Yeah, the reboot was a bad plan. How about “Spider-Man 4” with a new cast, no origin story and a 120-minute running time…credits and all. That’s my advice, and I’m sticking to it. Still, I couldn’t help but think about how “The Amazing Spider-Man” played to those who haven’t seen the original trilogy. But who are those people, and what demographic do they belong to? I mean, even if you were seven years old when “Spider-Man 3” was released, you’ve seen it on cable or DVD, right? Those kids are still only twelve, so why relaunch the franchise so soon? Wasting my breath, I guess—after all, it’s a done deal. Must I take you through the humble beginnings of Peter Parker? Orphaned as a young boy, raised by his aunt and uncle, bitten by a radioactive spider…a superhero is born. This time around the screenplay is a bit coy with “exactly what did happen with Peter’s parents”, but no matter. It’s the same basic storyline, with a couple of plot points tweaked slightly to make it seem brand, shiny new. This installment goes the reptilian route with the Lizard as super-villian…aka Dr. Curt Conners(Rhys Ifans).
In a nutshell, reptiles regenerate limbs and Dr. Conners is missing an arm, so you know immediately where this “experiment gone awry” is heading. I found some real poignancy in the story of Flint Marko/the Sandman in the unfairly maligned “Spider-Man 3″(I also consider the almost-universally praised “Spider-Man 2” somewhat overrated—so what the heck do I know anyway.)…not so much with the tale of the Lizard. Peter Parker/Spider-Man has two prominent girlfriends in the comic books, and after 3 films with Mary Jane Watson(Kirsten Dunst), the reboot focuses on Gwen Stacy(Emma Stone). The 23 year-old Stone seemed much more authentic as a high schooler in last year’s “The Help”(in which she was actually college age)than she does here. Her super-confident approach to the character was much too adult for my taste, and I guess the blame should go to ironically named director Marc Webb, because Stone is a capable performer. It’s also impossible to keep yourself from playing shop-and-compare in this franchise re-start: Sally Field is our new Aunt May replacing Rosemary Harris, and Martin Sheen is Uncle Ben, taking over from recently deceased Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson. Am I biased for preferring the older gang to Captain Willard and the Flying Nun? And can “(500) Days of Summer” director Webb hope to ably supplant genre expert Sam Raimi? Is it even humanly possible to miss James Franco? Yet, all of that and more applies, so “The Amazing Spider-Man”, while pretty good, left me somewhat underwhelmed.
What’s right about “The Amazing Spider-Man” falls on the shoulders of Andrew Garfield—and he is so right. Alternating shy put-upon nerd, emerging super-hero and acerbic wise-ass hats—and sometimes mixing them all together—he makes the “new” character sing. No disparagement to the fine Tobey Maguire from the 2002-2007 series, but Garfield is a superb update to the iconic webslinger. The 3D effects are just cool enough, with my current edict being to catch it with the added dimension in theaters because I can always watch it in 2D at home on DVD four months down the line. You’ll see all that money spent(over 200 million dollars)up on the screen, although there is just as much film spent romancing Gwen as there is fighting bad guys. I do look forward to the further adventures of “The Amazing Spider-Man”(two sequels already scheduled), with the origin story now out-of-the-way and a hopefully more streamlined running time. Maybe Emma Stone will grow on me too. But even though I sometimes really like her(sorry), I doubt that I’ll warm up to Sally Field’s version of Aunt May. Hey, you can’t expect to please everybody.