Culture — July 13, 2012 1:00 pm

With Great Performances Comes a Better Movie

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The reviews are in! The people have spoken! The Amazing Spider-Man has been in theaters for a little over a week now, and the general consensus is that it’s a pretty great flick.  As for me?  Leading up to its release, I wasn’t so sure I’d agree.  Why a reboot?  Didn’t it just end, like, five years ago?   Okay yeah, Spider-Man 3 was a letdown (and by that I mean it sucked.  Like really sucked).   But does that tarnish the greatness of the first two that we need a new one?  Sitting in the theater, I decided to just give it a try.  It might not be what I want, but I’ll probably enjoy it for what it is.  And I didn’t just enjoy it.  The Amazing Spider-Man is the retelling I never knew I wanted.
Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man is better than the original movies.  But let’s not just compare the two.  Director Marc Webb’s vision and reconstruction of  the characters that we already love is masterful, and an incredible movie on its own.  He relies less on showy action scenes and more on the story and the relationships between everyone (not just the romantic ones).  I’m a sucker for a good character and a well-developed relationship.  Not to mention, his last name is Webb.  You guys.  Come on.
Toby MaGuire and Kirsten Dunst played well the parts they were given, as did James Franco and the many costars of the trilogy.  But nothing can compare to Andrew Garfield’s brooding, sarcastic, hotheaded recreation of Peter Parker.  He is, in a word, mesmerizing.  The twenty-eight-year-old Brit perfectly embodies the attitude and actions of a seventeen-year-old boy.  He’s got angst.  He doesn’t have the best judgment.  He’s self-involved.  He doesn’t look at adults in the eye.  And as Spider-Man, he isn’t perfect.  He makes mistakes and doesn’t always learn from them.  He has chemistry with everything he touches, be it a lab rat or his beautiful costar Emma Stone, playing Gwen Stacy.
The major difference between Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson is this: Gwen is helpful.  Mary Jane is not.  Gwen’s as smart as Peter (maybe smarter) and they work as a team.  Emma Stone, with her raspy voice and her knack for comedy, balances romance with intelligence.  She’s never the damsel in distress, even when she could have been.  She is part of the conclusion.  Without her, Spider-Man would be less successful.  And had anybody else played Gwen Stacy, the character, too, would have lacked originality.  There is something so exciting about watching Emma Stone.  Maybe it’s her big eyes.  Maybe it’s her great personality.  Or here’s a thought! Maybe she’s just an incredibly talented actress!

The rest of the women in Webb’s adaptation are as strong as Gwen in their own right.  Aunt May (Sally Field) is feisty.  She isn’t crippled by her losses.  Her place in Peter’s life is an important one, and she doesn’t run from it.  Why don’t more movies—superhero movies, if we’re going to be specific—give more credit to the women?  Why is it so difficult to give them a more important role than to have them screaming on the edge of a cliff, hoping their masked love interest will save the day?  They are just as capable as any man.  The Amazing Spider-Man carries one of the comic books great themes: anybody can be a hero.  Rally together and you can do something really wonderful.  And the women do heroic things in this movie, whether it is physical or emotional.

The Amazing Spider-Man was a movie I didn’t expect to love.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone carry what is already a wonderful story with ease.  And if those pesky Hollywood rumors are true, it would appear that the on-screen chemistry paved the way for some real-life romance.  It’s one of those relationships you hate to love, because they’re so perfect you want to hate them.  But you love them.
For the record, I love the first two films in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.  The third one just left such a bad taste in my mouth that it makes it difficult for me to remember.  It’s like getting that off-brand Halloween candy from the neighbor that didn’t like children.  You still ate it, but about a bite and half in, you just wanted the ACTUAL Reese’s Cup.  You know?

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