The Amazing Spider-Man got a lot of things right in its web-slinger reboot, but the humble role of Uncle Ben was its stand-out performance.
The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield’s Spidey, has received some criticism and the inevitable comparison to other reboots of the character, but the film’s Uncle Ben is the one way it beats even the MCU reboot. The Homecoming trilogy from the MCU has had the most consistent praise of the three reboots, largely because of its choice to avoid repeating Peter’s exposition, thus being able to dive straight into the character. The films didn’t show Peter’s reputation as the school nerd, him getting bit by the spider, and the MCU neglected to include Uncle Ben entirely. Specifically, the choice to omit Uncle Ben from the narrative was the right one, because TASM‘s Uncle Ben is unbeatable.
Uncle Ben is a fundamental part of the Spider-Man story. After Peter’s parents die, his Aunt May and Uncle Ben take him in and raise the young boy. Peter’s relationship with his Aunt and Uncle is incredibly important as they are characterized as being his only known relatives, being featured prominently in both Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man films, and then Andrew Garfield’s. Uncle Ben is of particular significance as Peter blames himself for his Uncle’s death, with this grief enabling him to understand what it really means to be a hero.
This moral lesson is most effective in TASM, doing justice to Uncle Ben’s importance, largely because of Martin Sheen’s portrayal of the character. Previously, in the Raimi films, Uncle Ben was a mild-mannered and humble man, gently guiding Peter through adolescence and doing his best to be sensitive to his situation. Sheen’s Uncle Ben, on the contrary, brought an unmatched vibrancy to the character. It’s clear that he loves Peter and is constantly trying to do his best, but he doesn’t tiptoe around him either. When Peter gets into a fight at school (and wins), Uncle Ben tells him outright that he shouldn’t be proud of himself. When Peter forgets to pick up Aunt May from work, Uncle Ben’s rage towards him is palpable. Whilst he does have tender moments with his nephew, such as teasing him in front of Gwen, he never pampers Peter. This marks a distance between the previous portrayal of the character, as well as allowing Uncle Ben to further Peter’s character development.
TASM, because of Sheen’s portrayal, shows a more realistic reflection of the strained relationship between an aunt and uncle who have had to turn into full-time caregivers, and a teenager who doesn’t fully understand what happened to his parents. Because of this, Uncle Ben’s death becomes more effective because of the force of his character as well as the tension built up between him and Peter before he’s shot. The careful crafting of the character, paired with Sheen’s acting, results in a truly exquisite Uncle Ben. If the MCU had attempted to include the character, it would have had some stiff competition to live up to. Further, the decision to focus solely on Aunt May meant that her relationship with Peter would be more significant, and whilst she had her dues in this aspect, the MCU insulted May’s character in other ways.
Though The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t garner enough praise in its time to warrant its planned third installment, one thing it succeeded in was its portrayal of Uncle Ben and the Parker family as a whole. Their chemistry and family dynamic rings true to life, which in turn, crafts a compelling and saddening build-up to Uncle Ben’s death. The transformation from a quiet, tentative man in the Raimi films to a real force to be reckoned with in the second reboot was a powerful decision that truly paid off.
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