Spider-Man Review: How Webb’s Spidey Compares to Raimi’s

With Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man hitting theaters this week, most Spidey talk has focused on the main problem with the new Spiderman flick: Timing. The last decade saw a hugely popular Spiderman franchise hit theaters; the last film was in cinemas just four years ago. In short, Spiderman has been done nearly to death. I won’t get into that, but I will offer my take on why this Spidey film is different than Sam Raimi’s films — and why it’s worth checking out.

1. Renegade Spidey

Though he’s not my favorite actor in general, Tobey Maguire is the quintessential Spidey to me: all wide eyes and earnestness, even when circumstances like bunged-up pizza deliveries and comically unfair ushers try to beat him down.

By contrast, Marc Webb’s film is much more about teen angst. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is more aggressive, pulling a rebellious attitude where Maguire reveled in innocence. He has words with Uncle Ben, is awkward but sort of proactive in pursuing Gwen Stacey and spars over dinner with the girlfriend’s dad (for a reason, of course). In short, Garfield offers a more exciting alternative to Maguire’s Spidey, though not necessarily a superior one.

2. Emma Stone Owns (As Usual)

Emma Stone’s turn as Gwen Stacey is totally entertaining and quirky. Stone somehow manages to make Gwen Stacey nerdy, posh and exciting all at once — vastly different than the way Gwen Stacey waltzed around in the Raimi films. And really, this Spidey flick feels best is when it goes quiet, especially during the soft scenes between Parker and Gwen.

3. Darker (More Traditional?) Style

What I adored about the Sam Raimi Spiderman films was the way they captured the look and feel of a comic book. Everything from the camera angles to the jokes made the film feel like you’d waltzed into a more colorful world.

Really, my favorite scenes in the new Spidey film remind me of Raimi’s. And one memorable scene in Webb’s new movie did capture the comic book feel — the fight scene in the library, with the oblivious, smiling librarian in the foreground — but otherwise The Amazing Spider-Man has a humor all its own.

The other memorable scenes for me were those in which Peter Parker is discovering his new strength — terrifying subway travelers and destroying door knobs in the process. This kind of comedy is perfectly suited to films based on comic books, which is why I love it. But in later scenes, when Spidey taunts criminals to comic effect, I found myself shrugging off annoyance more than laughing. (In the film’s defense, everyone else in the theater was laughing.)

In general, the style of Webb’s film feels traditional to me. It’s greatest strength is its intimacy. Sure, it’s an action movie, but it has many more hushed, character-focused scenes than most action flicks — and in this case, they add much-appreciated heart and interest to the movie.

Bottom Line… Would I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man? Absolutely. I never once looked at my watch, and the packed theater jumped and cheered (and even gave a classic, “Oh shit!”) at every turn.

Even if you ate up the last Spidey franchise like I did, The Amazing Spider-Man dishes out some novelty worth seeing with the teenaged Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey romance and scary-mouthed villain (Lizard). The film digs deeper in Peter Parker’s parentage, which gives his character an edge and explains his new, proactive version of Spidey.

But in all honesty, when I have a yen for Spidey in the future, I’ll most likely bust out my beat-up, beloved Raimi DVDs to watch Maguire and the gang.

— Ashley

If You Want to Get Nerdy About NASA…

It’s not science fiction, but I have to take a time out and recommend the Discovery Channel series When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions.

In college, I went through a major space flight phase, during which I ate up shows like Moon Machines and Mars Rising. I even downloaded the audio recordings of the NASA missions — something that gets me teased on road trips when the garbled countdowns play out from my MP3 shuffle.

If you have to choose just one show to learn about space flight, When We Left Earth is absolutely the one to watch, in my opinion. Packed with NASA footage of space flights, it lets viewers feel the anxiety of the first manned space flight  — when we didn’t know whether people could survive zero gravity — and the dangers and excitement of the first space walk. Getting to know the Gemini and Apollo astronauts through the footage makes their experiences even more touching. This series is definitely one of the most thrilling history-slash-science shows I’ve seen.

