Spider-Man is my favourite superhero. Bar none. Full stop. Sure, I love other superheroes and their comics, TV shows, and movies, but Spider-Man is my ultimate favourite.
And I loved Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies. They were fun. They were exciting. They were hilarious. Even though the third film crashed and burned, I felt iffy about Sony deciding to reboot the series. It seemed horribly premature - merely five years between movies - and it looked like an overhasty and desperate attempt to pump artificial life into the series before it faded from the cultural zeitgeist. I went in expecting a rushed and subpar attempt.
As a result, I was pleasantly surprised. I'm still very attached to the first films, so for my review, I decided a compare-and-contrast was in order, between the very first Spider-Man and this newer Amazing Spider-Man.
SM: Played by Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker is a hapless, bumbling, clumsy, shy nerd who's given enormous power. He's very earnest and determined to do the right thing, but that can often be difficult when he has the world's worst luck.
ASM: Played by Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker is an introverted, scientifically brilliant, but naive teenager who's never quite understood who he is and still deeply misses the presence of his parents in his life.
Similarities: Weird crying (Garfield's "huuoooaughghgh" sound when Uncle Ben dies almost made me snort my Coke), an unfortunate tendency to breakup with one's girlfriend during/directly after a funeral, using wrestlers as costume inspiration, tendency to go "whooooooooo!" after discovering powers.
Advantage: Amazing Spider-Man. Now, I like Tobey Maguire, I really do, and I think he did a great job as Spider-Man. His film called for Peter to be a hapless schmuck and Tobey gives very good schmuck. However, his character is never really deeply explored beyond his immediate origin story. He also graduates from high school and is already working an adult job halfway through the movie!
What I loved about Spider-Man as a character was that he was a teenager. He wasn't some confident adult with a stable job or trust fund like Superman or Batman. He didn't have years of experience/daddy's alien crystals/a Ph.D in Mutant Child Psychology. SM only kept Peter in high school long enough to make some bullying jokes and then quickly transferred him into an adult environment.
ASM's Peter remains in high school - not only that, but Garfield (despite being more or less the same age as Maguire was when he had the role) plays the role much younger. He's quirky and tongue-tied and emotional and curious. His high school isolation is depicted as being an aspect of his personality - he doesn't know how to act around people because he's still trying to understand who he is - rather than just the fact that He's A Nerd. By the end of the movie, once he has a better hold on his identity, he has more social confidence.
He also has a character arc that's separate from his superhero arc (initially anyway), which I appreciated. SM's Peter never mentions his dead parents and doesn't reflect much on Uncle Ben's death beyond how it motivates his heroics. ASM's Peter misses his parents terribly and doesn't know how to construct his identity without them - he inherited his father's scientific genius while being raised by the blue-collar Ben and May. In the end, he discovers he's a mixture of the two - he has his father's brilliance, but it's wisely tempered by his uncle's strong moral influence.
While the result of this is that we get fewer scenes of actual Spidey, as an origin story of an already-popular and well-known character, I approve.
....and also Andrew Garfield is cute. Like, way cute. Very very cute. And a much more realistic teenager than Tobey Maguire.
SM: Bigger, more muscular, with organically-produced webbing.
ASM: Skinnier, more agile, with specially-designed webshooters.
Similarities: Same suit, essentially. Looked down on by authorities but admired by the public. They also take their masks off in front of people ALL THE DAMN TIME, are you serious, Spider-Men? DON'T TAKE YOUR MASKS OFF!
Advantage: Spider-Man. Mainly, because we see way more of Spidey and Spidey's social influence in that film. As well, as much as I liked the web-slinging scenes in ASM - SM did them first, when they were still thrilling and ground-breaking. Yes, there were a few Gumby scenes, but overall, Spider-Man is far more kick-ass with Tobey in the tights.
To be fair, ASM's Spidey is closer to the comic version, with the webbing being an invention of Peter's rather than a natural mutation. But really, if they'd been shooters in the original, we would never have had the gloriously goofy "Go, web, go! Fly! Shazam!" scene.
The Love Interest
SM: Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the girl-next-door turned whiny-failed-actress/model.
AMS: Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), genius lab-intern at Oscorp and the first in her class (Peter Parker is second. Yes. Second).
Similarities: They are both very pretty. Peter likes them but has trouble talking to them.
Advantage: OMG AMAZING-SPIDER MAN SO HARD. This isn't even a contest. Gwen Stacy mops the floor with Mary-Jane's bony ass. Firstly - she's awesome and smart in her own right, and yet still dresses gorgeously in the go-go way like Gwen did in the comics. Yes! Nerdy brilliant girls can like wearing cute boots!
