Beware spoilers ahead! Also, if you haven’t already seen the movie there’s a decent chance that what follows won’t make a whole lot of sense.
This is not a review of The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony Pictures recent reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise. Rather, inspired by this video which re-imagines the plot of Star Wars Episode 1 (really, if you’re any fan of Star Wars, film criticism, or story analysis this is something you ought to check out), I will herein be re-imagining The Amazing Spider-Man in an attempt to address some of the places the story fell flat.
Let me start off by saying that I don’t think that The Amazing Spider-Man was a bad movie. An imperfect movie, to be sure, but unequivocally a fun one. Among its flaws were a few little character inconsistencies and some questionable CGI work, but it’s biggest problem was that it just tried to cram too much into one movie.
I thought most of the beginning of the film was great. Although Andrew Garfield has a lot more trouble becoming the geeky teen that is Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire ever did, he shines in the role. All his interaction with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is great, his friction with Captain Stacy works well, and the tension between Spider-Man and the cops, though a frequent theme in super hero movies, hits all its notes with aplomb. Where the film really begins to lose itself is when the Lizard is introduced.
Let’s think about it: up until this point we have the main plot of Peter becoming Spider-Man and beginning his career as the wall-crawling crime fighter. The main conflict that develops is Spider-Man contending with the police, and that conflict is brought home on a personal level by Captain Stacy. The closely related “B” plot, then, is Peter’s relationship with Gwen. Peter’s interest in her grates against his conflict as Spider-Man with her father. This subplot works for the characters because Gwen can relate to Peter on an intellectual level, but they have marked differences in their social upbringing. They can be awkward and high-schooly around each other and it’s fun to watch. It also adds comic relief while supporting the main plot.
By this point we also have two other minor plot threads: Peter’s relationship to Aunt May and Uncle Ben (and his corresponding guilt over Ben’s death), and the questions about Peter’s parents that are introduced in the opening scene of the movie. The former feels mostly like due diligence to the Spider-Man origins story (although Martin Sheen and Sally Field are a treat). It works well enough, but it doesn’t play much into any of the rest of what’s going on (more on this in a bit). The latter is mostly in the background, but is kept in the viewer’s mind by Peter’s growing friendship with Dr. Curt Connors based on his acquaintance with Peter’s parents.
So as it stands we have four plots that are already carrying the story forward to interesting places before hints of an absent Norman Osborne’s failing health prompt Connors into accidentally becoming the Lizard, which swallows up all the other plots entirely.
It’s hard to imagine any superhero story existing without a main villain to play off of, but by and large the early parts of the movie do this so well as to make the Lizard unnecessary. It would have taken a brave studio executive to have done it, but this movie could have existed devoid of any main villain.
But that wouldn’t be truly satisfying to anyone, would it? Audiences expect a villain. So how can we get to a similar emotional point among the characters and still incorporate the Lizard?
Of the four plots prior to the introduction of the Lizard, the weakest is probably Peter’s relationship to Aunt May and Uncle Ben, particularly as it relates to Ben’s death and the birth of Spider-Man as we know him. As I mentioned, it all works well enough, but it feels like due diligence. Spider-Man is popular enough that most people are roughly familiar with his origins story, particularly given this film’s proximity to the previous Spider-Man film series. So my first suggestion is that this film abandon trying to tell Spider-Man’s origins altogether. Come in with Spider-Man just recently having appeared. Easy enough to do. He’d be the subject of lots of talk. Peter (and the audience) can overhear snippets of conversation as Peter walks through high-school, and we can see him still struggle with his powers a bit. Everything to do with Peter’s relationship to the cops and to Gwen can proceed basically as before, as well as his relationship to the grieving Aunt May. Ben’s death can also motivate Peter to seek out a father figure and to dig into his own father’s past. Thus, he seeks out Dr. Connors much earlier and they begin to develop a friendship, not just a working relationship, but much more gradually. We as an audience grow emotionally sympathetic with Connors just as Peter does.