Combat v. Story in RPGs

At the end of most weeks, few things satisfy me more than forgetting the rest of the world for a few hours while I play a video game. Some gamers like to click their troubles away with nearly non-stop combat. Others — myself included — want to unravel a story. A good story makes a video game very similar to a good film or book, with the main difference being that a gamer is able to interact with the story and sometimes influence what happens next.

So what’s most important in a video game: Combat or story? Though I prefer story, even my fingers get twitchy when a cutscene drags on for too long. Some gamers make a habit of clicking through cutscenes. They’re gaming for the combat.

Really, no RPG needs to sacrifice one for the other. Some sandbox-style RPGs sacrifice story in favor of endless hours of dungeon-delving and fighting bosses who re-spawn again and again for no real reason, other than to give combat-lovers a click-happy blood fest. Other games sacrifice combat for yawn-inducing cutscenes. It’s as if the game writers needed a creative outlet and put everything into their video game — totally the wrong medium for long scenes.

So, since both combat and story can become tedious in excess, it seems the secret to an epic, totally memorable game is having a balance of both… and never really separating them.

This is what a game like Final Fantasy XII gets wrong. I adore Final Fantasy XII for the story, badass characters and almost Shakespearean dialogue. The writers pack meaning and variety into every line, which makes every cutscene worth savoring. Even a 4-word line like, “A pleasant lie, that,” is totally chill-inducing.

The problem with Final Fantasy XII is the endless dungeon-crawling. Sure, rogue tomatoes are a laugh that make the combat more interesting, and the enemies and locales are varied and well-visualized. But I’ve heard it said that players felt like they were fighting for the cutscenes, enduring hours of mindless combat for the chance to spend just a few breathless minutes with the characters and story.

In short, the balance between cutscenes and combat in Final Fantasy XII feels off, and most of the combat seems to exist for the sake of having combat (with a few exceptions). To a thoughtful gamer, this type of combat quickly becomes tedious.

So what’s a game that got the balance right? For me, that’s Mass Effect 2. (I haven’t played ME3 yet, so I can’t comment on it!) BioWare games always seem to hit the sweet spot when it comes to balancing story and action. (And it’s not the only company. The Witcher and Uncharted series spring to mind when I think about games with a great balance of action to story.) It helps that during cutscenes, players can still click on dialogue options to advance the plot and develop their characters. Interaction reigns almost all the time.

And ME2 is all about character. The main storyline is well-reasoned, if a bit spindly — ME1’s main story is much richer — but most of the game is spent recruiting and gaining the loyalty of squad members during personal missions. And those parts are awesome.

Every squad member has a different background, so the recruitment and loyalty quests take you to vastly different locales, each with enemies that make sense given the location and personal story. In one mission, you’re fighting mercenaries to track down an assassin; in another, you’re escaping from a space prison; and in another, you’re tracking a distress signal from 8 years ago to find a squad member’s father and the survivors of a crash, only to find yourself fighting some of these same survivors, like something out of Robinson Crusoe.

The combat is varied — and that’s because the characters, their stories and the locations of these missions are all different. You’re not fighting AI enemies that have overrun a ship because, well, it’s more fighting — you’re doing it because the ship belongs to your squad member’s father, and you’re trying to clear her name of a crime so she can continue fighting alongside you. And to make it even more meaningful, she wants to search for her father on the ship, hoping almost beyond hope that he’s still alive in there — even more reason to battle your way through this mission.

Bottom Line: Sure, most video games are all about combat. An RPG without action is, essentially, a movie. That’s why I can’t agree with BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler when she thought about implementing a way to click through combat just like you click through cutscenes — though I can understand her reasoning and feel like doing that myself once in a while. But combat alone is not enough, at least in an RPG. Action is greatly enhanced when the story and characters make the combat relevant and meaningful.

When action and story are seamlessly interwoven, you’ve got an epic game on your hands.

— Ashley

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, and VIDEO GAMES!