Since Tobey Maguire didn’t want to appear in another “Spider-Man” movie, welcome to “The Amazing Spider-Man” starring Andrew Garfield in what Marvel is rather disingenuously calling a “reboot.” There isn’t any particular reason, besides the obvious commercial one, why we needed to re-up this franchise. Still, it could have been worse. Fanboys will flock.
Less blatantly comic bookish than Sam Raimi’s 2002 “Spider-Man,” and shot in 3-D IMAX, this latest arachnid in Marvel’s cinematic terrarium fills in the back story of the pre-Spidey Peter Parker, placing heavy emphasis on his orphan status.
Raised by his kindly aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents mysteriously vamoosed in the dead of night, Peter is a superbright supernerd who ends up infiltrating the scary headquarters of cross-breed citadel OsCorp, where he’s bitten by a spider and things rapidly become stickier and stickier. OsCorp’s chief scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), was once partnered with Peter’s dad (Campbell Scott), and the overhanging question – is he a good guy or a bad guy? – is sort of answered when he morphs into his Lizard Man alter ego.
From a strictly CGI perspective, Lizard Man is kind of cheesy, and his punch-outs with Spider-Man that occupy a large swath of the film’s second half are nothing special. What makes this film work is the human, or quasi-human, touches. Garfield is a very different Peter Parker. Maguire played the role too insularly, I thought, and even though his dweebishness may have helped him connect with his fanboy audience, he wasn’t a terribly exciting presence even when he leapt into costumed action.
Garfield, by contrast, is surly and rebellious and twitchy (he reminded me a little of the young Anthony Perkins), and this contrasts smartly with his high school sweetie Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is all smiles and wiles. Director Marc Webb, working from a script by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, wisely keeps this duo front and center, although kids expecting nonstop action from the get-go are going to be disappointed. The whiz-bang stuff doesn’t kick in until the Peter-Gwen relationship (which is the best thing in the movie) is firmly established.
An end-credits kicker sets up the sequel – the re-re-boot? Here we go again. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.)