With another Spider-Man movie on the distant horizon I felt it was time I cleared up a few things.
This morning, as I was engaging some friends about the new pics from the set of Amazing Spider-Man 2 of Jamie Fox as Electro (I’m a fan btw!), the conversation turned toward the flaws in The Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, there are many people out there who feel like The Amazing Spider-Man was a poor representation of our favorite wall crawler. They feel like Garfield was wrong for the role and they feel like the tone was off the mark; “Spider-Man for kids,” is a phrase I’ve heard often when describing this last film.
Full disclosure, up front: Spider-Man is one of my favorite comic book characters ever, and the only Marvel character I follow religiously. I had a Spidey big wheel when I was 6, I’ve read the comics since I could read comics, I’ve followed Brian Michael Bendis‘ Ultimate Spider-Man from the beginning. I’ve seen every animated series ever conceived in its entirety. Every. Single. One. I consider myself a true Spider-Man aficionado.
And I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that I adore The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s probably my second favorite superhero movie to date right behind The Avengers. Andrew Garfield buried Toby Maguire, and Marc Webb has a better sense of the character’s identity than Sam Raimi ever did. Bold statements, I know. If this makes you want to go all, “NERD SMASH!” then walk away right now; you’re only going to get madder from here on out, and I’m sure none of us would like you when you’re angry. If you happen to be more of an even temperament, then stick around and hear me out. I feel like this is a topic that is long overdue for discussion on why The Amazing Spider-Man is the best depiction of the character yet.
Yes, Peter Parker Is an Angst-Ridden Teen; Just Like All the Other Teenagers Ever.
Even as a fan of the film I can admit it had it’s flaws. I felt that Emma Stone was woefully underutilized as Gwen Stacy. I think they phoned in the evolution of Curt Connors from gifted geneticist looking to cure his handicap to the obsessed individual that thinks injecting himself with lizard DNA is a good idea.
I was okay with the serious nature of this picture, but the brooding went on one act too long for me. That said, I don’t think it ruined the movie. A lot of it actually made sense. Teenagers are selfish, self-obsessed monsters, and that’s perfectly okay. Their bodies are constantly coursing with a metric butt-ton of emotions and insecurities that make them do and say stupid things all the time. This doesn’t make them, “emo.” I hate that word. It has become a lecherous label for any kid out there who actually expresses what they feel, and has the courage to not walk around with a Stepford smile all day long. Emotions are healthy, people, and when we can express them openly in a safe environment, it makes for well-balanced human beings.
So when Uncle Ben meets his tragic end as he does in every re-telling of Spider-Man’s origin, we don’t get a Peter who dries his eyes, puffs out his chest and vows to live his life by the motto, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” That always felt like a cop-out to me; as if he was using that promise to honor Ben as a balm to assuage his guilt. Instead Garfield depicts a grieving young man who can’t properly express to anyone how utterly responsible he feels for the death of his father figure. He was wonderful at taking us on the emotional journey through the stages of grief. From his anger and thirst for vengeance, to being a dick to Aunt May, this is truly a man in pain. While May didn’t deserve the treatment she got, it’s understandable. It’s all part of the journey.
Once Peter has gone through this process, he’s finally ready to embrace the lesson he never bothered to understand. He’s finally found the road to becoming the hero we know and love. And the quietly apologetic and tender scene with May when he finally remembers to bring the milk home after a night of saving New York is an iconic Spider-Man moment.
Side note: I really liked to see Spider-Man patrolling the streets, beating the holy hell out of any thug he could find. A lot of people focus so much on the rogues gallery that they forget that these are the highlights of a superhero’s career; the usual grind is the all-important work of stopping muggers, rapists, and carjackers night after night. I’ll be really disappointed if they don’t do more patrolling scenes in the next film.
Peter Parker Has Never Been the Nerd You Think He Is.
