I know a lot of people will want to blame Batman Begins for the new industry norm in which the sagas of comic book heroes are reinvented as dark, foreboding tales in which our favorite caped crusaders struggle with deep psychological and existential crises while battling to save the planet from aliens and mad scientists. And you’d probably be right, though that might be beside the point.
Comic books have long had a tradition of taking normal, slightly above average individuals and having greatness thrust upon them. Peter Parker is no different, even as he’s taken out of the unassuming form of Tobey Maguire and reinvented as a leaner, lankier (and frankly more introspective) Andrew Garfield. Fans of the Maguire series will probably like this new reboot if for no other reason than that it is a vastly superior improvement over the last Spider-Man movie, their mild protestations aside.
There isn’t much new in the story – at all. The most important differences lie in the treatment, so I suspect many comic book purists fans will be both thrilled and disappointed to see Peter Parker still struggling with the same issues he has in the past. This movie becomes more of an origin story with Parker taking his frustrations of being a high school outcast and channeling that energy into discovering the truth of his parentage. Garfield does a masterful job at underplaying the part (he is a tormented teen, after all, and only a few poorly chosen records away from being full Emo) but director Marc Webb skillfully avoids making him just another anguished moper and really delves into why Parker should want to know who his parents are beyond the simple fact of knowing. Once the motivations become clear, the movie really takes off. It’s a pity they couldn’t find more for Emma Stone to do than just be the intermittent female presence in the movie. In 2012, the brevity of her influence on the story seems decidedly retro.
Yes, it’s more visually fluid than any other Spider-Man movie – how could it not be with the pace of technology? And yes, it has enough sex appeal to keep the adults titillated while still enabling them to bring along the youngsters who want another reason to wear their 3D glasses. But all of that doesn’t matter in the end: this movie gives audience a true superhero movie that is both super and heroic.