He’s not quite amazing, but he’s certainly adequate
The Amazing Spider-Man
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
In confusing times like these, we could use that memory-erasing pen gadget the Men in Black boys carry around.
It would help us better appreciate The Amazing Spider-Man by making us forget that there have already been three blockbuster Spider-Man movies, the ones made over the past decade by Sam Raimi.
Marc Webb’s reboot, which I’m sure was done for artistic reasons, isn’t half bad. If this sounds like less than a ringing endorsement, that’s because it’s impossible to watch it without thinking of the first Raimi Spider-Man.
It hits the same origin-story beats — missing parents, teen angst, radioactive spider bite, super Spidey powers, lizard foe — with more or less emphasis given to each of them.
Some story threads are rearranged and there are a couple of newish characters, but it’s really all the same old tangled web.
The only unsettling change is that Spider-Man’s teen alter-ego Peter Parker no longer works for a newspaper, a very scary thought for any newshound. (I’m told this will be rectified for the sequel, teased in the closing credits.)
On the plus side, Andrew Garfield makes a dandy Peter and an even better Spidey, being far closer to the smartass Marvel Comics original than Tobey Maguire’s rather wan depiction in the Raimi series.
Garfield is well paired with Emma Stone, his real-life love, who plays Peter’s first love, Gwen Stacy, with a smile that could melt steel. She’s hotter and sexier than Mary Jane Watson, the gal pal of the Raimi series, who’s a bit of a goody two-shoes. (This is no knock against Kirsten Dunst, who ably played MJ in Raimi’s series. But true Spideyphiles prefer Gwen.)
Another nice thing is that Garfield’s Spidey has to supplement his super powers, just as the original did in the comic book and 1960s TV series. He still gets super athletic abilities from that fateful glowing spider, but this brainy science nerd has to brew his own webbing and create his own shooting devices, just like before. There’s none of Raimi’s “organic” webbing nonsense.
It’s clear that Webb and his capable screenwriters — Zodiac’s James Vanderbilt and Harry Potter’s Steve Kloves and Alvin Sargent (who also co-wrote two of the Raimi flicks) — want to honour the original Marvel myth, if not completely buy into it.
There are some serious negatives. One major MIA character, sorely missed, is J. Jonah Jameson, Peter’s ferocious boss at The Daily Bugle newspaper. He’s a personal favourite, since I’ve had editors like him. He might be in the sequel but, in the meantime, we’ve got Denis Leary’s NYDP Captain Stacy, dad to Gwen, who provides the caustic anti-Spidey riffs.
The villain de jour, Rhys Ifans’ mad scientist Dr. Curt Connors, soon to become the New York City-threatening Lizard, is far too tame and recycled to really register. His slitherings lack the vein-popping menace of Willem Dafoe’s similar-but-better Green Goblin from Raimi’s Spider-Man. Too bad, because Ifans has been really impressive lately with his dramatic range.
As a visual experience, the film also falls prey to memory. There are some good set pieces, notably a bridge rescue scene, and the 3D is for once not obtrusive. But there’s nothing terribly original, exciting or funny about it, and action scenes are obviously not Webb’s forte. He’s better at character development, as witness his previous feature, (500) Days of Summer.
The Amazing Spider-Man is at least better than Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which was a mess. And it has the funniest cameo yet by Smilin’ Stan Lee, the Spidey creator who regularly pops up in Marvel Comics movies.
It all comes down to that memory thing again. If you haven’t seen the earlier blockbuster franchise, or have somehow forgotten it, you might enjoy this webslinger redux.
For the rest of us, the movie should really be called The Adequate Spider-Man.
Peter Howell is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.