When he first appeared in 1962, Spider-Man captured the attention of comic readers with his teenage status and everyman alternate identity. But one of the greatest draws to this character is the idea that any chump can suddenly scale tall buildings and ejaculate biosilk with the tensile strength of steel cables. Superman is born with his abilities; Batman buys his. Spider-Man comes by his superpowers the way most hapless teenagers come by anything: sheer luck. In sharp contrast, The Lizard comes by his abilities through scientific ingenuity, a constant seeking for improvement for his shattered sense of self and his broken body. Genetic mutation: it can happen to you, too!
There’s a definite edict in this storyline for the modern age: genetic tinkering bad, scaling tall buildings cool. Almost fifty years to the month since he first appeared on the pages of Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy series, the tale of the amazing Spider-Man gives us an excellent parable for the current social unease regarding rapid advancements in genetic engineering. Dr. Curt Conners is a visionary genius, until his own research gets ahold of him. Unable to control his own body he decides to battle inherit human weakness by making humans reptilian. Rhys Ifans (yes, “Spike” from Notting Hill) makes a terrific cold-blooded villain, at turns terrifying and pitiful.
The viewer can also appreciate the film’s tightness. There are only six characters you have to try and care about, including the hero, the baddie, the daddy and the girl. There is exactly one plot to mutate the human populace of lower Manhattan, and the bio-weapon has an “antidote” that a 17-year-old girl is able to “cook” (her word) in t-minus 10 minutes. The plot is neatly packaged and tied with a cobweb bow, as all superhero origin stories should be. After this Spring’s The Avengers in 3-D, The Amazing Spider-Man is a welcome antidote to the rambling complicated mess of characters and allegiances and grudges we’ve lost track of in the superhero world.
Marvel and Community fans may recall that when word of the franchise’s reboot spread a few years ago, an online campaign to cast Donald Glover as the next Spider-Man gained enough traction for Glover to take meetings with Sony Pictures. (This scuttlebut and subsequent decision to cast Andrew Garfield and not Glover makes the overall “whiteness” of Marvel’s New York even more glaring. The city is virtually homogenous, with the exception of one accented corporate hack (played by Irrfan Khan), and a handful of construction workers of possible Italian descent.) In an interview with fellow comedian Marc Maron, Glover stated that he always liked Spider-Man because he was “poor.”
But for all his troubles, Peter Parker’s life is hardly Dickensian. He attends what appears to be a science-focused high school with challenging classes that places students in world-class internships at international corporations. His middle-aged aunt and uncle both work, but they appear to live in a comfortable home on a quiet street in New York. (Granted, a few paces of indeterminable length away from said home, poor Uncle Ben is gunned down by a fleeing scofflaw). There is plenty of food for him to eat. But with no Michael Caine to traipse around after him, explaining the mechanics of his newest ballpoint pen rifle or armored ghost car, I suppose Peter Parker (and his movie) are relatively impoverished.