Or perhaps more likely, somewhere in the broad area in between?
Of course, there will be those who will say that the fact that it isn’t the best superhero movie ever is enough to make it a boring, tiresome retread. But that’s not really me.
Some of the advanced buzz gave the expectation that this film would be about the troubled psyche of Peter Parker as he discovered a clue to the truth about his parents and began on an odyssey of self discovery. I may be overstating it a bit, but it turns out that the bit about his parents isn’t really that big of a deal here. There are a couple of scenes around this early on, but then the movie gets bogged down with other things, such as getting Peter bitten by a radioactive spider and giving him super-powers. Which is what the movie turns out to be really about.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a compelling character here, very different than Tobey Maguire (whom I liked as well). This movie’s Peter is a skateboard-riding latently-heroic pseudo-emo kid who really feels like a punk from Brooklyn. (My friend who was negative about the movie admitted that this film had the best emo-Peter Parker of any Spider-Man film.) In fact, he reminds me a little bit of how my friend Jason (who is also from Long Island) played the main character in Stingray. The dynamics between him and Gwen Stacy is well written and interesting to watch, and it’s plausible that it doesn’t take two movies for this Peter Parker to ask a girl out.
Garfield’s Spider-Man is also a lot of fun. He’s got the wise-cracking funny Spider-Man down well and there’s a standout scene where taking down a burglar where he really gets to show his stuff. Moments like that and the scenes between Peter and Gwen are reminiscent about some of the best early Spider-Man comics, where you were overall more enraptured with the development of the characters, whilst the schemes of the latest villain-of-the-month would form the centerpiece of an issue but really be part of the backdrop to the whole series.
Unfortunately, this is a movie so the villain-of-the-month has to take center stage. In this case, it’s Dr. Curt Connors / The Lizard who, oh yeah, has a mysterious connection to Peter’s parents. Connors is fine enough as a character but the structure of the battle between the Lizard and Spider-Man gets a little repetitive, and more or less looks like this: 1. Peter discovers the Lizard, and realizes he has to fight him, 2. so Peter stalks to the Lizard, fights him, and ends up running away, 3. so the Lizard stalks Peter, fights him, and ends up running away, 4. and then gets back on task, decides to turn the whole city into Lizard men which involves positioning himself in a high place for a climactic battle, kind of like every other Spider-Man film (and most Batman films too, for that matter), and ends up losing.
Laced through this are little reminders here and there about Peter’s parents which don’t go anywhere in the film. They are being saved for the sequel, apparently. This is confirmed in the “stinger” scene where the script pretends that anyone really cares at this point and hints that the secret of Peter’s parents is so important that it could cost him his life. Now, I recently read a comic which first dealt with the issue of Peter’s parents. I’ve no idea if this has been “undone” in the comics since then, but this story revealed that Peter’s parents were killed because they were working as double agents against none other than the Red Skull. Now, I have to admit that if the Red Skull had shown up suddenly at the end of this movie, snickering how “young Peter vill suffer vhen learns the secret of Richard Parker,” then I would have rightly been blown out of my seat.
So overall, the movie had lots of things I enjoyed, and others I didn’t. I like Andrew Garfield’s funny Spider-Man and wished there was more of it. I liked Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy (and found it refreshing that more than one character acknowledged how pretty she was, rather than just assuming that she’s what the average high school student looks like in movie-land). I thought the central story with the Lizard was a bit routine. I thought Captain Stacy’s turnaround at the end to be a bit unbelievable (I’d buy “Hey, thanks a lot. You did a good thing,” but found, “The city needs you,” to be over the top). And I found this movie’s take on answering the age-old Spider-Man origin question, “What kind of loopy coincidence is it that the same guy Peter fails to stop ends up shooting his Uncle in all of New York City?” to be as good as any other.
In the end, this isn’t the best or worst movie about Spider-Man. I don’t think this movie is as good as Spider-Man 2, but it’s far better than Spider-Man 3. I would put it about on par with Spider-Man, whose main advantage is just that it came first.