After seeing the new Spider-man movie starring Andrew Garfield I decided to wait to review it, much as I did with the new Dark Shadows film. I felt I needed to take a little time to reflect on what I'd seen to ensure that I wasn't simply writing a knee jerk reaction. You see, I feel close to this subject matter - I grew up reading comics, mostly Marvel comics, and Spidey was always my favorite super hero. I think I identified with his loner and outcast status, certainly with his nerd status. For a long while I felt like Peter Parker was the only friend I had. I named my first dog after him. I mowed yards in the summers and used all the money I made to buy comic books, including as many Amazing Spider-man’s as I could afford. I still have my collection, outside of a few of my most valuable ones which were stolen (I suspect my ex-wife). The ones that were taken were pretty sweet - Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-man #1, Amazing Spiderman death of Gwen Stacy, Amazing Spider-man first appearance of the Punisher (mint condition). Yeah, sucks.
Anyway, this film hits theaters just 5 years after the last Spider-Man film, Spider-Man 3, directed by Sam Raimi. As a franchise Raimi’s Spider-Man films were hugely popular, even though #3 was a bit of a disappointment. Sam Raimi (and star Tobey Maguire) both refused to return for another sequel so the studio was left with two options. Continue the story with a new director or totally reboot the series and start from scratch. Sony chose the latter.
Since these two versions were made so close together time-wise it is near impossible not to compare them. I decided the best way to do this review was as a face-off, a contest, a fight to the finish to determine which is the better big screen adaptation of Spider-Man.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD. Proceed at your own risk.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Webheads and Web Geeks! Step right up for tonight’s main attraction. Spider-Man 2002 vs. The Amazing Spider-Man 2012!!
Round 1 – Main ActorThe first question that has to run through anyone’s mind when told that a new film version of Spider-Man is being made is, “Who is playing the part of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man?” In the new version British actor Andrew Garfield was cast as the webslinger, and of course in the 2002 version the role was played by Tobey Maguire.
Here is a comparison of the two, with a classic Steve Ditko image from Spidey’s origin issue in the middle. Steve drew spidey lanky and thin, like Garfield, so I chose his version as that seemed to me to be what the new film is shooting for. The main thing about Peter Parker is that he is a nerd, a shy loner who is picked on by other kids. This came across loud and clear in Raimi’s version, but just barely in the 2012 version, directed by Marc Webb. Garfield is too “cool” as Parker – he rides a skateboard, wears cool clothes, has a hipster cool vibe that undermines any nerdiness he might otherwise exude. Maguire, on the other hand, was undoubtedly the school outcast, dressed nerdy, rode the school bus, and was picked on by other kids.
The other main complaint I have about Garfield is his hair. The way they styled it sticking up off the top of his head made him look like such a douchebag. Every time they did THIS…
… all I could think of was hair stylists taking handfuls of goop and mousse and running it through his hair to make it stand up off his head. Don’t get me wrong, man has great hair. Wrong for Petey though. I’ve heard some folks say that Maguire looked too old, and Garfield looks like a kid. Well, Garfield is almost 30 – 29 when this was shot. Maguire was 27 when the first film was made – two years younger than Andrew! But since only a small part of the movie takes place in high school, and the majority of Spider-Man comics take place when he’s in college working freelance to support himself, that isn’t really an issue. He is Spider-MAN, after all, not Spider-boy.
Winner – Spider-Man 2002
Round 2 – Costume
Below we have Maguire in the 2002 version on the left, a comic book rendition in the middle and Garfield on the right.
As you can see, the design of the 2002 version was based strictly on the comics. The colors were darkened up a bit, but the basic design is very faithful to the comic. On the new version there are arbitrary changes made to the costume that really bug me. The stripes on the legs, the change in the spider logo on the chest, the elimination of the belt, the cut-out area on the back of the costume, the mirror sunglasses eyes, the shape of the middle stripe now extended to lead to his crotch - all artsy changes made only for the sake of change. They aren’t improvements; they’re simply bad art choices. And worst of all is the texture of the new costume…
Anyone up for a game of hoops? At least villains can get a good grip as they palm parker’s head. Terrible.
Winner – Spider-Man 2002
Round 3 – Directors
Sam Raimi vs. Marc Webb. This one almost isn’t even fair. Sam Raimi is a seasoned director with years of experience. Marc Webb has made a total of one film before this, and it was a quirky romance. He’s done some TV work but never been tasked with action of this magnitude. Raimi’s film is leaps and bounds above Webb’s in terms of style, movement, cuts and creativity. I wonder why Webb won the job, honestly. Maybe it was the name, some studio head somewhere thought having a director named Webb on a Spiderman film was cool.
