'The Amazing Spider-Man'
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott
Rated: PG-13, for sequences of action and violence
Runtime: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Bottom line: Enjoyable but that’s about it
Peter Parker is back! Again.
A mere five years after the most recent, Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy ended, Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures are rebooting the franchise.
That’s a very quick transition from one reboot to another, and the movie has a difficult time overcoming the lingering memories of the previous trilogy.
Not that the filmmakers didn’t try. Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) takes over as director, and one of the best things I can say is that this movie makes a valiant effort to offer a unique take on the character and to stand shoulder to shoulder with this summer’s heavy hitters, “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t reach the same heights as its Marvel brethren.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is visually spectacular. The overall look of the movie is dark but appropriate for Peter’s conflicted, moody character, and it captures the thrill of Spider-Man’s high-wire flights through the city perhaps better than any Spider-Man movie ever has.
However, the plot has more gaps than a spider web. Too much goes unexplored and undeveloped.
When Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a boy, his scientist father (Campbell Scott) and his mother (Embeth Davidtz) flee from bad guys who seek a formula Dad has developed. Peter lives with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) after that.
Teenage Peter has a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and a lot of angst caused by being abandoned by his parents.
Meanwhile, his father’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is working on a limb regeneration serum and, well, you probably know how that turns out.
A trip to Connors’ lab results in Peter becoming Spider-Man, Connors soon transforms into The Lizard, and the stage is set for Spidey’s first showdown with a super villain.
That’s about as deep as the movie gets into any of those storylines, too.
It’s like Scenes from a Superhero: We get fleeting glimpses into character, but most development is jettisoned to make time for the action sequences.
No single plot gets the full treatment, but the movie spends the most time on the origin story and Peter and Gwen’s relationship.
The origin story is done well enough, but it’s tedious because we adult viewers already know it so thoroughly. This will likely highlight a generation gap among the film’s viewers.
If you’ve seen the previous trilogy and any of the television incarnations of Spider-Man, you’ll probably be bored during the first act. However, the origin story will probably work better for younger viewers who are new to the webslinger.
Garfield and Stone sell the love story very well. Garfield’s Peter Parker is painfully insecure and a victim of bullying early on, which possibly make him more relatable than Tobey Maguire’s take on the character.
Stone’s talent and presence again shine through, and the movie wouldn’t be much without her. She provides both the comedy and the heart for a film that feels cold and joyless much of the time.
The other plotlines are all just disjointed fragments.
They don’t explore Peter’s resentment of his father or his relationship with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Or his relationship with Dr. Connors. Peter has an almost father-son relationship in other versions of this tale, which imbues their battles with complexity. Not so here.
We don’t know much at all about Dr. Connors except he has lost an arm and has been unable to develop the regeneration formula. Connors has a family in other Lizard stories, which becomes a source of emotional torment as he transforms. The movie omits that, too.
The Dr. Connors/Lizard character thus isn’t a very strong villain. Give Ifans credit for making him compelling at all.
The ultimate feeling we’re left with is that this is merely prelude to better material being withheld for the sequel, which is disappointing.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is an average movie that could have been so much better.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.