If you’re looking for this week’s review, scroll down. “The Amazing Spider-Man” opened on Tuesday. I was going to check out “Savages,” which opens today, but the screening was the same time as “Amazing,” and I don’t care how many Academy Awards Oliver Stone has — in the battle for my attention, Spidey trumps Stone.
So for today’s post I thought I’d do a little comparison/contrast of the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider flicks and the new Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield version. Comparison/contrast. I feel like I’m back in college.
PARKER, PETER PARKER: Spider-Man’s alter ego is a classic, glasses-wearing nerd with neat hair. He’s not some skaterboi with attitude and unkempt hair. Advantage: Maguire.
ORIGIN STORY: Raimi pretty well put the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko version on film — the wrestling bit, letting the thief go by, thief kills Uncle Ben…(note: Raimi later screws this up by trying to implicate Sandman in the murder in “Spider-Man 3.”)
Webb tries to jazz it up with unnecessary (and unresolved) bits involving Pete’s parents. Granted, he had to do something different to stand out from the earlier version, but if you’re going to tease something important about Pete’s father then address it, don’t push it off to the sequel. For that matter, Pete doesn’t even catch the killer in the new one. I guess that’s another thing to put off for another film. I don’t approve. Raimi’s “Spider-Man” is a complete story. Webb’s is mostly set-up for future installments.
DOES WHATEVER A SPIDER CAN: Here are some points for the new guys. As everyone knows, Raimi committed heresy when he gave Spider-Man the ability to create his own webbing. Where does it come from? I don’t even want to think about it. Webb goes back to the source material and gives Spidey mechanical web-shooters, as God and Stan Lee intended. Webb also gave Spidey back his motormouth. One of the things that makes Spider-Man unique is the way he’s always mouthing off at criminals, and pretty much everybody. Maguire wasn’t nearly as chatty in costume.
LOVE INTEREST: Both films get this wrong. Mary Jane Watson was not Peter Parker’s high school sweetheart. Neither was Gwen Stacy. Gwen was Peter’s first true love (he had a brief thing with Betty Brant from the Daily Bugle but it didn’t last long), but they met in college. Mary Jane hooks up with Peter some time after Gwen’s tragic death (the Green Goblin dropped her off a bridge, a bit alluded to in the first “Spider-Man” film).
This is a tough call. I like both characters and the actresses who portrayed them. But I’m giving the edge to the new kids. Emma Stone and Garfield were a fun, charismatic couple. Maguire and Kirsten Dunst get caught up in a pointless triangle with James Franco and there’s just too much sappy melodrama in their relationship. And it gets worse as the series continues.
THE BAD GUY: Willem Dafoe as Spider-Man’s arch nemesis The Green Goblin vs. Rhys Ifans as second-string Spidey villain The Lizard. Not really a contest, is it? Dafoe’s performance is much stronger, but then he has a lot more to work with. Sometimes it felt like the Lizard was just there because they had to have a villain in a superhero movie.
On the other hand, the Lizard design is much better than the horrible, horrible Green Goblin costume. Granted, the comic book design for Goblin wouldn’t have worked on film, but that ridiculous outfit they put Dafoe in was just ugly. Plus, Lizard looked kinda like a dinosaur. So, split decision.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: It doesn’t really matter who plays Ben Parker. He just has to be avuncular and then die. Martin Sheen and Cliff Robertson pulled it off equally well. But Aunt May? This is Aunt May. Does she look anything like the Flying Nun? No. Advantage: Rosemary Harris.
AUTHORITY FIGURE: J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson vs. Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy. Again, no contest. Not only is JJJ a far more iconic figure in Spider-Man mythos, but Simmons totally nailed the character. In Leary’s defense, he was a much better choice to play Gwen Stacy’s father than James Cromwell, who had the role in “Spider-Man 3” and looked more like Gwen’s grandfather than her dad.
BEST FIGHT SEQUENCE: “Amazing,” although “Spider-Man 2” still has the best superhero/villain fight scene of all time.
BEST STAN LEE CAMEO: “Amazing Spider-Man”
To sum up, both films have their positives and negatives but I lean more to the original than the reboot. Raimi took 40 years of Spider-Man and mixed it into a sort of Spidey’s Greatest Hits movie. Webb was in the unfortunate position of having to retell a story that had already been adequately told while still making it seem fresh. The results are mixed. The ad campaign promised “the untold story” but that got punted down the line.
But my favorite bit of tortured rebooting occurs when Uncle Ben is giving the “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” speech, but he can’t use those exact words and it just comes off as a rambling speech. Made even better by the fact that he attributes it to Peter’s father — the man who abandoned him without an explanation. Great responsibility, indeed.