I love Spider-Man. Even more, I love Peter Parker. His sarcasm in the heat of battle. His compassion for those in desperate need of assistance. His resilience in the face of seemingly impossible odds. He’s the hero who inspired me as a child, the hero I couldn’t wait to introduce to my own sons.
And yet, up until a week ago, my boys had yet to see a complete Spider-Man movie.
They’re intimately familiar with the 1967 animated series, which was an integral part of my childhood. And they’d seen bits and pieces of the three Sam Raimi films … the Doc Ock subway fight, Spider-Man versus Sandman in the armored truck.
But there’s at least one intense scene in each Raimi film that gave me pause before popping them in the DVD player for our kids, from the final (brutal) fight against the Green Goblin in the initial Spider-Man to that operating room “birth” of Doc Ock’s mechanical arms in Raimi’s sequel. As much as it annoyed me, I held off letting them watch those films in their entirety.
Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man
avoids those hazards. It’s noble and sentimental, funny and charming. It’s heroic and challenging, awkward and cool. For this rabid fan, it was every bit the Spider-Man movie I wanted it to be … which helped make it the ideal introduction to Peter Parker’s origins for my 8-year-old son.
Parents hoping to spin an engrossing web for their own wall-crawlers are in for something special in Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot of a familiar franchise that finds fresh ways to cover hallowed ground. So, let’s get bit by a radioactive spider, construct our own wrist shooters, track a lizard through the streets of Manhattan and figure out when you can watch The Amazing Spider-Man with your kids.
Red Flags: With Great Power …
Back in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko blessed Spider-Man with perhaps the most valuable lessons in comic-book history: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Over the years, Peter Parker and his costumed alter ego grew to become the ultimate symbol of doing the right thing – which usually wasn’t the easy thing – in the face of adversity.
During a recent press weekend in New York City, I was able to interview Marc Webb and his Amazing Spider-Man cast, asking them specifically when they thought kids should be able to see their film. Webb was adamant that the filmmakers felt a strong sense of responsibility (there’s that word again) to the kids in the crowd who might be learning about Spider-Man for the first time.
“It’s important to be protective of that [young] audience,” Webb told me. “Listen, Spider-Man has a lot of appeal to parents because I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned there.
“And there are moments where we dialed back,” he continued. “I don’t have kids, but my producer, Matt Tolmach, has a 5-year old who is obsessed with Spider-Man, so Matt felt very protective of that. There were moments where we did feel uncomfortable forcing [stuff] on kids because we know that kids are going to be interested in this world. We wanted to protect that. It was a very important part of our process. Avi [Arad], in particular, is really emphatic about protecting that for kids.”
That being said, there are significant benchmarks in Parker’s formative process that have to be presented, which Webb addresses without glorifying them. The death of Peter’s uncle, Ben (Martin Sheen), is tragic but swift. The rage Peter feels in the wake of this loss is expected, but he gets sympathetic support from love interest Gwen Stacey (the tremendous Emma Stone) and even his high-school rival, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).
Aside from Uncle Ben’s murder, which is crucial to recounting Spider-Man’s origin, there were precious few other moments that stood out as red flags to me, as a father. Webb includes a scene of bullying to illustrate Peter standing up for a picked-on classmate (long before he gets his super powers). The Lizard – Spidey’s primary foe in the film – is threatening in a comic-book way. My son was lucky enough to see Amazing Spider-Man and said the only Lizard scene that freaked him out involved Gwen in a closet at Oscorp as the Lizard lurked. But you’ve seen it in recent trailers, and it’s over very quickly.
In fact, I told Garfield that Peter’s first kiss with Gwen was going to gross out my kids more than any scaly Lizard action.
“The kiss is too much,” Garfield admits. “The kiss is too much for anyone!”
Green Lights: … Comes Great Responsibility
Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man, for better or worse, will always be compared to Raimi’s trilogy. And the biggest difference – to me – is that the former remembered to make a Spider-Man movie that’s accessible to younger audiences while still being thrilling for adults looking for a jolt of Spidey action.