So now we have the main plot of Spider-Man beginning his career as a crime fighter (although even a bit more haphazardly – he’s a kid going though a lot emotionally, after all) as he buts heads with the police (adding to the emotional toll – the people appointed paragons of society become Peter’s greatest antagonists). Captain Stacy still is the figurehead that personifies this struggle to Peter, both as Peter and as Spider-Man. Added to this we have several sub-plots: Peter’s relationships to Gwen, Dr. Connors, and Aunt May (the first two being far more important than the third). We still have four plots, but they’re all much more closely related. Instead of having just two plots that work together tightly, Spider-Man’s physical struggle with the cops is reflective of emotional turmoil played out against specific characters in all four.
Which leads us back to the Lizard. Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, the Lizard is not going to appear mid-film to chase and terrorize Peter and otherwise distract from everything else that’s going on. Also, Peter isn’t going to have some secret magic formula that he’s somehow able to work out instantly but Connors could never get. Peter’s smart, but so is Connors. Peter can bring in some of his father’s work, but his relationship with Connors is going to grow as they work together, slowly moving forward bit by bit like the responsible scientists they are (the whole Osborne thing is out – it’s just distracting). Peter can learn about his parents and we can maintain some mystery as to why they disappeared and were killed (as that seems to be driving to a bigger reveal in the sequel). This allows Peter to begin seeing Connors as a father figure, a mentor, and makes the emotional payoff when he eventually has to fight him that much bigger.
So how do we get to the point that Connors becomes the Lizard?
As Peter’s working with Connors and trying to date Gwen (we can’t forget about her, but her role is largely unchanged as we have said), he’s also running around as Spider-Man. He’s growing increasingly frustrated with the cops’ inability to see that he’s helping. Meanwhile, tests have progressed to a point that Connors feels reasonably sure about the serum he’s created, and because he’s so antsy about having his arm back, he impulsively injects himself. This is within his character; it’s a culmination of his life’s work, and he’s just too excited to help himself. Suddenly, there’s a giant Lizard on the loose that’s terrorizing people across the city. It’s something the cops can’t deal with, and Peter soon realizes that it’s Dr. Connors, his friend and mentor, to boot. So it’s a very personal fight for Peter because he’s worried about Connors, but it also leads to the resolution of his conflict with the police. They need Spider-Man’s help, and although Captain Stacy may not like it, he also realizes that Spider-Man is essential to bringing the Lizard down. But he’s a man of action, so he jumps in to help. Resolution. Spider-Man and the police working together.
Now, while this fight is personal for Peter, it’s really without goal for the Lizard, so what is it that he hopes to gain? By introducing him early, the existing film tried to build his motive up to transforming the entire human race into lizard people. But in my version, he’s simply not around long enough to do that. Instead, the lizard serum drives Connors mad. He stumbles out into busy New York City, and fight or flight instinct takes over. His goal is simply to get out, to get away. It’s admittedly a weaker motivation, but because Connors as the Lizard occupies a much smaller part of the film, now, he doesn’t need a lot of motivation. His role as a character is to bring about the climax, but the climax isn’t about Connors. It’s about Peter and all the emotional turmoil he’s gone through since the death of Uncle Ben and his beginning as Spider-Man. By trying to capture the Lizard, he’s trying to save the last father figure he has left. He couldn’t save Uncle Ben, but he’s not making that mistake twice. And although he’s become discouraged as Spider-Man, this final conflict proves to both himself and the police that Spider-Man has worth. It may not be the end of friction there, but it’s at least a step forward.
Let’s still say that Captain Stacy dies in the fight with the Lizard. This complicates things for Peter’s future relationship with both Connors and Gwen. I’m ambivalent as to whether or not Captain Stacy charges Peter to stay away from Gwen. I think it could work well either way, and either way there’s an interesting new wrinkle in their relationship. But for the sake of the coming sequel, we’ll keep it the same. So after the climax, the ending plays out more or less the same, adding perhaps a brief scene where Peter talks to Connors. Better yet, let’s say that the Lizard serum isn’t something that wears off (a departure from the comics, I know, but bear with me). This allows for Peter’s continued relationship with Connors in the next film. He can promise Connors that he’ll find an antidote. We’ve built Connors up as Peter’s new father, remember. Stage one was capturing the Lizard, but in the next film Peter must finish saving him by turning him back the way he was.
So that’s my re-vision of The Amazing Spider-Man, never mind the coming sequel and third movie which may alter what does and does not need to be in this one. At any rate, this was a fun thing to do, so if y’all liked this sort of imagining let me know and maybe I’ll do some more in the future.