The Amazing Spider-man is entertaining and fun to watch. It’s got a great cast (Emma Stone and Martin Sheen are stand-outs) and is probably everything movie-goers want in a summer blockbuster.
Unfortunately, those are about the only good things I can bring myself to say about it, because this movie destroyed everything I loved about Peter Parker.
The reboot sought to give us a cooler, “edgier” Peter, and Andrew Garfield did exactly that. But the filmmakers missed something fundamental about Spider-man when they made him less of a “stereotypical loser.”
I’m not going to say that Peter Parker has to be a nerd (though they should at least make it believable that he’s smart enough to invent his own webbing…). But in Peter’s case being a nerd, constantly picked-on and harassed, built character. When they turned him into an aloof loner, the writers also changed Peter from a thoughtful, considerate doormat (sorry Spidey) to a sullen, moody jerk.
Take, for instance, the scene where a pretty young co-ed pulls ye olde rom com classic, Pretending to Ask the Loser Out to Get a Favor Then Casually Name-Dropping The Boyfriend. When she reaches the punchline, Garfield puts his headphones back in (oh, you’re such a rebel Andrew), and essentially blows her off (“I’ll check my schedule.”). Peter Parker Classic would have done the favor for the girl just because she asked, and because he was raised to be kind to others; he wouldn’t back out just because he knew he wasn’t getting any.
So Peter has gone from the down-trodden, bullied Steve Rogers-type who “knows the value of strength, and knows compassion,” to an angsty and apparently bitter loner who is ready to abuse that strength the moment he has it.
I found it very telling that when Gwen asked him whether his new abilities scared him, he gave his cocky little grin, shook his head and said “Nope!” Zero complexity. Just a good-looking guy with a cute girlfriend and some fun new powers.
Showing that Peter Parker grew, through hardships and battles that pushed him past his breaking point, into the ultimate self-sacrificing hero, is what makes him so special. It’s what made people say that Spiderman 2 was among the greatest superhero movies ever made: after an hour of watching Peter’s life fall apart because of his tireless attempts to put others before himself, he finally got a little bit of recognition and appreciation from a few strangers on a train. And that moment was so emotionally satisfying because we cared about him, and we wanted other people to care about him too. We didn’t want the nice guy to finish last anymore.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter never struggled in the way Tobey Maguire’s did, even as Spiderman. The first time he fought with the Lizard, he came away saying, “Well that sucked.” So flippant, so careless. No understanding of what his failure might mean for the innocent people who stood to get hurt.
In fact, I never once believed that this new Peter truly cared about helping people. When Aunt May said, “If there’s one thing I know you are, it’s good,” my jaw dropped. I physically recoiled in the theater. There was nothing inherently good about him! He was a brat!
Case in point: Peter’s final line of the movie, in reference to a certain promise he made, was utterly repulsive. That promise should have weighed on him heavily, should have felt like a burden he would bear because it was the right thing to do for a number of reasons. Instead, he makes a smarmy little aside that shows exactly how little integrity means to him. That was the final nail in the coffin of the REAL Peter Parker.