There are two halves of the Spider-Man mythology that Webb needed to properly handle, and I thought he nailed both of them.
On one side, there’s Peter Parker’s life outside of the costume (and all of the lessons that come with that). Amazing Spider-Man remembers to celebrate Peter as a brilliant scientist, a teenager just as comfortable noodling through complicated equations as he is gliding through the streets of Queens on a skateboard.
(Side note: There’s a scene in Webb’s Spider-Man that has Peter figuring out the extent of his newfound agility. He’s on a skateboard in a warehouse … and it’s one of the most magical scenes I've ever seen in virtually any superhero movie. That scene proved to me that Webb was the right hire for this material, because producers were striving to attain an emotional impact over the visceral thrills of a popcorn flick. But I digress.)
On the other side, there’s the responsibility Peter eventually has to feel once he acquires his spectacular powers. And Webb’s team nails this aspect of the character, as well. Despite Gwen’s warnings, Peter knows he has to go after the Lizard later in the movie because he indirectly contributed to the creation of the murderous creature. Webb also lays the foundation for Peter’s complicated relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field), an emotional tie that helps ground this hero when the burden of being Spider-Man grows too large. There are scenes toward the end of Amazing, too, that will require Peter to make very difficult emotional decisions that affect him personally, even though they’re for the benefit of those he cares deeply about. These are outstanding life lessons for our kids, and Webb illustrates them perfectly.
But this is a Spider-Man film. How is the action?
Simply put, it’s amazing. Thanks to advancements in technology, Webb delivers the second-best action we’ve seen in a Spider-Man film. (The subway fight on the extended cut of Spider-Man 2 still takes the cake.) Spidey’s battle with the Lizard in the hallways of Peter’s school flows like a well-choreographed boxing match … concluding with the best Stan Lee cameo in Marvel history. Webb’s use of point-of-view camera placement at key moments help put us in Spidey’s webbed shoes, giving us a stomach-churning sense of vertigo as we soar over New York City. And Garfield personifies “puny” Peter Parker in ways Tobey Maguire never did. His slight, bony frame only helps to make Spidey look vulnerable in his major fight scenes. It lends far more weight to the courage he must summon to dive into battle and overcome the next obstacle … then deal with the harsh consequences of his heroic actions.
Spider-Man fans? This is the movie you have been waiting for. It’s the Spider-Man movie you’ll want to share with your kids. There’s no other way to put it. It’s amazing.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s for everybody. While perfect for my 8-year-old son, I still didn’t think my 4-year-old could handle the Lizard. Nor do I think he’d stay with the first hour of the film, which takes its time establishing important character traits of Peter and the people in his universe.
So many want to compare Webb’s reboot to Batman Begins, but that’s the wrong benchmark. The Amazing Spider-Man reminds me more of Richard Donner’s Superman, which spent as much time, if not more, establishing Clark Kent so that when he becomes Superman, we care about the man under the suit as much as we do the superhero.
It all comes down to parenting, obviously. Just ask Denis Leary, who plays Capt. Stacey in the film.
“We were always so cautious with our kids, particularly when it came down to things that I was in,” Leary told me about screening movies for his little ones. “I had a 10-year-old come up to me once and say, ‘I love The Ref!’ And I’m going, ‘What are you watching The Ref for? It’s an R-rated comedy.
“Certainly, a 13-year-old could go to this movie, without a doubt. These kids find everything anyway. You think you are protecting them, and they just go up to their rooms and then dial it up on the Internet.”
Prevent that from happening. Take your kids to see The Amazing Spider-Man. It enthralled my 8-year-old son. It will do the same for your kids, particularly if they are 7, 8 and up.
“I wouldn’t want to say ‘Bring anybody! Whenever they want!’ Because I do think it is on a kid-to-kid basis,” Garfield told me. “I do know that I was a sensitive kid. I think that this would have been an OK film for me, as an 8-year-old.”
And I think it will be OK for you. As always, if you guys go to Spider-Man with your kids, shoot me a message and let me know how it goes. I’m at @Sean_OConnell
on Twitter, or drop me a comment below.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.