Winner – Spider-Man 2002
Round 4 – Webslingin’The main change that the 2002 version made away from the comics was to make Peter Parker spin webs organically. His body naturally produced webs that shot from his wrist. The 2012 version returns to the mechanical webshooters from the comics. I personally feel the change in the 2002 version made sense. I always wondered where a struggling kid came up with resources not only to build webshooters but to sew the costume – BUT I’m going to give this round to the new version, because they stuck to Spidey’s roots.
Winner – The Amazing Spider-Man 2012
Round 5 – StorylineOk, here’s the biggie, the story. Both films tell the origin of Spider-Man, and there are similarities between them. In both versions Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider in a laboratory and gains powers. He is still in high school in each, and has a run in with Flash Thompson, school bully, in each, too. BUT despite their similarities there are many differences, too.
In the 2002 version Raimi sticks close to the Spider-Man comics. Peter is raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben after his parents died. Uncle Ben is killed by a burglar who Spidey let escape. Spidey tracks down and catches this burglar, and learns that it was his own inaction that cost the life of his parent, the man who was his father figure and raised him after his parents died. The last words Ben spoke to him ring in his ears – with “Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” It is a harsh life lesson learned and is the impetus for the creation of the hero he becomes. The villain is the Green Goblin, Spider-Man’s arch enemy, and the goblin dies in the very same way he did in the comics, impaled on his own jet flyer as he attempts to back stab parker. This sets up an interesting dynamic between Peter and his best friend, Harry Osborne, whose father was the Green Goblin.
In the 2012 version Peter is again raised by his uncle and aunt but we quickly learn there is a mysterious past to his parents. They dropped Peter off with Ben and May to raise in safety. They disappeared into the night and may still be alive. Peter again refuses to stop a burglar who in turn shoots and kills his uncle. But in this version Ben never utters the phrase “With great power comes great responsibility.” They dance around it and sort of come close, but the phrase is never mentioned. Without a narrator, as in the panel below, we never hear these words. When Ben is killed Peter goes on a quest to capture the person responsible, but halfway through the film he just forgets about it.
This tosses away the entire motive for Peter becoming Spider-Man. Peter doesn’t find out that it is his own arrogant inaction that cost his uncle his life. He never learns the lesson about using great power responsibly. And the killer isn’t brought to justice. It is sloppily handled and poorly written. Uncle Ben’s importance in Peter’s life is completely undermined by the addition of his parents. There is an extra scene at the end of the movie where a mysterious shadowy figure asks if Parker has learned the truth about his parents, hinting that this revelation will come to light in future sequels. Ugh. What a terrible storyline, a needless addition to a timeless story.
The super villain in the 2012 movie is the lizard. This is handled pretty well, and the lizard certainly is a classic Spidey villain. However, he lacks the epic super villain aura of a Doc Ock or a Green Goblin, and there certainly is nothing approaching the intimate entanglements between Pete and Harry. In fact, Harry Osborne isn’t even in this film.
Police Captain Stacy is added to the cast of the 2012 version, and played by Dennis Leary. Peter is dating Capt. Stacy’s daughter Gwen in this version. In the original comics Capt. Stacy is accidently killed while Spider-Man is fighting Doc Ock. A chimney is smashed and the bricks are falling toward the street, where a small child is standing. Stacy dives toward the kid, pushing him out of the way, and he is crushed by the debris. Spidey pulls Cap free of the wreckage and starts carrying him toward a nearby hospital when Cap tells him to stop, there isn’t time. In what is one of the greatest stories in Spider-man history, Stacy calls him by name, Peter, then says…
Stacy knew the identity of the man wanted by the police and accused of murder and worse by J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle - yet he never let on, never told anyone, and only wanted Peter to take care of his daughter, because he recognized Peter for the man he was.
In the new film Stacy has Spider-Man at gunpoint and forces him to remove his mask. After learning his true identity Stacy is mortally wounded by the lizard. Before he dies, he tells Peter to stay the hell away from Gwen. This is once again a change for the worse. It takes out all the drama, downplays the character of Peter, and removes the kind, understanding, and loving characteristic of Stacy. Instead of sacrificing his life to save another human he is just arbitrarily killed. Waste of a great dramatic moment.
In the new movie Pete tells Gwen his true identity, something he never did in the comics. In the 2002 Raimi film he hides his identity, and doesn’t reveal it to Mary Jane for fear it will put her in danger. He walks away from the woman he loves, sacrificing true happiness, making a heroic sacrifice. It is a great moment in the film.
But unfortunately Gwen isn’t the only one that learns Parker’s identity. He is unmasked or exposed time and again in this film. The Lizard learns who he is, Gwen learns who he is, Capt. Stacy learns who he is, removes his mask in public at one point, if I remember correctly. It is a plot point that really bugged me – guess they just had to show that movie star’s face off every opportunity they had.
