“The Amazing Spider-man” is a reasonably competent superhero film that’s faithful to the Spider-man mythos, which is almost enough to overcome that it doesn’t have much reason to exist.
The film, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield as Spidey, is the Spider-man origin story, in which Peter Parker gets bitten by a bug, falls in love, feuds with his scientist-turned-supervillain mentor and is inspired by the murder of his uncle to fight crime. This is not to be confused with the first of Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy, which also told the origin story along similar lines, came out only ten years ago, and didn’t really have anything major wrong with it.
I understood why the film was made. After the disastrous “Spider-man 3,” and with Tobey Maguire getting a little too old to plausibly play a teenager anymore, it was time to reboot with a new director, and the studio wasn’t going to leave the property undeveloped for too many years.
“The Amazing Spider-man” is a better film than “3”- it would be hard not to be- but falls well below the first two films in the Raimi series. But compared to the heights reached by Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and Marvel stablemate “The Avengers” earlier this year, the new “Spider-man” isn’t anywhere close.
Webb’s only previous directorial credit was 2009’s “(500) Days of Summer,” a movie I quite admire, although aside from his last name the director’s not quite an intuitive fit for a Spider-man blockbuster of this magnitude.
His direction is a mixed bag- there are some unique touches in the action scenes, including some incredible point-of-view shots as Spidey shoots through the air, and a bravura setpiece in which construction workers help a wounded Spider-man sling his web.
However, the film’s pacing is poor, with false climaxes all over the place and not much narrative momentum in several stretches. And Webb, like many non-action directors making an action movie, leans way too heavily on shaky-cam in just about every fight scene.
Garfield, the British actor best known for playing Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network,” is Peter Parker/”Spider-man,” while Emma Stone is love interest Gwen Stacy. The villain this time is The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), another scientist who turns himself into a monster. Also on hand are Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter’s aunt and uncle and Denis Leary as Gwen’s police captain father.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Garfield but he does fine here, giving the part a darker and more brooding spin than Maguire did. Stone is a delight as always, if you can get past her having been a senior in high school in “Superbad” five years ago and still in high school now.
Ifans, though, is a pretty weak villain, and a plot involving him crossing the Williamsburg Bridge in Lizard guise imagines a world with no news helicopters, never mind cell phone cameras.
And speaking of cell phones, the product placement of various Sony gadgets in this Sony Pictures release is just plain out of control. We don’t need to see Spider-man making cell phone calls while in full costume, much less an extreme closeup every time he uses it. Not to mention, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone using a Sony tablet who wasn’t in a Sony-released movie or TV show.
Raimi’s 2004 “Spider-man 2″ was the rare superhero movie that got just about everything right- it had a great hero, great villain, tremendous action, and a top-notch story with a beginning, middle and end.
There’s not much in Webb’s film that compares, for instance, to that amazing subway sequence in that movie, the one that ended with a train car full of New Yorkers carrying Spider-man overhead. Maybe the next remake, in ten years, will do it better.