damon in three movies, was done by Richard Chamberlain before Damon. (Jeremy Renner, starring in this summer’s The Bourne Legacy, plays a different character under the old brand.)
As long as audiences are willing to turn out for The Amazing Spider-Man, opening Tuesday, there’s no such thing as a decent interval between productions — as long as the new movie has something interesting to say,
Like the Supreme Court on health care, I made a narrow decision in favor of Amazing. It scores high for its lead performance and some of the effects. But, as someone who revisited the Maguire movies not long ago, I still found it a little too close narratively to earlier versions to be as refreshing as, say, Burton’s Batman or Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
Directed by Marc Webb, with a bevy of screenwriters involved, The Amazing Spider-Man tries to make the story fresh by offering glimpses of the early childhood of Peter Parker (Garfield) with his mother (Embeth Davidtz) and scientist father (Campbell Scott). They flee an unidentified threat, leaving Peter in the case of his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Jumping ahead to Peter’s adolescence, we find he’s the expected social outcast, often bullied, unable to protect himself or anyone else — and adoring from not-too-afar the smart, beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
Garfield’s Parker is distinctly different from Maguire’s. Where Maguire was a nerd, Garfield is just a loser, not too educated, often inarticulate and shy. (Gwen is the bright one in this pairing.) He’s much closer to the way I remember the early Parker in the Marvel comics, and someone more people can identify with. Garfield, whom you may remember from The Social Network, is also more emotionally affecting than Maguire, good though he was at times; Garfield’s pain runs deeper.
Things change when Peter discovers some of his father’s old papers. That discovery pushes him to Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a colleague of Peter’s father. And it sends Peter down the road to becoming Spider-Man — and Connors on his own, darker path.
Becoming Spider-Man changes Peter, not always in good ways, and makes him face new tragedies. He will also, inevitably, square off against Connors. And, like Maguire with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson in the earlier films, Peter must figure out how to fit being Spider-Man with staying close to a woman he loves — especially when her father (Denis Leary) is a police captain bent on catching the vigilante Spider-Man.
Of course, there will be a big, long fight climaxing the movie and trying to convince people to pay the 3-D premium to see it at its most exciting. There’s the inevitable Stan Lee cameo, and the teaser for another Spider-Man story during the closing credits. Too often this looked by-the-numbers, especially for a summer that is loaded with costumed-crimefighter movies.
That said, I don’t think it’s too soon for another Spider-Man. But I have more hope for the expected sequel, when the able performance by Garfield might be in less familiar territory.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. Contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.