THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
DIRECTED BY Marc Webb
STARS Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone
Perhaps it's best to think of Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man and Marc Webb's 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man as the cinematic equivalents of Coke Classic and New Coke. Despite some alterations to the source material (hey, where's Gwen Stacy?), the Raimi take earned the trust of most purists, offering a near-perfect Peter Parker in Tobey Maguire, treating the origin story in appropriate fashion (right down to the introduction of Spidey in that wrestling ring), and adding the right dash of humor that was long present in the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Webb's new version, on the other hand, is an unnecessary variation on the real thing ™, sweetening the formula to go down easier for today's sugar-rush audiences. Suddenly, Peter Parker is no longer the ultimate outsider, the self-deprecating, geeky kid who locates the hero buried deep within himself. Now, he's the poster boy for the iPhone generation, a surly hipster who, oh yeah, just happens to also be a superhero.
As before, the teenage Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a scientifically enhanced spider and finds himself blessed with newfound abilities. He also suffers the loss of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), a development that leaves him guilt-ridden since it was in his power to stop his uncle's killer before the murder took place. New to the origin tale, though, is a plotline involving Peter's father (Campbell Scott), a scientist who had been working on a secret formula before he and his wife (Embeth Davidtz) abruptly took off, leaving a much younger Peter in the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Sally Field). The teenage Peter now seeks out his dad's former colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans); their collaboration will eventually lead to Dr. Connors turning into The Lizard and providing Spider-Man with his first super-villain challenge.
The film's problems begin with the casting of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. It was easy to believe that Maguire's Parker would be a high-school whipping boy, but Garfield? The actor tries his hardest, but when it looks as if Peter Parker just stepped out of a GQ photo shoot (right down to the perfectly coifed hair), it's hard to take him seriously as someone who's perpetually ignored by girls and harassed by guys. Far more believable is Emma Stone as Peter's lady love Gwen Stacy, while Sheen is a sensible choice to play Uncle Ben. Field, on the other hand, looks far too young to be playing Aunt May — who approved that casting, Forrest Gump? — while The Lizard isn't nearly as memorable a villain as one might have reasonably assumed.
Visually, the picture strikes all the right notes (even if Spidey's swings are a bit too neatly choreographed), although the same can't be said for a script that went through at least two revisions before reaching the screen. What's most surprising — and frustrating — about the film is that there's little human dimension to it. Raimi took time out to examine the everyday lives of Maguire's Peter and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson — their discussion of future plans, her miserable home life with a drunken father, etc. — but Garfield's Peter and Gwen are given little time for such introspection, with the script busily racing from one crisis or conspiracy to the next. What's more, Webb's movie is on the whole rather humorless: Aside from the hilarious (and obligatory) Stan Lee cameo, there are few throwaway gags on the level of Raimi's inclusion of a Lucy Lawless cameo or the street musician's mangling of the theme song from the Spider-Man TV cartoon.
All of this isn't to say that this reboot should completely get the boot. On the contrary, The Amazing Spider-Man is perfectly acceptable hot-weather entertainment, filled with the types of colorful characters, frenetic action sequences and high-flying special effects we've come to expect from our multiplex outings. But it's clearly no match for Raimi's Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2 (it bests Spider-Man 3, however), and it certainly can't be mentioned in the presence of such genre high points as Superman, X-Men or even this year's The Avengers. And with The Dark Knight Rises just around the corner, it's likely that this summertime swinger will appear even more puny.
Click here to read Matt Brunson's reviews of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films.