After the critically disappointing "Spider-Man 3," Sony Pictures had two options: find a new franchise with interesting characters and exciting stories or reboot "Spider-Man" barely 10 years after he first hit the screen. As is typical with Hollywood, the one that takes less imagination won out, resulting in "The Amazing Spider-Man," an entertaining reboot that can't hide the fact that it's completely unnecessary.
The origin story hasn't changed much in a decade: high school loner Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network") gets bitten by a genetically altered spider, causing him to gain awesome powers and an equally awesome skin-tight suit. After a beloved family member is murdered, Parker vows to find his killer and be New York City's finest crime fighter – a well-timed promise, since a well-meaning scientist (Rhys Ifans) has genetically altered his own DNA to become an angry man-sized lizard named, well, The Lizard.
In between stopping large, car-flipping Gila monsters, Parker also attempts to woo the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (Dennis Leary, "Rescue Me") is the police captain leading the manhunt of the 'vigilante' Spider-Man.
Since the superhero movie boom of the past decade, origin stories have been a continual thorn in wannabe franchises' sides. Despite the massive number of varied superheroes in the comic universe, they all have rather similar beginnings. It's almost a given that the first film in a series will be an exercise in cliche ("Iron Man" was one of the few that managed to buck that trend); it's the second movie where risks are taken and interesting storylines will get to shine.
Unfortunately, "The Amazing Spider-Man" gets burdened not only with a typical origin story, but one audiences have already seen just a decade ago. We know his beginnings and his motivations, and we've seen him move onto other, more interesting conflicts. As a result, despite a few tweaks, much of the first half of the film feels tedious.
When an important character dies, it seems more predictably inevitable than sad, despite the score's cloying attempts to ring out the crowd's tear ducts. The same can be said of Parker's discovery of his Spidey powers. Madison-raised director Marc Webb, who previously directed the inventive and effervescent "(500) Days of Summer," attempts to make it fun and fresh, but the new polish can't mask how redundant it all feels.
The script, written by the trio of James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, doesn't help the movie by loading the first act with annoying high school cliches. Despite being handsome by any person's definition, Parker has no discernible friends and gets bullied in the kind of lunchtime fights that only seem to exist in Hollywood school systems.
Thankfully, the adjective in "The Amazing Spider-Man"'s title can apply to the film's cast. Garfield makes for a very likeable and dynamic Peter Parker (though I'd still argue the role fit Tobey Maguire like a spandex suit). He ably bounces from the character's angst-ridden moments to his playfully comedic scenes.
Garfield also has a nice romantic chemistry with the always-welcome Emma Stone, who brings her typical plucky energy to a relatively rote role. In fact, a panicked interaction with her father created one of the film's funnier sequences.
The rest of the new cast is equally successful. Sally Field and especially Martin Sheen bring genuine warmth to their roles as Peter's aunt and uncle, and Ifans makes his villainous doctor surprisingly sympathetic. Leary is enjoyable as well, though he is the victim of an aggressively dumb character, who neglects the man-lizard throwing poisonous bombs in the middle of the city in his pursuit of Spider-Man. He seems more like a roadblock than a character.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" also looks very impressive. The shots of Spider-Man flying through the city look terrific with bright colors contrasting with dark shadows. Webb certainly has a creative visual eye, and it'll be nice to see what he can hopefully do with fresher material.
Surprisingly, the 3-D looks pretty stellar during the swinging scenes, creating a genuine visual rush. However, since those sequences are a small part of the two hour-plus runtime, and the rest is unexceptional, I'll let you decide if 15 minutes of cool 3-D is worth the extra $3.
As with all Marvel films, there is a scene in the end credits (luckily in the middle this time instead of the very end like usual). It teases the potential mystery of Peter Parker's father, a new plotline the commercials used to entice viewers to "The Amazing Spider-Man." I guess audiences will have to wait for the next movie for something new.
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