Were its very existence not completely unnecessary, The Amazing Spider-Man would have quite a bit of appeal. Not too long ago, as you might recall, there were three wildly successful and popular Spider-Man movies starring Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging superhero.
The first one detailed the transformation of geeky, bullied high schooler Peter Parker in to New York City’s iconic masked crimestopper. It was an instant classic in the comic book canon -- one that helped establish the genre as the dominant force it is now at the box office.
Sony Pictures, in their infinite wisdom, decided to tell almost the exact same story just 10 years after it first appeared on screen. The only changes as far as I can tell are of the most obvious variety -- fresh faces in familiar roles, a few new characters including a never-before-seen villain and a healthy cribbing of Christopher Nolan to give Peter Parker a little more darkness and faux depth. You can’t be too doe-eyed and genuine these days, I guess.
Andrew Garfield is left to fill Maguire’s tights, and he does a passable job. He’s moodier and more immature than his predecessor, which I suppose makes sense given that his parents left him when he was a small child and his beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is killed by a petty thief. That immaturity shows when he begins his Spidey career by targeting only thieves that fit the description of the man who killed his Uncle, a move that NYPD Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) rightly points out puts him firmly in the vigilante column.
The Stacy family is one of the new wrinkles in this iteration of the Spider-Man origin tale. It is classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), not Mary Jane Watson, who is Peter’s first love interest. (Ironic isn’t it that the redheaded Stone went blonde to play Spider-Man’s romantic foil this time around and blondie Kirsten Dunst did the exact opposite last decade to play M.J.?) The reboot also brings us an all-new villain, Dr. Curt Connors a.ka. The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and a more complex backstory with regard to Peter’s parents. Their disappearance is shrouded in mystery, linked to Oscorp and his father Richard’s (Campbell Scott) work for the company with Dr. Connors.
Not that you’re supposed to care about realism when superpowers are involved, but I thought it was a nice touch to depict Peter as more emotionally stunted than the Sam Raimi/Maguire version because, well, of course he’d be that way. He’s an adolescent who is picked on every day and who has had three of the people he needs most ripped away from him in traumatic fashion.
Where the movie fails is in explaining almost everything else that happens. Peter Parker matures into the superhero we all expect him to be, but there are few plot points that make that character development convincing. The same goes for Dr. Connor’s transformation into supervillain. You can understand why Connors is experimenting with the type of science that he probably shouldn’t; Connors is hoping cross-species genetics can help him regrow his missing arm. Why he suddenly decides that he wants to “eliminate human weakness” by gassing half of New York with his serum is never really fleshed out. Dr. Connors/The Lizard just says that’s what he wants to do and the movie keeps going.
My other big problem with it is that the whole thing is a painfully obvious Dark Knight wannabe. Spider-Man is not supposed to have the darkness of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It’s hollow and disingenuous to try and paint him as such even a little bit.
There are nice pieces here. Villain aside, the supporting characters are outstanding. Emma Stone is more likable than Kirsten Dunst by orders of magnitude. Playing a chippy cop and overprotective father is right in the wheelhouse of Denis Leary. Sheen and Sally Field, who plays Peter’s Aunt May, lend some much-needed gravitas.
But I didn’t need to see Spidey rehashed this soon, and I didn’t need it rehashed in a Nolan-Lite style. I’d have preferred to see this crew give it a shot a few years from now, the Raimi versions thus getting a little more breathing room. Based on the box office numbers, it appears I’ll get my wish, or some twisted version of it. A sequel is a foregone conclusion.