Ten years and two months ago, the first Spider-man reinvigorated the superhero film, debuting, to at the time, the biggest opening weekend box office in movie history and igniting a regeneration of a film genre that Superman and Batman built decades before. While the franchise, under the fastidious helm of Sam Raimi and starring a perfectly cast nerd in waking Tobey Maguire enjoyed three insanely successful stabs at the famed Marvel comic, the diminishing returns of the third film left a salty aftertaste. Leave it up to creatively drained studio executives to establish, that a mere five years later, a reboot must commence to bring back the good name and hopeful returns to the lucrative Spider-man name. Here comes The Amazing Spider-man, a competent re-staging, this time under the leadership of director Marc Webb, he of the inventive 2009 indie sensation (500) Days of Summer. What's striking about the reboot is the staggering feeling of what's new is old, and while The Amazing Spider-man, this time starring Andrew Garfield, is fine for summertime popcorn fun, it never seems to settle, to catch on, to fully entice with the promise of the something new, fresh and bold.
Garfield plays Peter Parker, high school misfit, one of a troubled youth and stammering social gestures. He's smart, for sure...a whiz for scientific whatsits, but he's longing. For what, the film distills a bit too on the nose. Peter was abandoned by his parents and raised by his aunt and uncle-- this time portrayed by Martin Sheen and Sally Field-- and seeks answers for the sudden dishevel of his youthful existence. He's plagued at school by the jocks who continually harass him and hides a secret crush for comely peer Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone.) Does anything sound familiar? The annoying tick behind The Amazing Spider-man is that it tracks the same beats Raimi tackled a decade ago, giving off an aura of been-there-done-that deja-vu. Through a set of circumstances that bridges Peter's past with his destiny, he, but of course, meets his maker and becomes a powerful vigilante of sorts.
There's certainly something to the origins of Spider-man that make it a such a palpable piece of pop cultural entertainment. For ever nerd, every marginalized person, a sense that a greater power and sterner sense of self can be established when strength is handed to you. There's a certain joie de vivre, in life, and more so in movies, when a geek finds the strength to summon up his inner hero, but there's a haphazard, seemingly by-the-numbers routine in Webb's creation, despite the meticulous bells and whistles that a big studio superhero production can afford. The Amazing Spider-man lacks the same sense of wonder, or pop thrill of the intoxicating pleasures of showcasing the wonder of someone who seems week discovering his power. Part of this most come from that deja vu sense, one of such that perhaps the filmmakers felt that dwelling too much into the origins of man and superman would take away from the pyrotechnics of the wizards at the special effects department. Either by lack of trust by the tale they were telling, or the realization that starting from scratch was a sketchy idea from the start, The Amazing Spider-man never settles in to enjoy the small pleasures of Peter's awakening.
Garfield himself seems a bit out of sorts as well. A young actor with immense charm, who in recent years has proven a solid range in differing pictures like The Social Network and Never Let Me Go is better when he's able to channel the charming, playful witty banter of superhero speck, but struggles when the gawkier, shyer Peter Parker is on screen. The stammers feel forced and a bit more Inside the Actors Studio-y, more like a faux representation of awkward youth. Stone, however carries a moxie and spirit that nearly matches Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane in the original film, and seemingly carries the weight in those exchanges, owning each scene. However, unlike the first Spider-man, where the romance felt stronger than the villiany antics, The Amazing Spider-man gives ample screen time to the machinations of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and his transformation into the slimy Lizard. While Ifans makes an interesting villain-- there's a full circle turn as Connors connects Peter to his father's disappearance-- the film as a whole is more interested in setting the stage for a laser show come the climatic bout than building tension or character.
And let it be said, the technicians and wizards at work in the effects team of The Amazing Spider-man are truly amazing. What sparks in the innovation and splendor, the visuals take more away on the un-sturdy development of character and wannabe franchise motivations. There is a pleasure in the sight of the geek soaring the Manhattan skyline, strong and capable, while his delicate internal life is messy and awkward, however, there's a suddenness and sad lack of magic to The Amazing Spider-man reinterpretation of the Peter Parker saga. C