Holy cow true believers! July is here and Spider-Month has OFFICIALLY kicked off! Are we going to get this month-long celebration of all things Spidey resting on our laurels?! Of course not! We’re starting the month proper with this DOUBLE SIZE issue reviewing not only the new reboot film but the movie tie-in game as well! Excelsior!
The Amazing Spider-Man
This summer saw the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise as Sony scrambles to retain the rights to Marvels most popular character. While Marvel studios is raking in billions off the backs of former B-listers Thor and Iron-Man, Sony is keeping their sticky mitts all over Spider-Man, this time eschewing the universe established in Sam Raimi’s films and starting all over again. Did it work? Was it a colossal failure? All I know for sure is Uncle Ben is definitely not making it through to the end of this one…
What I liked…
Better Living Through Chemistry: When Andrew Garfield was announced as the new Spider-Man I was slightly concerned. I was only familiar with him through his work in The Social Network, and based on that character I didn’t really see how he would work. He absolutely proved me wrong and puts in a performance as a well… AMAZING Spider-Man! His mannerisms are much more convincing as a high school student than Maguire ever was and we finally get a decent Spider-Man performance where the character is as quippy in the film as the comics. An early encounter with a car thief is one of the highlights of this new lighter Spidey. Working opposite Garfield is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. Stone is another breath of fresh air after 3 films of Kirsten Dunsts wooden Mary-Jane Watson. Much like Garfield, Stone is more convincing as a high school student, and her chemistry with her co-star really comes across the screen. She’s a much stronger character than we’re used to as she doesn’t spend the whole film being Lizard bait like you’d expect.
The Illusive Uncle: Martin Sheen puts in a wonderful performance as Uncle Ben. Arguably the single most important character in the Spider-Man mythos it is extremely fortunate that someone with the ability of Sheen was willing to take on the role. We get a much better sense of what Uncle Ben means to Peter in this film than we did in Raimi’s earlier works. Ben sticks around much longer than in previous versions and his understanding of Parkers struggles as a youth cement him as a very strong parental figure to Peter. I especially like the exchange where Parker tells Uncle Ben “You’re a really great dad”. Unlike Raimi’s film where Parker and Ben end on a sour note, the relationship between the two here is much more positive. Peters vengeance fueled vigilantism is also much more powerful when framed around the lessons Ben teaches him early on. I also liked the way the film bookends with a final phone message from Ben cementing the emotional core of the film.
Dennis Leary: Leary puts in a turn as Captain Stacey of the NY Police and was something I wasn’t expecting. When he was announced I didn’t really see how he would work as he always struck me as a little too over the top for a role like this. However it really works well. Leary is adept at playing both the hard-nosed cop trying to protect the city from Spider-Man and the Lizard as he is playing the aloof father protecting his daughter from Peter Parkers quirky awkwardness.
MECHANICAL WEB SHOOTERS: FINALLY! I also enjoyed that the web fluid was an Oscorp invention built to be highly strong tensile rope, made more sense than Parker inventing it in his lab, and was much more believable than being organic.
What I Didn’t Like…
B-List Villain: Unfortunately the weakest part of the film really is the Lizard. I was never really sold on his look, and while it is close to his original comic book look it just looks kind of goofy. It reminds me most of the goombas from the Mario Bros. movie. The Lizard is never really allowed to be a strong character as his interactions with Spider-Man are extremely limited, usually he’s just snarling and swinging his tail around. I get it that the interactions with Curt Conners are supposed to be the heart of the issue here, but it doesn’t really work. At the beginning of the film Conners isn’t antagonistic towards Peter, and there is really only one singular scene between the two where they try to play it up that each one knows the others secret, however it simply isn’t enough. Lizards motives seem completely arbitrary and out of line with what we see of Conners. It’s as if the writers wanted him to be more than just a rampaging lizard but didn’t really have any reason for him to be anything else, but wrote it that way anyway.
Plot Contrivance: Speaking of just writing things anyway, the plot is FULL of super convenient non-sense. Whenever the script requires something happen it just all of a sudden does. The biggest example of this is when Lizard finds out the secret identity of Spider-Man. Parker rigs up a camera to capture a picture of the Lizard, Lizard then finds the camera which conveniently has a giant “PROPERTY OF PETER PARKER” written on the thing. It just felt silly and forced and could have been done much better. Even the death of Uncle Ben is kind of odd, Parker runs out into the streets after arguing with his Aunt and Uncle, Ben follows to find him and bumps into a burglar who shoots him while Ben is struggling to grab the gun away, at least in Raimi’s carjacking scenario there was a reason for the shooting, here the criminal simply drops his gun as he trips, again it feels forced.
What Else Is Going On?: There is practically nothing else going on in this film other than the main Lizard plot. There is a SMALL sub-plot with Flash Thompson picking on Peter Parker only to turn out to be an understanding guy after Parker loses his uncle and later becomes a full Spider-fan, but there’s no Harry Osborne and the only mention of Norman is in passing with one line setting him up but never showing him, not even in the films stinger. Oscorp is in the film, but as far as the viewer is concerned they are only researching the cross species work of Doctor Connors and we never see anything further from it, other than this one project Oscorp may as well be clean. There is a sequel bait stinger but it’s confusing and doesn’t set up any majorly obvious villain.
