In Defense Of “The Amazing Spider-Man”

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield embodying two different interpretations of Spider-Man

When “The Amazing Spider-Man” hit theaters in July 2012 to reboot the Spider-Man franchise many viewers cried foul that the film seemed to abandon several important plot threads and that director Marc Webb was sacrificing a satisfying and self-contained story for the purpose of building up a sequel. Such criticisms gained fuel as people held up 2002′s “Spider-Man” as a properly fulfilling origin story, one that still remains fresh in the collective memory of moviegoers. However fans might be approaching the narrative structure of “The Amazing Spider-Man” from the wrong perspective. Rather than viewing these plot points as unresolved, I believe the filmmakers attempted to use a fresh approach to illustrate the famous ideal that Spider-Man embodies: with great power comes great responsibility.

One example of the aforementioned unresolved narrative threads is Peter’s hunt for his Uncle Ben’s killer. A good portion of the middle of the story focuses on how Peter is driven solely by the need to avenge his uncle. Yet once the Lizard appears, Peter seems to completely forget about looking for the killer, conveniently allowing the filmmakers to provide the supervillain showdowns that are typically expected from Spider-Man films. However there are a few scenes indicating that Peter’s decision to focus on stopping the Lizard, rather than finding his uncle’s killer, marks a transition for his character from a selfish vigilante into a responsible hero.

The first of these scenes is the dinner conversation between Peter and Captain Stacy of the police department. This conversation takes place after Peter, who recently donned the Spider-Man suit, has spent much time chasing down every thug he can find, hoping that one of them bears the tattooed hand that Uncle Ben’s killer had. Captain Stacy states that Spider-Man is nothing more than a vigilante, a man who is interfering with police stings and investigations in his sole search for one person. Peter’s reaction is immediate as he softly groans, an indication that he realizes he may be doing more harm than he previously thought in his relentless search for the tattooed man. Shortly after he begins doubting his search, Peter sees where his powers are truly needed when the Lizard attacks innocent people on the Williamsburg Bridge. He later confides to his girlfriend, Gwen, that perhaps it is his responsibility to stop super-powered creatures like the Lizard because no one else can. In short, Peter has decided to put his own selfish motivations, namely seeking vengeance for his uncle’s death, aside in order to become a truly responsible hero who puts the common good before himself.

This progression is especially captured by a scene near the end of the film when Peter looks at a bulletin board in his bedroom, which is covered with pictures of his parents, his uncle, and the wanted sign for his uncle’s killer. This scene establishes that Peter has not forgotten his unresolved conflicts, as seeing these pictures everyday ensures that he remembers the tattooed killer is still at large. Nevertheless he has matured and chosen not to let a selfish obsession consume him to the point that he neglects to help others. In becoming a greater hero by putting the need for vengeance aside, this new iteration of Spider-Man truly embodies the ideal that with great power comes great responsibility.

The Blockbusters Of 2012: A Return To Form

2012 was a fantastic year for blockbuster franchises. At the time of this writing, three films have crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office: “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Skyfall.” The fact that each of these films performed well for multiple consecutive weeks means that something was drawing audiences back for repeat viewings. That certain something has to be beyond the allure of state-of-the-art effects and action, as nearly every big budget movie boasts these traits. A closer examination of these three films suggests that each share a common thematic thread: the espousal of old fashioned, sentimental values as opposed to the more cynical temperaments of most modern blockbusters.

