Coming to your friendly neighbourhood multiplex a mere five years after the termination of the successful Sam Raimi-helmed trilogy, this reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, while sporting a new star (Andrew Garfield), new origin story, new villain and new director (a guy named, I kid you not, Marc Webb), feels above all overwhelmingly unnecessary. It also feels about 136 minutes long—which it is. Yet again we get one of these superhero movies that feels obliged to include the protagonist’s origin story, the development of his social conscience, the introduction of a love interest, the introduction of a villain, the villain’s origin story, the villain’s plot to destroy New York/the US/the planet, and the villain’s undoing, all in one five-act mega-movie—the exact opposite of the experience of reading a fleet, diverting comic book. Though it has its moments of energy and excitement, The Amazing Spider-Man is ultimately an exhausting experience, one of diminishing returns, simultaneously over-stuffed with incident and far too compressed to satisfyingly resolve half of the narrative threads it spins.
The element that’s always struck me as novel about Spider-Man was the fact that before becoming a superhero Peter Parker was basically an ordinary, somewhat nerdy teenager, a character most comic readers could easily identify with. This Spider-Man, written by a trio of scenarists led by James Vanderbilt (whose wildly variable filmography includes Darkness Falls and Zodiac), divests Peter of any such quotidian roots. Peter’s background is indeed more Amazing: before he disappeared Peter’s dad (Campbell Scott) was involved is some secret project to splice various genes to “create a world without weakness.” By the time that Peter, a talented photographer and, we soon realize, a scientific genius, becomes a high school senior he discovers dad’s hidden files and tracks down Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), dad’s old partner, who just happens to be the mentor of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), the girl Peter’s in love with. Such Amazing coincidences abound: Gwen’s dad (Dennis Leary) just happens to be the Chief of Police, and, in a risibly contrived rehash of that already risible turning point in the Spider-Man legend, Peter’s Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is accidentally killed by the very convenience store robber Peter failed to apprehend about 30 seconds earlier. (Vanderbilt and company refrain from regurgitating the “With great power…” line.) Peter discovers his superpowers after he sneaks into Connors’ high security laboratory (the words “BIOCABLE DEVELOPMENT UNIT” appear ominously beside the door) and gets bitten by that fateful radioactive arachnid.
Garfield’s fine so long as he refrains from excess emoting (see Never Let Me Go for a preview). Stone is a welcome presence, and not only because of her thigh-highlighting outfits. Neither looks much like a teenager, but we are in the realm of myth here. Not mythical enough however to forgive James Horner’s overbearing score or such silly, extraneous detours such as the bit where, despite the evacuation of Manhattan, city workers unite to help Spider-Man more easily access stuff to attach his webs to. Or to keep us from wondering why the Lizard (née Connors) decides to set up his laboratory in a sewer. Though, oddly enough, Spidey’s nemesis is finally the movie’s most sympathetic character, a sort of simplified version of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. Connors’ ingestion of a super-serum gives him back his missing arm and grants him the strength of ten men, but in return makes him crazy, turns him into a lizard and takes away his penis. Talk about cold(-blooded) comforts.