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The Amazing Spider-Man Spider-Man (left) with Gwen (right)
Photo: Columbia Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Rated PG-13

The Amazing Spider-Man is uninspired and unremarkable.

Turn Off the Dark

The Amazing Spider-Man

Spidey’s back. Well, he never really left. The comic books continue to churn, he’s on Broadway (in a musical that should’ve stuck with Julie Taymor’s grander rock opera ambitions), and now there’s a reboot of the movie series that ended on a relatively low note with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. That was only five years ago and it’s already time for a reboot.

It was only five years ago, but it’s a different world from when that series started.

Raimi’s first Spider-Man was in 2002. Back then, the movie’s original trailer was replaced because it featured the World Trade Center, a jarring reminder of a New York City that no longer existed and is only now being rejuvenated with a new tower and the 9/11 Memorial. And that was three years before Christopher Nolan showed how a comic book movie could carry dramatic resonance with Batman Begins.

The Spider-Man trilogy provided a significant jolt to comic book movies following the decline of the Batman series Tim Burton started in 1989. They could be super blockbusters if done right and Raimi provided the right mix of characters, humor, and comic book action.

Now comic book movies are more often than not cash cows for the studios.

So, really, it’s no surprise Spidey’s back.

Splice of Life

The Amazing Spider-Man makes one big mistake and everything else falls apart from there.

For whatever reason, there was a sense of obligation to retell the origin story. It’s a painfully sluggish retelling, particularly in comparison to the fun, sometimes exhilarating spin Raimi gave the material. It simply takes too long to cover the same ground again, even if it’s intended for a new generation. It would’ve been better to simply advance the character and do something akin to Superman Returns. Reboot, restart, and reinvent while paying homage to the movies that went before.

Advancing the character would’ve been particularly appropriate given this movie’s cast. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) is pushing 29, but he plays Peter Parker as a 17-year-old rogue. Emma Stone (The Help) is 23 and plays a super-smart 17-year-old high school girl. That’d be Gwen Stacy, not Mary Jane Watson, by the way.

As actors, they’re both perfectly likable. But Garfield doesn’t pull off the dorky side of Peter; he’s never really given much of a chance to do so. He’s a somewhat reclusive skateboarder/photographer/science wiz, but he doesn’t shy away from the bullies. Nor does he shy away from revealing his super-secret identity to Gwen. This Peter almost induces whiplash with the speed record he sets in spilling his guts to the cute chick.

Together Peter and Gwen make a decent couple, albeit not an entirely natural one and definitely a better couple if they were twentysomethings. Certainly their getting together was anything but natural. She invites him over for dinner to meet her family, including her police captain father (Denis Leary, TV’s Rescue Me). That’s not such a great idea, given Peter’s already raised a ruckus with New York’s finest and has quickly earned a vigilante reputation.

With Great Power...

The Amazing Spider-Man
Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field)
Photo: Columbia Pictures

The new series promises a underlying thread that will try to unravel what exactly happened to Peter’s parents, who ran off into the night after dropping Peter off with Aunt May (Sally Field, Forrest Gump) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now). Did they die in a plane crash, really? Was there a conspiracy, a cover-up of some sort?

Peter’s father was a genius scientist working with Dr. Curt Connor (Rhys Ifans, Anonymous) at Oscorp (founded by Norman Osborn, more notoriously known as the Green Goblin). Connor is one of those altruistic types who wants to save the planet with a miracle cure. That is, until he gets bent out of shape with a dose of his own medicine. Then it becomes a great idea to turn everybody into super-muscular lizards via an aerosolized concoction.

It’s all so formulaic, as is readily expected from a comic book movie, but this formula is burdened by so many obligations, the fun factor is squeezed right out of the mix. Plus, it never manages to make its way out from the huge shadow cast by Raimi’s Spider-Man.

Every scene in which Sheen’s Uncle Ben appears is another opportunity for a new “With great power comes great responsibility.” But this uncle never delivers the profound wisdom; he’s just a good guy trying to be a good father figure to Peter.

Identity Crisis

It’s a little dispiriting to note one of the coolest scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man is a very quick glimpse of a lizard mouse devouring a lab mouse. It’s a gruesome visual, but unexpected.

Aside from that, this Spidey is desperately lacking in the unexpected.

The climactic scenes presented in full-screen IMAX are nice to watch, but the 3D aspect is disappointingly insufficient given all the visual possibilities. At least a few first-person views of Spidey slinging his way around Manhattan add a bit of badly needed zip, but overall there’s no joy in Webville.

At the end of the movie, an English teacher asserts there really aren’t 10 plots in literature. There’s only one, she says. The one sole plot is this: “Who am I?”

Good question.

This Peter Parker suffers from some sort of identity crisis. He’s a super hero who’s willing to sacrifice a promise made to a key character as he dies; it’s a promise broken strictly in the name of personal gain.

This Peter Parker is a hero without true convictions and no matter how he spins it, that’s not compelling.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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