Saturday, July 07, 2012

Who Did It Best? Spider-Man vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, Review and Comparison

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.

The Peter
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.

The Spider-Man
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.

The Villain
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 stylistic.

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).


  1. I more or less agree with your assessment. I thought the Tobey Maguire movies were good and absolutely did not need to be re-made, but Andrew Garfield was just adorable as Spiderman. Also, did you know he is British? Accent and all! Who knew?

  2. Anonymous1:51 AM

    i feel that the first spiderman in 2002 was the best out of the three, like it didnt need any sequels even though it was soooo good that it left you wanting more. amazing spiderman was, to me(a huge spiderman fan) underwhelming. if you are going to completley remake a billion dollar franchise just to fit it in with the marvel cinematic universe(ironman,thor, captain america, avengers etc) then you have to do it right! ASM like you said was more introverted, but it WASNT AMAZING! i love peter parkers struggles and story and his character but...again like you said it was very slow. plus when i saw spiderman and he was a 90 pound lookin punk i was kinda mad lol. im a guy so i dont really care who was better looking but to put it best it seems that toby portrayed 60s PP(which raimi grew up reading) and andrew portrayed ultimate or 2000s PP. andrew has a better look for peter, not the hero, he really looked like a skinny douche in tights. sorry anyway we all grew up watching the first franchise, so im way more partial to that so i feel that they shouldnt have remade it in the way you said (which they did). especially when the third one(not the best lol) set up a more perfect plot for a forth movie :/

  3. swanpride3:56 AM

    I think Garfield is better in the Spider-man role. He has this lithe body built and those overly long fingers, which make him way more better suited for this part of the role.
    I also call a draw on the villain. I always had problems to take the green goblin serious, because of the mask. He is overall more memorable, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Dr. Connors on the other hand might not be that new of a concept, but there is a greater tragic in his fate because he is basically a good person. Plus, the fact that he is some sort of mentor figure for Peter give the whole thing more levity.
    I think the new movies are better (the deal breaker is for me the lack of character development in the original trilogy...most people hated Spider-man 3, I didn't even have any interest in it from the get go because I knew that they would just press the reset button yet again, repeating the same story a third time).
    But then, I always wanted a movie about Peter Parker more than one about Spider-man.

  4. Emma Sitton12:28 PM

    I love the original Spiderman movies. I think that Tobey Maguire is the perfect Spiderman and Peter Parker. I was kind of resentful when I saw the reboot. Andrew Garfield had turned Peter into a teenager! He did an incredible job of it, but I was used to seeing Peter as an adult. Raimi left Peter a teenager just long enough to get in the origin in, than transferred him to an adult environment, which he was much more comfortable in. Even before he moved out, he was an adult from the moment his uncle Ben died. That's one of the things I love about him. The maturity. Andrew Garfield, by contrast, was a believible teenager. I disliked the immaturity and lack of responsibility. It was perfect for the character, but I don't like that kind of character. I don't like the typical, modern teenager. As for spiderman, it was cool to see Garfield's transition from a person with super powers, to a superhero. The scene with the little boy in the car was beautiful. However, Maguire Spiderman was a hero almost from the beginning. I love the sense of nobility and the willingness to do what's right, whatever it costs him personally. He has a strong moral sense that can't be bribed away. Also, Garfield's spidey was kind of mean to the criminals. It's one thing to be funny and make cool wisecracks, but completely different to be cruel. Maguire had more balance in that aspect. I hate it when people say he wasn't funny enough. He just wasn't a jerk.

  5. Mabel6:08 PM

    Reading through this, I had to comment. Testing out scientific and medical theories on oneself has happened numerous times throughout the ages and, while not recommended, has furthered our knowledge of a wide array of things, from the cardiac catheterization and the use of nitrous oxide to the effects of extreme heat on human body.