From a smarter girlfriend to bigger hair, "The Amazing Spider-Man" reboots the lucractive "Spider-Man" franchise with at least a few new wrinkles
"The Amazing Spider-Man," Sony's fourth Spider-Man movie in recent years and the reboot of a $2.5 billion worldwide franchise last seen with 2007's "Spider-Man 3," has lots of the things you'd expect from a Spider-Man movie.
Spiders? Check. A teenage boy who is definitely not the big man on campus? Check. A genetic accident leading to mutations and strange new powers? Check.
Actors well into their 20s playing teenagers? Of course.
And so it goes. There's a masked vigilante who has great power but needs to exercise great responsibility, a cute girl for whom our hero longs, crushing guilt over the death of a loved one and a dastardly villain dealing with mutation issues of his own.
Plus, there's the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, and credits full of the folks responsible for the last three movies, the recently deceased producer Laura Ziskin and production designer J. Michael Riva among them.
And, of course, there's action-packed, web-swinging crime fighting. Lots of it, this time in vertiginous 3D.
So if "The Amazing Spider-Man" has lots of what we've seen in "Spider-Man," "Spider-Man 2" and "Spider-Man 3," what's different? This is, after all, a reboot in which the director of the last three films, Sam Raimi, has been replaced by a new guy whose name – Marc Webb – is a better fit for this franchise than his resume, which includes "(500) Days of Summer" and an episode of "The Office." He must have brought some new wrinkles to the franchise, right?
For a start, he brought new actors, notably Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who do seem to be a refreshing change from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. But the new "Spider-Man" also makes some changes in the Spidey universe we saw in those earlier movies – maybe not major ones, but changes nonetheless.
So here are five new things about this version of "Spider-Man."
1. Peter Parker's Parents
The "Spider-Man" mythology has teenager Parker living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris in the Sam Raimi versions, Martin Sheen and Sally Field in the new one), who have raised him after the death of his parents.
Those parents are barely mentioned in the Raimi movies, but they play a central part in "The Amazing Spider-Man" — first in the flesh in the sequence that opens the movie, and later through Peter's discovery of a briefcase that his father left behind on the night he disappeared.
That briefcase sets the main conflict in motion, and Parker's father (played by Campbell Scott, right) remains a key figure in the central mystery that underlies the film. He has connections both to the movie's chief villain (played by Rhys Ifans) and to the unseen and wealthy but ailing industrialist Norman Osborne – who, as Spidey fans know well, might have an alter ego of his own waiting in the wings.
An extra scene that takes place shortly into the credits suggests that Parker's father will continue to figure into subsequent films.
2. Doing Shots
When Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man wanted to swing from tall buildings, he shot spider webs out of his wrists. But Garfield's superhero didn't get that particular mutation, so he has to build his own mechanical version.
Fortunately, Norman Osborne's Oscorp is like Tony Stark's Stark Industries in the "Iron Man" movies: It's your one-stop source for all the advanced technology that can be used for good or for evil. So they've got just the thing for him to use when he constructs his homemade web-shooters.
3. Print Media Is Dead
In the three Raimi movies, Peter Parker struggled to make money as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper, run by crusty editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).
Parker is still a photographer in Webb's movie, but only a school yearbook photographer. Which means no blustery managing editor, no sympathetic assistant and no extra cash for Peter.
4. A Smart Girlfriend
Tobey Maguire dallied with both Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) and Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), but his iconic relationship was with Dunst – she's the one he kissed upside down in the rain in the first movie. (Her character is also the one Peter Parker married in the comic book, though the marriage was later erased in a deal with Mephisto – those comics got strange in the '80s.)
But Mary Jane doesn't appear in "The Amazing Spider-Man," which focuses on the relationship between Peter and Gwen. Instead of a would-be actress who works in a diner, this Spider-Man gets a science whiz who's smarter than he is.
In this sense, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is closer to the comics than the Raimi movies were – in the books, Stacy was always Parker's first girlfriend, with Watson not entering the picture until later.
5. More Hair!
There are lots of differences between Garfield's performance and Maguire's. For one thing, Garfield stands about a foot taller; he's less convincing as a shy kid bullied by the class jock, but more convincing when he gets his powers and kicks butt.
But Garfield, who's appealing and pretty persuasive as a conflicted teen even though he's actually 29, has one thing that sets him apart from Maguire more than any other factor: that hair.
His thick, unruly, majestic mane might be more suited to a superhero with a more hirsute alter ego – Lion-Man, perhaps? – and it's enough to make you wonder how Peter Parker crams his mop beneath that tight Spider-Man hood.
There are numerous other ways in which "The Amazing Spider-Man" is different from its predecessors, from the 3D presentation to Garfield's nuanced performance to plot points that would qualify as spoilers if we wrote about them.
Suffice it to say this: With great power to ride on those $2.5 billion in worldwide grosses for the first three films comes great responsibility to mix things up … at least a little.