A lot of fans like to impose this cookie-cutter, “Golly, Gee” image of teen Peter Parker from the 60’s. They sneered at Garfield’s depiction of him as a “cool nerd.” Their words, not mine. If the last 20 years have taught us anything it’s that nerds ARE cool. We live in the 21st century and I think it’s okay to depict nerds as something other than unconfident, frail, and uncoordinated guys whose entire wardrobe is comprised of khakis and sweater vests. In real life people are much more complex than that. Peter Parker has been a a cool nerd since he was created in 1963. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a few of the natural qualities he already possessed before being bitten by a radioactive spider.
1. He’s a Good Looking Kid with a Sense of Humor.
I’m not saying he’s ever been depicted as a hunky Superman type with piercing eyes and a chiseled jaw that would make Gaston weep with envy; but I think it’s easy to say that Peter Parker has always been depicted artistically as a pleasant specimen of humanity with symmetrical features and a lean physique; add to that a sense of humor that is likeable in civilian life and wicked awesome in costume and you’ve got a solid foundation for a “cool kid.” You may argue that the powers and costume gave him a measure of confidence and you wouldn’t be wrong. But that sense of humor didn’t come out of thin air. It’s indicitive of his natural personality. He may not turn a lot of heads, but when people get to know him they like him. He’s got a quiet charm that got the class bully to call him a friend, the popular girl to date him, and a supermodel to marry him.
2. He’s a Brilliant Scientist and An Artist.
Peter Parker has brains and in the 60’s that meant you were puny and picked on. To an extent this can be true, but intelligence gives you perspective and a quiet confidence that allows you to endure such treatment and ultimately come out better for it. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Apple. Not only is he scientifically gifted, he’s an artist in his own right as a photographer. This may not be depicted a lot, but it’s a fact. Ask any journalistic photographer out there if they don’t also shoot artistic subjects in their free time. He’s also a handy chemical and mechanical engineer. Add these attributes with #1 on this list and he’s basically Bobak Ferdowsi of NASA sans mohawk. That guy has been making panties drop all over the internet since he invaded Mars with a robot. Which brings me to my next point.
3. He Dated the Popular Girl and Married the Supermodel.
As complex and often tragic as Peter Parker’s love life is, he’s got one that would make Joey from Friends nod in approval. Along with Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane, Pete has dated catburglars, superheroines, and sexy secretaries just to name a few. It can’t be denied.
Boy got game.
All of these characteristics, which have always been present in the comic books, are often ignored; the result is that Peter Parker often gets saddled with a strangely archaic definition of nerd that doesn’t track with who he is. The evidence has been there since the beginning that Peter has always been a cool nerd, and why the hell shouldn’t he be? He’s got the brains, the talent, and the girl. It’s hard to imagine him not being the most self-possessed, confident person in the world. When he gets super powers, of course he gets a little arrogant. Who wouldn’t? Ironically, it’s when he puts on the suit and interacts with his superhero peers in the comics that we even come close to seeing the unsure and out-of-his-depth man that people often associate with the character of Peter Parker. Maguire’s character felt too nice, and I never believed he had any self confidence. You’re not fooling me, street-struttin-symbiote-wearing Parker!
Side note: I even liked that The Amazing Spider-Man gave him some natural athleticism that is highlighted in skateboarding. It makes more sense that he would have a smoother transition once his powers go into effect. Imagine for a second having no familiarity with the physical abilities or limitations with your body and suddenly getting the proportional strength and agility of a spider. You’d be a hot mess for months, injuring yourself and everyone around you.
You may not think that The Amazing Spider-Man was the Spidey you grew up with, but minor differences aside, Marc Webb and co. got Peter Parker dead to rights. I will even go so far as to say that this is the first superhero movie that really explored the character behind the mask in all of his unabashed, messy glory. The character development love doesn’t get shared among the other cast members as much as it could have, but the last movie was all about Peter dealing with his own crap. We’ve seen the potential, and I hope that Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy and Jamie Foxx’s Electro get similar treatment this time around. Do you think Andrew Garfield made a good Peter Parker, or are you a staunch team Maguire kinda fan? We’d love to hear some of your perspectives in the comments below.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swings into theaters May 2nd, 2014.