With the creation of a second run of Spider-Man movies, I find myself in the unique position of liking two different versions of the same character. I thought it might be fun to make a comparison between the two just to see which was better.
Start with the writing itself. The older version, with Sam Raimi at the helm, featured a script written by Stan Lee himself as well as Steve Ditko, the pair that originally created Spider-Man. No surprise then that the origin story featured a dual development of hero and antagonist. Nor should the elegance with which the two cross paths before they realize they are enemies; Lee and Ditko had decades to ponder it. The second movie was just as artful; the bad guy is the one who lectures Parker on the responsibility of a person to his abilities. He guides the hero to better academics, is proud of his strength in saving the city from the monster he’s become, and himself takes responsibility for what he has created. The third movie features a love triangle that serves to bond hero and villain (a delightful twist) a naive rival taken advantage of, and an impossible to defeat enemy who seems to be more mature and ‘good’ than Spider-Man at times.
The new version, with writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, lacked that grace. Using a formula Peter’s father had worked on as a catalyst it’s obvious from the start what is happening. Not that the directness did anything to detract from the story, it just wasn’t as artistic, nor was there any symmetry in the development of hero and villain. One can hope for an improvement in the next installment.
The directors; Sam Raimi and Marc Webb. I have been enjoying Raimi’s work even before he hit the mainstream with Army of Darkness and The Quick and the Dead. One can never be too certain where the Writer/Director/Actor borders begin and end, but the scenes involving the people of New York showing a love and respect for their hero, all the more touching as the first movie was made a year after 9/11. The scene where the poor kid tries to figure out how to use his powers, to make a web especially, were entirely unexpected and wonderful.
Marc Webb had no such scene. For him, it was all about building the drama, and I think by not having a comic aside he lost something in that regard.
The actors, Tobey Maguire in Raimi’s version and Andrew Garfield in Marc Webb’s. Maguire made a perfect geek, a loveable loser. But when it came to his movements, he was no athlete. Spider-Man is supposed to be superior to almost every other character in the Marvel universe in his athletic grace; Maguire looked like a geek who had spent a lot of time in the weight room.
Garfield? Wow! He pulls off nerd just fine, even if he isn’t quite so loveable. The difference for me was his athletic prowess. He made you believe he could be the masked hero. And the scene where he captured the man who had killed his uncle was vintage Spider-Man in his movements and sense of humor. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could not have written the scene better than he pulled it off.
Finally, the supporting casts. In the original trilogy, each movie had high quality and high end actors. The two Osbournes and the Sandman were played by especially good actors. In the new version, Gwen Stacy is the standout. Not that the villain, Gwen’s father, Flash, and some of the other actors weren’t good, they just weren’t as memorable.
Overall I have to say that it is Garfield’s contribution to the character that keeps my interest. I happily await his next series of stunts and verbal hijinx.