Overall I still enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man. The acting and the cast is all very strong and make the film enjoyable to watch. The action is really well done and is even better than Raimi’s films overall. I also feel this is a much closer Spider-Man to the comics than previous incarnations. While I never really got sold on the Lizard and the plot feels thin and small, it’s still a decent Spider-Man film for fans of the character. Fans of comics in general or people expecting the next Avengers or Dark Knight should probably check their expectations at the door though.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Following the film comes the movie tie in-game, the latest from current Spider-Man game developers Beenox. This game breaks some traditions by not rehashing the film but by actually being a sequel to it. This game also heralds the return of the open world New York which has been absent from all of Beenox’s Spider-Man offerings. Will this return to form for Spider-Games elevate the game above the film? Or does it suffer from the pitfalls of other licensed titles?
What I Liked…
Swingin’ and Slingin’: With the return of the open world comes the return of full web slinging to Spider-Man games. Traversal feels good in the game, and is actually most reminiscent of the classic Spider-Man 2 movie tie in. Webs generally need to attach to buildings (though this rule gets a little warped and sometimes webs seem to stick to anything) you generally have to either be next to buildings or close to the ground before a new web will swing you around. Spider-Mans swinging animations are extremely well done, as he flips and spins through the air, runs along walls, and using his new quick travel technique chains together leaps and bounds across New York you really get a sense of being Spider-Man that I haven’t had since the aforementioned second movie game.
Indoors Too: A major issue I have with open world games is when they just have their missions occur on the overworld map, it causes the levels to lack an intimateness that non-open world games have. However, Beenox has spent the last two games perfecting indoor Spider-Man environments and they use those abilities here by crafting full indoor levels for the game’s story missions rather than having you fight enemies outside. It’s a mix that works well for me, giving the game a varied look and breaking up the monotony of the outdoor environments. Combat in these levels plays out a LOT like Arkham Asylum, though here at least having a spider sense is ACTUALLY one of Spider-Mans powers so it makes more sense for him to have it than Batman. Stealth segments are similar to Batman as well though, as you can climb on the ceiling and swing down to quickly snare enemies and leave them hanging. You are better off doing these stealth attacks to thin the ranks and even the odds in your favor. Some may complain that the combat is the same old combat we’ve been seeing lately, but for me I loved it in Batman, loved it in Captain America, so I’ve really got no reason not to love it here. It looks great and works well, especially for Spider-Man.
B-Lists and Bosses: One complaint about the film I had was that we don’t see what else is going on at Oscorp, this being a sequel to the film remedies that issue. The movie only dealt with the Lizard project, however the game takes it further saying that research also was the catalyst for the combinations that created: Rhino, Scorpion and Vermin. Also, after the rampaging Lizard, Oscorp went on a massive PR campaign and hired Alistair Smythe as the new head of R&D. All these names are total B-listers in the Spidey universe, however it’s great to see them here. Smythe actually works the best as his robots are programmed to hunt down the cross species, which Spider-Man just happens to qualify as. There are 3 major boss battles with Smythe’s Spider-Slayers that are some of the absolute best boss battles I’ve ever seen in a Spider-Man game. The robots are gigantic, the battles take place high atop the New York City streets and the destruction that goes on around these battles is frenetic and amazing, I enjoyed every one of these fights and never felt they were contrived. Even the fights with the smaller Spider-Hunters created some very cinematic finishes that haven’t really been seen in previous games.
What I Didn’t Like…
700?!: Unfortunately the game suffers from a SEVERE case of Collectible-itis. Each individual level has usually about 20 collectible items to be found in them, a mix of tech items which give you points for webbing upgrades and magazines which give XP for character upgrades. On top of that however are the absolutely astounding 700, yes 700 comic book pages spread across the city. It seems like wherever you turn there is another comic book page waiting for you. It is similar to the spider symbol collectibles that were on EVERY SINGLE building in Spider-Man Web of Shadows. However, unlike other Spider-Man games where these would unlock comic book covers, here they actually unlock entire comic book issues for you to read, so it is a worthy unlockable to get a ton of comic book pages and then get to read the entire issue of the first appearance of the games villains.
At Least They’re Not Balloons…: Along with the ridiculous collectibles also comes the standard side missions. These aren’t bad on their own, they’re all individually quite good, unlike the horrificly stupid Balloon missions from Spider-Man 2, these missions are at least interesting and fun. The problem is that there are probably way too many of them, and unfortunately the missions that are the most plentiful are the most boring as well. Stopping petty crimes are simple enough, you just beat up a group of thugs, and the car chases have you chasing and landing on specific cars before they can escape the island. The most interesting missions are the photography missions which task you with going to certain area and taking 3 pictures, usually depicting a Spider-Man villain who isn’t in the game (such as Vulture or Hydro). The worst missions are the simple fetch quests which have you bringing sick citizens to the hospital (of which there are a LOT). The race missions aren’t as bad as they usually are because 1. they’re easy and 2. Bruce Campbell is the guy who’s forcing you to do them.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a great entry in the superhero genre. It’s easily the best Spider-Man game for current gen systems, as it’s better than the non-open world games from Beenox and it’s got more heart and soul than Web of Shadows. It’s not as deep or profound as Batman’s Arkham games, but if you’re a fan of Spider-Man and miss the days of open world web slinging in Spider-Man 2 then The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely worth playing.