There have now been four Spider-Man movies made in the last ten years. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write. I saw the new THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN the other day and I rank the Spider-Man films from best to worst as follows:
1. SPIDER-MAN 2
3. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
4. SPIDER-MAN 3
The new film is nowhere near as good as the first two Sam Raimi Spidey adventures but it far surpasses the overcrowded third film which, while featuring the Sandman, one of my all-time favorite classic old-school Spider-Man villains, will forever have a black mark permanently beside it for spotlighting Venom, a villain that I have always hated and who suffered from maximum overexposure in the Spider-Man comics of the 1990s.
The new film reboots everything, retelling the origin story of Peter Parker and that pesky radioactive spider with the life-changing bite. I'm not sure this trip was really necessary as Raimi handled the material quite effectively in the first film but what's done is done.
There is a new twist to the origin however (Warning: Here Be Spoilers). Peter's mysterious parents are now linked to the origin of Spider-Man. It seems the husband and wife scientists, along with Dr. Curt Connors all worked together on top secret biological experiments at OsCorp, a billion dollar facility financed and run by the name-dropped (but never seen) Norman Osborn.
Connors, whose character appeared in all three previous films, finally becomes the Lizard in the new film and that's a plus. The Lizard is another of my favorite old-school, classic Spider-Man villains and he's brought to vivid life through the miracles of CGI technology as a giant dinosaur man. Thumbs up for this.
Also spotlighted here are Gwen Stacy, Peter's first and greatest love and her father, police captain George Stacy, who knew Peter's secret in the comic books but died protecting it. In the new film, there's hardly anyone in New York City who doesn't know that Peter is Spider-Man. Gwen's in on it, as is her father and Aunt May, unless she's really stupid, has got to know that something's going on when Peter comes home at dawn looking like he just went 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. Also, Peter loves to take off his mask throughout the film, giving lots of people the chance to see his face. Secret identity? Who needs it?
The special effects are top notch and the action sequences are very well done with Spider-Man and the Lizard having a KING KONG-like showdown atop the OsCorp building at the end of the film. Plus, following in the tradition of all of the other films based on Marvel Comics characters of late, there's a teaser sequence that comes at the end of the first round of final credits. It seems that the mystery of Peter's parents has not been totally revealed, at least according to a shadowy figure whose identity must for now remain a mystery. Is it Norman Osborn? Will we see the Green Goblin in the next film or another classic Spidey villain? How about Mysterio? I couldn't get a clue as to who the character is but maybe my readers will weigh in with their speculations. Guesses anyone?
The one thing missing from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a character that is vital to the mythos. Although the character appeared in all three previous films, there's no J.Jonah Jameson anywhere to be seen in this one and that's a huge mistake. It's established early in the film that Peter is a good photographer and in fact, at one point in the movie, he plans to use his cameras to capture photographic evidence of the existence of the Lizard. But we never see him take his skill, cameras and photos to The Daily Bugle (a copy of which does appear onscreen). Without JJJ to brand Spider-Man as a villain, without JJJ to berate Parker and make him suffer for his work, a big part of the appeal and central conflict of the Spider-Man character is lost. In this film, after first being hunted by the police, Spider-Man is a hero by the end of the story even though Peter's personal life is screwed up (will he really renege upon a death-bed promise?). If so, that's not the Peter Parker I know and love.
In short, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is an entertaining film that takes the adventures of Peter Parker in a new and different direction. It's not entirely faithful to the source material and it's not the definitive Spider-Man movie. That movie's already been made by Sam Raimi. I'll pony up for the next installment but I sure hope we get to see more of JJJ and less of Peter unmasked to everyone around him. I give it 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.