Secondly, she's an actual character. Mary Jane was always more of an object to move the plot forward. In the first film, she's there to be kidnapped and produce Suspense and Tension. Even in her narrative high point (Spider-Man 2), where she became a crazy-successful model and actress, she was mainly there to a) be successful enough to hammer home how much of a loser Peter was and b) serve as a goal for Peter to strive towards during his mid-super-hero-life crisis.
However, Gwen actually contributes to the plot - Peter tells her his identity about two-thirds through the movie, which makes her a partner and confidante, not just a Pretty Girl to hide his True Identity from. She even has an arc, albeit a lesser one, as she herself learns that those with the power to do good have the moral obligation to do it. And, my favourite part, SHE IS NEVER HELD HOSTAGE BY THE VILLAIN. She is attacked by the villain, and she defends herself until the villain goes away. She then gets out of harm's way to let Spider-Man do his job instead of hanging around to get killed or kidnapped again.
Okay, yes, she is a lesser character - more like Pepper Potts in Iron Man. But the key here is that she is a character, not an object, and she is depicted as being desirable for her intelligence and ingenuity as well as her incandescent hotness. Her romantic scenes with Peter are also ADORABLE.
The Supporting Cast
SM: Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), Betty Brant (Elizabeth Banks!), Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello).
ASM: Aunt May (Sally Field), Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary, who cleans up surprisingly well).
Similarities: Well, they're all people who mean a lot to Peter.
Advantage: Spider-Man. Honestly, both Aunt Mays are pretty useless drippy martyrs, but it's more understandable with Rosemary Harris because she plays the role far older. Both Bens are pretty good, and, to ASM's credit, their Flash Thompson is more well-rounded and turns out to be a nicer guy - but mainly I'm wondering if Chris Zylka will eventually go on to play Big Dick Richie in the reboot of Magic Mike ten years down the road.
Ultimately, of course, ASM loses because they simply do not have the utter pinnacle of brilliant dream casting that was JK Simmons as JJ Jameson. JJ Jameson was hilarious and a consistent comedic highlight through ALL THREE Spider-Man films. SM used its secondary characters far better (especially for comedy) than ASM does, primarily because ASM has a very Peter-centric storyline.
SM: Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), a brilliant scientist and CEO who tests his serum on himself to save his company and turns into the Green Goblin.
ASM: Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a brilliant scientist who tests his serum on himself to stop his shady partner from illegally testing it on innocent patients at a veterans' hospital, and turns into the Lizard.
Similarities: Both are green, both make the ridiculously short-sighted decision to test their projects on themselves, both are taunted by insane inner voices, both figure out who Peter is pretty easily.
Advantage: Spider-Man. Partly, this is because I feel bad for Dylan Baker (the actor who played pre-Lizard Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3 only to be jettisoned once the series drove Sam Raimi insane). But mostly it's because the Lizard in ASM is such a been-there, done-that villain. He really offers nothing new in terms of character - a misunderstood but well-intentioned scientist brought low by his own scientific hubris? That's never happened before! Frankly, his character was done before, and performed far better, by Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
But is he better than Green Goblin? Yes, the Goblin had the Power Ranger suit. And the silly voices. And the split personality. But he edges past the Lizard because his character came first and established the theme of scientific responsibility before it became a cliche, and made him a fun character - sure, he's mostly fun because he's silly and Willem Dafoe can chew scenery like nobody's business, but he's entertaining as hell to watch. Also, unlike the Lizard, his character doesn't look like a knock-off of Batman's Killer Croc.
The Movie Itself
Advantage: Even. Spider-Man was a fun movie - entertaining and joyful on a visceral, instinctive level. I had more fun watching SM the first time in theatres than ASM. However, it's not as consistent or thoughtful as ASM. It's still a pretty close race, though, because both movies have such different tones. To me, SM is an external, plot-driven movie and ASM is an internal, character-driven movie. SM
places more focus on the outward heroics, visual jokes, funny quips,
dazzling fight scenes and dramatics. In that way, it's a much faster,
brighter, happier movie.
ASM, on the other hand, focuses more on the characters' emotions and inner struggles. ASM's Peter is a far more emotional and emotionally conflicted character. Because of this, ASM
is a slower, more low-key film, more organic and less structured -
which can be refreshing or frustrating, depending on your tastes. In a
way, ASM is to SM the way Batman Begins was to Tim Burton's Batman
- as in, a deeper and more realistic take on a character whose previous
appearance was in a film focused on being visually and narratively
To put it simply, SM's focus was on Spider-Man - the bright, flashy, exciting super hero. ASM's
focus was on Peter Parker - the complex boy underneath the tights. So
both films are equal in my mind, just in different ways. I enjoyed Spider-Man more, but more guiltily, and it hasn't aged well (Spider-Man 2 still kicks both movies' asses).