Call it (3,650) Days of Memory. The Amazing Spider-Man, (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb’s reboot of a series that kicked off just a decade ago, may have three credited screenwriters, but none apparently could completely shake off the specifics of Sam Raimi’s 2002 original. Of course, this being an origin story, some details had to stay the same: nerdy high school kid, spider bite, discovery of powers, bad-guy beatings, shy romance. Beyond the fact that it was (yawn) shot in 3-D, this iteration brings absolutely nothing new to the Marvel franchise. Peter Parker is Peter Parker, and here he swings and misses.
Replacing Tobey Maguire is the nearly 29-year-old (!) Andrew Garfield, perhaps best known for playing one of Facebook’s college-age co-founders in The Social Network, though indie enthusiasts will remember him as a journalist in the Red Riding trilogy way back in 2009. Despite these big-boy roles, Garfield was cast to reprise the teenage Peter—and, surprisingly, he’s geeky enough (part skinniness and mussed hair, part good acting) to make it work.
Peter’s a student at a science-focused school who’s largely invisible except when he’s getting bullied. He was orphaned at a young age—his parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances—and raised by his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen). One day, he finds one of his dad’s old briefcases, which contains some cryptic equations and a photograph. His uncle tells him that the man in the photo with his dad is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).
Peter investigates the scientist, who’s working on cross-species genetics in the hope of not only helping the infirm but replacing his own severed right forearm. Soon after Peter meets Connors, his uncle is killed by a convenience-store thief whom Peter didn’t help stop. And he’s bitten by a science-experiment spider. So we get what we get in almost every comic-book flick: a guy with superpowers and a thirst for vengeance. Let the swinging through New York City begin. Fun!
But there’s little of it to be found in The Amazing Spider-Man. In fairness, the trio of scripters have injected a bit of humor into the story—as when Peter takes a split second to smash his screaming alarm clock, or apologizes to antagonizers he’s too-forcefully fended off on the subway after first discovering his strength. (That particular fight scene is nicely choreographed; too much of the action, however, is visually chaotic, a victim of poor editing and too many dimensions.) And there’s no Daily Bugle or J. Jonah Jameson, a change to the mythos Webb was foolish to make. When Stan Lee’s cameo is one of your most entertaining scenes, something’s missing.
Ifans’ villain, the Lizard, isn’t all that menacing, either. (He looks like a green version of The Thing.) Nor is he thematically interesting: The scientist and the reptile may represent the rational and evil sides of Curt Connors, but Willem Dafoe’s bad-guy from the 2002 Spider-Man faced a similar internal conflict (and he was green, too).
There just aren’t many thrills here, and what works feels redundant. Even Spidey 2.0’s flights through the city are less graceful than Maguire’s. The only subplot that comes close to raising one’s pulse is the tentative romance between Peter and classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, whose only actorly challenge is walking around in thigh-high boots). Garfield and Stone share a few believably tender moments, particularly when Gwen’s conflicted about whether she wants to get involved with someone with a hobby as dangerous as her police-chief father’s (Denis Leary) gig.
And yes, there are frequent mentions of responsibility, but no signature line that viewers will remember a decade from now. There’s not even a flicker of excitement when someone asks the ultimate superhero question, “Who are you?” Yeah, yeah, we already know.