Andrew Garfield Delivers, Swinging into Action as “The Amazing Spider-Man”

You can only love Superman so much, because being a virtually all-powerful boy scout, he can get kind of boring. And Batman’s dark and brooding personality is a bit too grave for my taste. Aside from those two big names, I’d have to say that Spider-Man is easily the next most popular hero in comics to date, and with good reason. Having been a very shy nerd myself once upon a time (I know, I know; hard to believe, right!?), Peter Parker is one of my favorites.

Naturally, I loved Marc Webb’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise that was released on July 3. Not only am I engrossed by the amazing pun of the director’s name (Webb! Spider! Get it!? Ha!), but Webb was responsible for one of my favorite movies: 500 Days of Summer. While a superhero flick is quite a leap from the realistic failed romance of Tom and Summer, Webb has done quite well here.

Everybody remembers the Spider-Man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi and led by Tobey Maguire that lasted from 2002 to 2007, ending with the universally despised Spider-Man 3. Sam Raimi’s films relied heavily on the classic Spider-Man story arcs with some minor tweaks here and there. The final products made for some really enjoyable movies, particularly Spider-Man 2. But Raimi’s campy style, made most evident in his past work like The Evil Dead, ruined Spider-Man 3 when it was burdened with too many villains and plot points to handle (most likely the studio’s fault, not Raimi’s). At the end of the day, Raimi had the flair, but none of the depth.

Whether or not the last Spider-Man movie was a failure, the immediate question here is obvious: why bother with a reboot so soon? One thing you’ve got to realize is that Spidey was born in the ’60s and much like the even older comic book icons, his story has been rebooted, retold, and altered countless times. Different villains, love interests, costumes, and even powers have changed and evolved over time to appeal to the developing audiences. In 2000, Marvel launched their “Ultimate Marvel” universe, with the explicit goal of retelling and enhancing all their stories in a thoroughly modernized context. Sure, they wanted more relatable characters, but it was a cheap money-grubbing marketing ploy if I’ve ever seen one, not that I’m complaining!

The Ultimate result is that the general story arc of the new film is incredibly familiar: Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and then inspired by the death of his Uncle Ben to become a crime fighter. Yet, somehow this new depiction is fresh, unique, and infinitely more interesting than its predecessors. And it owes almost everything to our new lead played by Andrew Garfield (Social Network).

—-This awesome panel video from Comic-Con is exactly why Andrew Garfield is an awesome dude.—-

Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was the classic bumbling, weak giga-nerd with glasses, Garfield’s version is the apathetic skateboarder who prefers the quiet solitude that comes with drifting just under the radar. He’s clever and smart – hardly a Tony Stark level genius by any means – but he doesn’t flaunt his brains or bury his insecurities in his school work. At school, he seems mostly bored, but as soon as something catches his interest, he’s brilliant. He catches a bit of flack from jock Flash Thompson, but Webb includes a scene in which a pre-powered Peter actually sticks up for the school nerd getting picked on, rather than have Peter be that nerd. It’s made very clear that this Parker is no dork, geek, or nerd. He’s different. He’s modern. He’s still isolated, confused, and frustrated, particularly because he lost his parents as a boy (a long-established Spider-Man plotline that is further explored in the Ultimate Marvel Universe and in the new film AND it was recently announced that this plot will provide the story for the next two Spidey flicks). These are some interesting ways to break down our preconceptions of who Peter Parker is, thus making him infinitely more relatable because neither Peter himself nor his audience understand his identity. That’s what gives us the hero’s journey that holds our attention.

I honestly can’t say enough how much I love Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. I’ve been saying for months that his build is much better for Spider-Man than Maguire ever was. You can bicker about the ideal Spider-Man, but for me it will always be that lean and wiry…”spidery”-looking hero:

...does whatever a spider can!...

But from an acting standpoint, Garfield as Peter works in a lot of idiosyncrasies to the character that make him just so damn charming and believable. He moves like someone who prefers being alone, with the slight hunch that closes him off from the world. He’s most at ease and content when alone and engaging his creative mind in a project or mystery, or even when just skateboarding around town. This Peter Parker is far from a popular kid, but he’s still really likable. The last time I saw such a complete performance of an adapted character was Daniel Craig’s version of Blomkvist in Girl With a Dragon Tatoo!

Garfield’s acting really shines in scenes with his primary love interest Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, who might I add, is perfect. The two of them have an amazingly complicated chemistry where Gwen is lightly teasing much of the time, and Peter somehow confidently bumbles his way through their conversations. It’s obvious that they like each other well before Peter suddenly becomes a superhero (one of the most refreshing differences from the Raimi films). Seriously, these two put Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst to shame, upside-down-Spider-Man-kiss or not.

One of the more interesting choices that Webb made in mixing it up with this new film was by excluding the oft-quoted phrase by Peter’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” By now, it’s become trite and even meaningless to Spidey fans, no matter how succinctly it defines Spider-Man as a hero. Instead, Uncle Ben explains virtually the same sentiment in a heated argument with Peter, even playing into Peter’s daddy-issues. The subtle change works wonders with the emotional impact of Uncle Ben’s inevitable death and Peter’s transformation into a fully-fledged superhero.

When faced with a great loss, we are often left with a void to fill within ourselves. You could also say, “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” After we lose something dear to us we begin to grieve, and we oftentimes describe the sensation as a feeling of emptiness. That gaping wound within ourselves tends to get filled up with the first positive influence that comes along, whether it’s some inspirational image, a few trite words of encouragement, or a gentle shove in the right direction. That’s what happens to Peter Parker. Every time his Uncle dies in a tragic accident, he clings to the last bit of advice he ever got from him. And it changes Peter’s life forever. Hence why I think Spider-Man is one of the more interesting heroes out there, and why this new movie is pretty great.

To be fair, here are my two main complains about the movie:

1. Rhys Ifans seemed to do a great job as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard, but for some reason he just wasn’t interesting. He was only an enemy for a very small portion of the movie, leaving well over an hour to deal exclusively with Peter farting around, developing his powers.

2. One of the classically overused aspects of Spider-Man’s heroism is how the average citizens of New York always band together to support him in times of need. He’s not just a symbol for crime-fighting, he’s a symbol for New York City in a way that Superman never could be for Metropolis. In true Spider-Man fashion, there’s a scene where a bunch of blue-collar workers line up a dozen or so conveniently placed cranes to allow Spidey some easy web-swinging that allows him to reach ground zero faster. Call me cynical, but this felt a little forced and unnatural to me.

2.5. Peter never catches Uncle Ben’s killer?