J. Jonah Jameson is absent from the new film, and Peter doesn’t work at the Daily Bugle. The actor that played Jonah in the first film, J.K. Simmons, does such an amazing job nailing the character that perhaps Webb intentionally shied away from Peter’s freelance job at the Bugle. However, that is such a big part of the character of Spider-Man – like Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet – that it is really noticeable, and it was a mistake to leave it out.
And then there’s Osborne Industries. In this new version Gwen Stacy works at Osborne Industries, the lizard works there, Peter takes an internship there, and apparently Pete’s parents worked there or collaborated with the scientists that work there. Osborne Industries engineered the mutant spiders that bite Peter, and apparently this is based on research his parents, who were also scientists, started. Or something like that. It is all far too convenient and silly, with Osborne Industries functioning as a big plot catch all for anything scienc-y that needs to be done in this universe. We don’t see Norman Osborne at all, unless that is who the shadowy figure at the end is. Who knows? Who cares?
Ultimately, the Raimi 2002 story is a faithful adaptation of classic Spider-Man comics, whereas the 2012 Webb version is a jumbled mess of unresolved and clumsy storylines. The Raimi version has drama and an epic feel to it that is sorely lacking in this new version.
Winner – Spider-Man 2002
Round 6 – Love InterestAnother big difference between these films is Parker’s love interest. In the 2002 Raimi version it’s Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst. In the 2012 Webb version, it’s Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone.
Gwen Stacy was Spider-Man’s first true love and I give kudos to the new film for bringing her into the mix. Emma Stone is great in the role, and in fact was my favorite thing about this movie. She looks the part and is a good actress. She is tragically killed by the Green Goblin in the comic books, which is doubly hard on Peter, since his being a superhero also cost the life of her father. In his rage he almost kills the Goblin, beating him to near death with his bare hands. But he stops himself, showing his true heroic nature. It will be interesting to see if they kill her in this new series of films.
Mary Jane Watson is the girl best known by most comic book fans, as she was the girl Pete fell in love with after Gwen and eventually married in the comics. I never thought Kirsten really looked right for Mary Jane but she did a great job in the role. Raimi made a nod toward the death of Gwen Stacy storyline in this film by having Mary Jane dropped off a bridge by the Green Goblin (similar to how Gwen died).
But ultimately, Gwen came first and Emma Stone is a better fit, cast-wise.
Winner – The Amazing Spider-Man 2012
Round 7 – Villain
What is a Spider-Man movie without a good villain to fight? In the 2002 film the villain is The Green Goblin, aka Norman Osborne, father of Peter’s best friend Harry (played by Willem Defoe). In the 2012 film the villain is The Lizard, aka Dr. Curt Conners, played by Rhys Ifans. The character of Norman Osborne is handled great in the 2002 film, but they made changes to the Goblin’s costume, giving him armor instead of a cloth costume and mask. I really feel they should have played off Dafoe’s naturally creepy features – that guy has a face that already looks like a goblin! They missed an opportunity there.
Dr. Curt Conners is likewise handled pretty well in the 2012 film with the exception that he now works at Osborne Industries. His attempts at making a regenerative growth formula to grow a new arm turn him into a rampaging lizard. There are some changes here, too – he has a flat face instead of a snout, and doesn’t wear the lab coat except in one scene. These are minor things. I would give the nod to the Lizard except he just isn’t as good of a character as the Goblin. Gobbie is Spider-Man’s arch foe, along with Doc Ock – he’s devious and conniving whereas the lizard is more of a hulking brute. The Goblin character and plot are handled so much better (and Defoe is so good) in that movie that I’m declaring this one a tie.
Winner – TIE
Round 8 – Special EffectsThe new version still has a little fight in it, because it clearly takes this round. The 02 version did the best it could but technology is an ever evolving art form. Computers get better and more sophisticated with time and this is evident when comparing these films back to back.
Winner - The Amazing Spider-Man 2012
Round 9 – Aunt May and Uncle Ben
While both Cliff Robertson and Martin Sheen make perfectly fine uncle Bens, Sally Fields as Aunt May in the new version is completely unacceptable. Too young looking, 100% bad casting, a terrible choice for elderly aunt May. People may argue with “but it’s based on the Ultimates Spider-Man line.” If so, the Ultimates suck.
Winner – Spider-Man 2002
And with that the Amazing Spider-Man 2012 is dealt a crushing right hook. It stumbles, falls to the mat, and is counted out. Winner by knock out, after 9 rounds…
With a score of 5-3-1
In a word the new film is lacking. There is no real sense of grand adventure, the changes that have been made seem to be only for the sake of differentiating it from the Raimi franchise, and the addition of the storyline of Parker’s parents is irritatingly stupid. Tying everything into Oscorp is ludicrous and the unresolved and forgotten storyline of Ben’s killer is unforgivable. Most egregious of all is the change in Parker’s origin, removing the Great Power comes Great Responsibility line completely changes his motivation. He is far less heroic in this version, and that is a shame.