“Amazing” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind after viewing “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But the more apt words “lackluster” and “perfunctory” in the title wouldn’t have much marquee appeal.
This well-acted, competently made reboot of 2002’s “Spider-Man” has absolutely nothing new or interesting to add to the superhero pantheon. Coming on the heels of standout efforts “The Avengers” and “X-Men: First Class,” this blockbuster denotes a setback for the Marvel Comics brand.
Despite looking a decade too old for the role, 28-year-old Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) plays high schooler Peter Parker. More loner than geek, Parker is still haunted by the disappearance of his parents, who left him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field).
A clue to his scientist father’s past leads him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the “world’s foremost expert in herpetology.” Connors is seeking a cure for his lost limb by manipulating lizard DNA. Upon snooping around the Oscorp labs that employ Connors, Parker becomes the victim of a super-charged spider bite.
This grants him enhanced strength, speed, agility and a knack for clinging to walls. It also apparently makes him super-attractive to girls who never cared about him before, such as Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the spunky daughter of Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary).
And it causes him to be super-careless, flaunting his abilities to classmates and tipping off his identity to Connors, whose experiments have turned him into a giant egomaniacal lizard (is there any other kind?).
“This is no longer about curing ills. This is about finding perfection,” Connors/Lizard says en route to unleashing a toxic wrath upon the city.
Rebooting a superhero series is tricky because it forces the filmmakers to either recycle the same villain (e.g. the lame “Superman Returns”) or opt for a fresh baddie that doesn’t necessarily shine (e.g. this).
It also makes the origin story seem like a retread, no matter how much is added or excised. Occasionally, someone as talented as Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”) figures out a solution. Most don’t.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” director Marc Webb proves adept at handling the relationships of the story. This is not surprising, considering he is best known for the quirky gem of a romance “(500) Days of Summer.” His film’s finest scenes are quiet ones: the superb Sheen dispensing paternal advice to Garfield (which would be better heeded by Charlie Sheen); Stone and Garfield flirting without committing.
What Webb struggles with is generating the pace, impetus and overall mojo needed to power an action vehicle. The movie’s first act simply curls up in the corner as if Parker were bitten by a radioactive sloth. It’s a full hour before the costumed hero enters the picture, and much of that is spent hunting down a random street hood in a subplot completely abandoned by the finale.
So Webb is forced to create artificial drama that finds Parker getting into scrapes with dim bullies. These are among the most unconvincing, hackneyed portrayals of high school life to be found outside the Disney XD channel. It doesn’t help that the students look older than doctoral candidates.
Early in the movie Parker stands conspicuously in front of a poster featuring Albert Einstein. Underneath, a quote reads: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
A little imagination would have gone a long way in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” instead of relying on knowledge that the movie will be a hit merely by going through the motions.