It is amazing how much changes in a decade. This is a age where Google searches allow you to readily research anyone at a click of a button, holographic diagrams become the norm for viewing pleasure (think of the the arsenal of technology Tony Stark has at his fingertips), and boys can build electronic locks for their bedroom door — or at least those are some of the technological advances portrayed in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
Gone are the days when the most advanced bits of machinery included the glider Green Goblin rode on in Sam Raimi’s earlier adaption of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s “Spider-Man” story. Director Marc Webb’s film has a fog machine that can distribute cures (or toxins). But that and a new spandex suit aren’t the only differences between this Spider-Man and the one actor Tobey Maguire portrayed 10 years earlier.
Whereas the Maguire version was essentially a love story, “The Amazing Spider-Man” frames the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) around the disappearance of his dad, Oscorp scientist Richard Parker (Campbell Scott). Peter is still raised by Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), but he is haunted by his father’s image, brilliance, and legacy. “You look just like him,” Uncle Ben tells Peter after he puts on his dad’s old glasses. Even the words of Uncle Ben’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” speech aren’t his own: “Your father believed if someone could do moral good for somebody, it was your moral obligation to do it.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man” also brings in a new school (Midtown Science High School), villain (Richard Parker’s old colleague, Dr. Kurt Connors), and love interest (Gwen Stacy, the police captain’s daughter). Although Emma Stone as Gwen is smart and intelligent and stubborn and not always the damsel in distress (she comes to Peter’s aid a small handful of times), fans of the strong and spunky Stone in her claim-to-fame title roles such as those in “Easy-A” or “The Help” will be somewhat disappointed. Perhaps it’s because we’re missing Stone’s narration as the lead — or the fact she’s blond and not a fiery redhead — but she seems much more milquetoast, even as she rebels against her father’s wishes when pursuing a relationship with Spider-Man.
Andrew Garfield does bring a good range of reluctant awkwardness (like when he’s stuttering through conversations with Gwen) and cheekiness (like when he’s standing up to the latest bully) to the Peter Parker character. Peter certainly isn’t perfect and Garfield offers the pallet of high and low emotions a teenager would certainly experience — from skipping happily when he gets a date to flippant moodiness when he’s caught missing his curfew because he went looking for another fight. Yet Peter is a good person raised by good people. There are scenes when Peter tucks in his Aunt after she falls asleep on the couch or when Peter saves a boy from a car falling off a bridge. Garfield has the bravado of a fireman and looks like a hero as he tells the boy to “put on the [Spider-Man] mask because it’s going to make you strong.” But in this day and age, a mask has its own brand of connotations.
Yes, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” seems dated compared to “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But “The Amazing Spider-Man” is dated too. In an age when 12-year-old girls have been warned that wearing balaclavas may get her into trouble, Spider-Man is just another Internet hero whose arrests and battles with law enforcement officers inspire many. And that message — like the story of “Spider-Man” — never gets old.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” was written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves; based on the Marvel comic books created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film was directed by Marc Webb.