On the surface it seems too soon for a reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise, but it was really the only way to go. With the first two films, Sam Raimi brought the character to the big screen with a bang and in the process helped set the standard for comic book movies; with the execrable third installment he pissed away his credibility with most fans. He quit the franchise over creative differences with Sony, taking stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst with him. Faced with following up a lousy sequel with an entirely new cast and director, starting from scratch was a no-brainer.
Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and a squad of screenwriters have delivered a more nuanced, bold, and introspective do-over, albeit one with an inescapable air of deja vu. The Amazing Spider-Man starts from square one, and in doing so perks up a familiar story by going deeper into our hero’s head than its predecessors did.
Spidey’s origin is retold, though this time it’s fleshed-out more: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) is still a troubled, awkward teen living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), though this time we learn a bit about how Peter wound up an orphan (the why is never stated, but hints suggest a conspiracy to be unveiled in a later sequel). A bright student with a knack for science and a teenage crush on classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, Easy A), this is an angst-ridden portrait of Peter Parker as a troubled outsider.
Parker discovers some of his late father’s research on cross-species genetic engineering and of his former lab partner, Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), a brilliant one-armed scientist seeking a way to stimulate regeneration using lizard DNA. It’s during a visit to the doctor’s lab at Oscorp that Parker gets bitten by the superhero bug — literally and figuratively. Connors experiments have a much different outcome: using himself as a human guinea pig, he regrows his lost limb but also gains a tail, scaly skin, razor-sharp teeth, and psychotic tendencies.
Writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves give us a cockier Parker, one powered by teenage fearlessness and awkwardness, and Garfield embraces the role fearlessly. He and Stone share an onscreen chemistry that makes for a believable and endearing romance (it’s no surprise that the two are dating in the real world as well) that gives the movie heart to balance out the third-act action beats.
The supporting cast brings their respective A-games as well. Accomplished veterans Sheen and Fields shine as Peter’s moral compass; Denis Leary (Rescue Me) gets to play terse and tough as Gwen’s father, a hard-nosed but empathetic cop tasked with bringing Spider-Man to justice; and Rhys Ifans channels both sympathy and terror as Curt Connors/The Lizard, fleshing out an otherwise dramatically spare super-villain.
One gets the feeling that Webb and company took advantage of the opportunity to rewrite some of the errors committed in the Raimi trilogy, from the tedious (Spidey wields his trademark web-shooters here) to the significant (sticking with continuity by featuring Gwen as Peter’s ill-fated first love), changes that put some new spin on old elements and which will no doubt appease many hard-core fans. Webb also slows the plot down a bit compared to the usual comic book flick, taking his time to develop the characters and story; on the downside, when the pace does pick up it causes everything to take a back seat to the action.
Still, it leaves open the appealing prospect of a sequel and with the character back in play and formalities of a reboot dispensed with the possibility of a Spider-Man movie made on its own terms and free of the past becomes an intriguing prospect.