Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man bad enough to warrant a makeover a mere decade after its release? The good folks at Marvel certainly think so.
After the thumb-twiddling of Spider-Man 3 and Christopher Nolan’s success in revamping Batman, a fresh start is alluring and potentially lucrative. Returning to the franchise’s roots, however, is a bizarre move. Unless it can be drastically improved, there’s little reason for The Amazing Spider-Man to revisit a story that dazzled us not so long ago.
There’s also the small matter that Marc Webb, the director in charge of reconstruction, is no Christopher Nolan.
In retracing the origin steps that Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp didn’t exactly botch, Webb’s reboot switches out the players and a few details, shining them up with special effects that (surprise, surprise) have improved in the past ten years. Try as they may to feel fresh, however, the new bits are outweighed by an overarching sense of redundancy. Unless you pretend that Spider-Man doesn’t exist, you’ve essentially already seen The Amazing Spider-Man, though if you don’t mind a little deja vu, it’s still worth watching.
The latest installment again finds Peter Parker attempting to survive high school. Played here by Andrew Garfield, this Peter is a teenager for today’s youth: a hoodie-wearing, iPod-listening, Bing-searching (really? Bing?) symbol of his generation. He’s also surprisingly confident, unafraid to stand up to the bully Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and chat up the attractive Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who’s somehow single and interested in the friendless Peter.
True to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s source material, a bite from a genetically-altered spider gives Peter superhuman strength and awareness. When a thief kills his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), Peter uses his new abilities to fight crime with a focus on avenging Ben’s death. That experience comes in handy when Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a former colleague of Peter’s father, turns himself into a giant lizard-man and threatens New York with a dangerous toxin.
In a time when superhero movies are delivered as often as The New Yorker, the film stands apart with its appealing cast and indie-hip director. Just as the chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt anchored Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, quiet moments shared by Stone and Garfield give The Amazing Spider-Man that little something extra. For a while, that’s all it needs. The new players add to the film’s intended fresh approach, but once the story starts hitting those familiar Spidey beats with increasing frequency, the finest cast imaginable couldn’t keep it from feeling stale.
With Koepp’s blueprint evident throughout, it’s as if screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves, and Alvin Sargent looked at the Spider-Man script and said, “Let’s make this part funnier, and this part more poignant.” As such, the film resembles a re-imagining of a famous play, with some aspects arguably better but mostly just tweaked to suit the tastes of the new filmmaking blood. Even in swapping female leads and psychotic scientists-turned-mutant-villains, the core components and scenes remain, zapping the film of surprises. All that’s left is a mad dash to Spider-Man and The Lizard’s inevitable final showdown, the result of which was predetermined long before 2002.
After subverting the romantic comedy genre with (500) Days of Summer, it’s more than a little disappointing that Webb’s superhero follow-up is so worn and formulaic. The Amazing Spider-Man is a decent effort with a few shining moments, but in a post-Avengers and pre-Dark Knight Rises summer…it’s just another movie.