While it might seem odd for a movie to offer a new take on Spider-Man just five years after Spider-Man 3, the final Sam Raimi-directed film in a series that began in 2002, that sort of quick change isn’t unprecedented in the web-slinger’s history. But The Amazing Spider-Man, helmed by (500) Days Of Summer director Marc Webb, doesn’t put its own stamp on the material, which feels warmed-over in ways that don’t help. Hitting the reset button, The Amazing Spider-Man retells the story of Spider-Man’s origins yet again. Andrew Garfield steps into the shoes of Peter Parker, a friendless New York high-schooler being raised by his caring Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Then: visit to high-tech lab, spider bite, wall-crawling, dead Uncle Ben, angst, character motivation, crime-fighting. Amazing focuses on elements of Spider-Man lore not at the center of the last batch of Spider-Man films, however, opening with the mysterious deaths of Peter’s scientist parents, eschewing Mary Jane and Harry Osborn, and bringing in Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Spider-Man’s other notable girlfriend, as the love interest.
Too bad the film mostly distinguishes itself by not being a Raimi film. While Spider-Man 3 didn’t work out so well, the first two were notable for their emphasis on character, classically stylish filmmaking, and affection for the source material. Amazing only matches them when it turns its attention to the characters. Garfield and Stone make compelling leads, with Garfield’s slow accumulation of confidence giving the film its spine, and Stone bringing an abundance of personality to a character who otherwise might have gotten lost in the mix.
When the film’s attention drifts elsewhere, however, it runs into trouble. The script—credited to James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves—unsatisfyingly jumbles together a bunch of plot points and supporting characters, tying the death of Peter’s parents to the bioengineering activities of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose experiments with regrowing his lost arm transform him into the villainous Lizard. They don’t, however, give the character any dimension, either in human form or when he takes the form of a hissing reptile/human hybrid and starts attacking New York. Those attacks at least give the film some momentum in its final act, but nothing covers up the absence of any real visual flair or a unique take on the material. It’s the most anonymous superhero film since Green Lantern.