Skyfall

James Bond’s latest outing faced an uphill battle after the underwhelming response to his previous adventure, “Quantum Of Solace.” Although Daniel Craig helped breathe new life into the character with 2006′s “Casino Royale,” the long-running Bond franchise continued to struggle with fierce competition from modern, brooding secret agent franchises such as 2009’s “Taken” and the Jason Bourne franchise. Appropriately the underlying question explored throughout “Skyfall” is whether the traditionally suave Bond can continue to thrive in a modern society. This predicament is perfectly captured by the film’s opening set piece as the “death” of Bond reflects the loss of his traditional persona. The rest of the film then becomes an attempt at resurrection, both for Bond’s character and his modern popularity. By the time the credits roll, the answer is clearly that for Bond to continue moving forward, the franchise must take a step back first. One critique that many fans have voiced regarding the Craig incarnation of Bond is that he lacks the sort of sophistication and fun that defined past Bonds. Director Sam Mendes and his team responded by reintroducing several classic Bond elements: Q and his array of gadgets, Moneypenny as M’s secretary and even the Aston Martin. Most importantly, a sense of fun returned to the world of Bond as Craig exudes more pleasure than he ever has in the role. This sentiment, a nostalgia for classic Bond, is summed up by the last lines of the film. As M asks Bond if he is ready to return to duty, Bond replies “With pleasure.” Such pleasure was clearly shared by viewers, propelling “Skyfall” into the stratosphere as the highest grossing Bond film of all time.

The Dark Knight Rises

In the aftermath of “The Dark Knight,” Batman had paid a terrible cost to defeat the Joker. The woman he loved was murdered, one of his few allies, Harvey Dent, had died after going insane and Batman himself was vilified for crimes he didn’t commit. Such tragic events placed one of the most popular superheroes into a very unromantic world, one in which the hero’s victory is not assured. The question for audiences going into “The Dark Knight Rises” was whether there was any hope for a happy ending. The answer composed by director Christopher Nolan and his team was a definite yes; even the most tragic heroes have the choice to rise above their demons and find happiness. Batman personifies the idea of putting aside the tragedies of one’s past and finding future happiness, reflected in the joyous final montage in which the mantle of Batman has been put aside, allowing Bruce Wayne to find happiness abroad with his new love. Yet aside from the usual optimistic ideals such as the triumph of good over evil, the most inspiring sentiment of the entire film is arguably the notion that anyone can be a hero; an ideal exemplified by Batman’s final words: “A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” Everyday heroism and happy endings are sentiments that not many would have believed possible in the grim world of Gotham City. The payoff of seeing these old fashioned ideals shine through in the end certainly resonated with audiences as “The Dark Knight Rises” rose to over a billion dollars at the box office.

The Avengers

“The Avengers” set numerous box office records when it hit theaters in May of 2012, drawing in audiences with thrilling action, endearing characters and a team-up of heroes teased by Marvel Studios for nearly five years. Yet hidden between the jaw-dropping set pieces, writer/director Joss Whedon sneaks in one word into nearly every interesting conversation of the film: “sentiment.” In fact, the character arc for each hero boils down to a decision of whether or not to abandon ideals in the face of increasingly hostile threats. Captain America struggles with the clash between his old-fashioned patriotism and the seemingly cynical society of the modern world. Bruce Banner considers the sentiment that the curse of being the Hulk could be a blessing used for good. Even the supposedly impeccable Iron Man must confront whether or not he is capable of sacrificing his life for the greater good. Yet the defining moment of the film’s exploration of sentiment is presented through Nick Fury’s final conversation with Iron Man and Captain America. Fury regrettably admits that the concept of a superhero team saving the day might not work in today’s world; is the idea of a team of individuals coming together to accomplish more than they could apart nothing more than an old fashioned sentiment? Moreover in an industry of increasingly “edgy” and “dark” blockbusters, can a movie with old fashioned ideas of adventure and heroism compete? The answer is a resounding yes for both questions; the heroes are able to put aside their differences to fight for the common good and audiences helped “The Avengers” shatter box office records by flocking to theaters.

A Return To Form

2012 was the year in which blockbuster franchises returned to form as box office records were shattered and multiple films approached the billion dollar mark. These blockbusters were marked by quality development of endearing characters, exciting action set pieces and intelligent stories powered by old fashioned sentimentality. A combination of heroic ideals, entertainment and, most of all, happy endings is a brew that could help even the most cynical of modern moviegoers to feel a bit more optimistic in a stressful modern world. The question now is whether Hollywood will produce even more big-budget films fueled by sentimentality rather than spectacle and whether audiences will continue to lineup for them week after week.