The Amazing Spider-Manreboots the web-slinging franchise only a decade after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). Raimi’s trilogy was one of the most successful series of comic book films of all time and it ended only five years ago with Spider-Man 3(2007). That film isn’t fondly remembered by many, but don’t forget – it grossed nearly $900 million worldwide. So naturally, a lot of noise has been made about whether it was “too soon” to reboot the franchise with an all-new cast and a new approach to the material. Add to that the issue of Sony/Columbia Pictures needing to make a new Spidey pic in order to keep the character rights from reverting back to Marvel (an issue more tangled one of Spidey’s webs – I’m not even going to attempt to unravel it, but many sources have good info about it). 

All that is really important is whether or not the movie is any good. And the bad news is The Amazing Spider-Man is watchable, but not much more. The movie was directed by Marc Webb, a music video veteran making his sophomore effort as a feature film director (his debut was the 2009 comedic drama (500) Days of Summer). Webb, and three credited screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, weren’t able to create so much as one truly memorable sequence throughout the 136 minute film. Andrew Garfield does a serviceable job filling the red and blue suit, but the 28-year-old Brit not only lacks true charisma, his Peter Parker doesn’t really develop even as we see him transform from the proverbial 90 pound weakling to a skyscraper-scaling superhero. 

Everything about The Amazing Spider-Man feels competent but perfunctory. After a quick set-up in which a very young Peter left to the care of his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), we see Peter getting bullied at his high school. He quietly pines after fellow student Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). She’s a science geek with a predilection for short skirts and knee-high boots – beauty and brains in one package, no wonder Peter is smitten. After finding a satchel of his father’s important-looking research documents buried in his Aunt and Uncle’s house, Peter bluffs his way into OsCorp, a science lab run by Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). All of this, Peter realizes, is tied into why his mother and father left him and have been out of his life ever since. Gwen works at OsCorp, offering a perfect opportunity for Peter to make an impression with her (albeit a rather mixed one, considering she knows he doesn’t have any business being there). 

Snooping around at OsCorp, he discovers that Dr. Connors – whose right arm is missing from just below the shoulder – has been experimenting bio-engineered lab rats in an attempt to make them regrow missing limbs. It’s here that Peter has his fateful encounter with a spider that will forever change his life. Yes, it’s all a bit different than the Raimi-directed origin, but up until this point it’s tightly-paced and entertaining. But once Uncle Ben is struck down by a petty thief that Peter could’ve stopped (no spoiler, really, as this is standard Spider-Man lore and a variation on Raimi’s filmed version), the movie seems to lose focus. As Spider-Man, Peter starts making headlines as he searches for Ben’s killer. It’s a plot line that becomes all but abandoned as the focus shifts to the bland Dr. Connors and his experimentation. 

As Connors, whose serum transforms him periodically into the Lizard – a giant, ill-tempered reptilian beast, Ifans is an ineffectual villain. Maybe part of it isn’t even Ifans’ fault, as the Lizard just isn’t nearly as effective of a villain as the classics we encountered in Raimi’s first two films, the Green Goblin (portrayed by Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man) and Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina in the 2004 Spider-Man 2). In The Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Connors’ motivation is just not complex enough to carry the main thrust of a feature film. He wants a new right arm. And that’s about it. Well, that and a tacked-on, underdeveloped idea of turning the city into a bunch of lizard-people via a biological agent. We’ve seen the whole siege-on-an-urban-area so many times, it needs to be more inventive than this for it to work. The Lizard, as far as CGI bad guys go, feels like a boring retread of the Abomination from The Incredible Hulk (2008). His fight scenes with Spider-Man are neither tense nor imaginatively staged. 

So that leaves the lion’s share of the dramatic weight to the central romance. Peter and Gwen become involved, which is complicated by the fact that her dad is the captain of the NYPD, George Stacy (Denis Leary). Captain Stacy and his officers are hotly pursuing the vigilante known as Spider-Man and unbeknownst to him, this menace is dating his daughter. But there doesn’t seem to be sufficient chemistry between Garfield and Stone, leaving an air of indifference surrounding their unusual relationship. Stone simply isn’t given enough to do, and neither is Leary for that matter. It’s unfortunate, given both actors’ skills, that the filmmakers didn’t allow them to dig into deeper characterizations. 

Even with a mid-credits teaser that sets up the planned sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t leave me wanting more. It’s not awful by any means – there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours. But I was hoping for an exciting reintroduction to Spider-Man, rather than a mostly limp re-run that left me wanting to revisit the Raimi series instead.
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Chaz Lipp

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