The Amazing Spider-Man is a 'reboot' of the Spider-Man film series, leaving behind the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy of the previous decade and starting the story over anew. For the most part, this new film is how Spider-Man should have been done in the first place. The film is energized and emotive. On the other hand, it's also far from groundbreaking.
Starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone as girlfriend Gwen Stacy, the origin story ultimately stays true to the comic. Peter gets bitten by an irradiated spider, acquires powers, and steps into his costumed hero role. The additive here is that Peter, living with his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen), is trying to find out about his parents, who mysteriously left when he was young and never returned.
When Peter finds secret documents belonging to his father, it leads him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist experimenting with tissue regeneration; Connors works for seedy corporation Oscorp, which will remain a dark and troublesome focal point throughout the series. (Yes, this film seems to make some anti-corporate commentary, but blink and you'll miss it.)
After his uncle is shot and killed by a robber, Peter feels a great sense of responsibility to protect New York. Meanwhile, he vies for the affections of Stacy, while earning the ire of her father, a police captain who's determined to catch "the masked vigilante called Spider-Man."
Meanwhile, Connors develops a regenerative serum that backfires, mutating him into a sentient, lizard-like creature. Convinced he is the pinnacle of human evolution, Connors devises a plan to turn New York's citizens into similar creatures, whereupon Spider-Man must save the day.
Rebooting this series so soon would be understandable if the new approach justified doing so. But with a formulaic main plot and an origin story that feels too rushed, The Amazing Spider-Man has trouble justifying the need for its existence.
The film does boast several talented actors: Garfield is perfect in the title role. His portrayal is subtle and brooding; he is the definitive Spider-Man. That being said, much of how Peter slips into the red-and-blue jumpsuit is hard to believe - but that's due to the way it was written, not Garfield's performance. The transition period from socially awkward teen to confident, wisecracking hero just plods along too quickly to be realistic.
Traditionally, Peter is the stereotypical 'nerd;' introverted and awkward. Garfield's Peter has just a little too much swagger, doing kickflips on his skateboard and cracking smooth one-liners with his love interest.
Stone is this story's secret weapon. She provides a nice mix of humor, likability, and emotional depth. She's easily the best actor of the film.
Ifans, however, gives a very flat and unconvincing performance as "The Lizard." He spouts ridiculous ideas, and by the time he's begun ranting about the next step in evolution, you'll have thoroughly had enough of his one-dimensional "mad scientist" character.
Both the wittiness of films like Iron Man and the powerful symbolism of The Dark Knight are absent here; The Amazing Spider-Man is just straightforward escapism. The agitating thing about the movie is that it has so much potential. But just when it seems like a tantalizing plot thread is going to go somewhere, it unspools into a tangled pile of clichés.
If you've seen the original trilogy, then you will probably appreciate this version's shift from the previously colorful, campy tone to a darker, more abrasive one. There's also more feeling. And the character interactions and scenarios are much more relatable. As far as superhero films go, this one can certainly stand on its own two feet. It's just that it never manages to deliver the kind of oomph that a movie with such an iconic pedigree should.
All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man certainly spins an interesting web. But despite its captivating lead actors and admirable ambition, it simply fails to impress - let alone amaze. My rating: C+
The Amazing Spider-Man
2012, PG-13, 136 mins.
Directed by Marc Webb
Actors: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary
Photo: A scene from the film. Official film Facebook page