The Amazing Spider-Man has all the ingredients of an excellent superhero movie: great acting from an all-star cast, awesome fight sequences, and a charming love story. But the reboot fails to surpass Sam Raimi's 2002 film. It rarely offers anything new, and when it does it's often not nearly as entertaining or imaginative as the first film. You'd be better off re-watching Sam Raimi's Marvel masterpiece if it weren't for the great performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.
For Marc Webb, director of the quirky romance 500 Days of Summer, the transition to an action-driven blockbuster seems to have been easy. The fight sequences are well choreographed and achieve heart-pumping thrills. I particularly liked how Webb incorporates Spidey's point-of-view shots as the hero climbs and swings between sky-scrapers. Webb also gives his film a distinctively darker tone than the previous movie; Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, is more of an edgy loner than an awkward geek.
Webb fails to make his version of Spider-Man's origin story distinguishable from the Raimi's film. While I understand that the director is obligated to maintain certain aspects of Spidey's origins, the first half of Webb's version is nearly identical to Raimi's in terms of pace and plot points. When Webb does try to deviate from the original plot, his subtle changes in circumstances and locations are less colorful and imaginative.
For instance, Webb substitutes Spider-Man's antagonist, newspaper tycoon J. Jonah Jameson, for Police Captain Stacy, played by Dennis Leary. Captain Stacy's devotion to law and order motivates him to bring down Spider-Man, a far less offensive motive than Jameson's pursuit of headlines and money.
Martin Sheen and Sally Field play Peter Parker's guardians. The couple, who have cared for Parker since his parents disappeared after the opening sequence, are the cool, understanding caretakers every kid wanted to have growing up. Sheen brings out Uncle Ben's supportive attributes while still dolling out parcels of wisdom—he does harp a little too often on “responsibility,” to the point where I was sure that the trademark line would eventually emerge. As Aunt May, Field's character is a remarkably passive woman. The film never addresses how she feels about her husband's death and she is surprisingly unalarmed when Parker starts coming home late with nasty cuts and bruises on his face. I assumed that she had figured out what he was doing, but even so, I think she'd be more concerned that her nephew is wall-climbing vigilante.
The villain, referred to as “The Lizard,” is the film's biggest disappointment. The monster is the mutated Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. Connors is fascinated by the regenerative abilities of reptiles because he is missing half of his right arm. The doctor uses his resources as an Oscorp scientist to combine a lizard's DNA with his own, inadvertently turning himself into a giant, rampaging iguana for one night. He then continues to turn himself into a lizard again and again, because being a lizard is just better than being human. A motivation, that to me, just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The most redeeming part of this film is the love story between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Whether or not the actors' chemistry was aided by their real-life relationship, this onscreen romance might be the best of the year. During the couple's awkwardly cute interactions, their intimacy radiates from the screen. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is a more charming, rebellious character than Tobey Maquire's. Garfield also possesses a disarming smile, sure to peak the interest of female audience members. As a love interest, Gwen Stacy could be the ultimate comic book nerd fantasy; Stone succeeds at endowing her character with smarts, beauty and compassion. Stacy also distinguishes herself from Mary Jane because she is not a helpless damsel. Stacy actively participates in Spidey's effort to save the city and at one point she even brains the lizard with a metal chair.
Garfield and Stone will most likely grab a lot of leading roles now that they've proven they can carry a big Hollywood blockbuster, but expect to see them in further Spider-Man movies. Marc Webb already announced the franchise's second and third installments; the sequel is expected to debut in May of 2014. Hopefully, the following films will have all the charm and energy that makes The Amazing Spider-Man so entertaining, while having the freedom to come up with a more original plot. On its own, Webb's film is a truly great comic book movie, but it fails to overtake the 2002 version that's spun so perfectly by Sam Raimi.