THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars
In a move that correctly but sadly sums up the short attention span of both movie-goers and filmmakers, Sony studios is rebooting an action franchise that was far from dead and actually had a fervent following that would gobble-up anything offered to them.
As recently as 10 years ago, the term "reboot" didn't even exist, even amongst industry insiders. It essentially gained legs and legitimacy with the current "Batman" franchise when Christopher Nolan took an old hat and gave it a new look. He didn't do anything particularly new; he just made it look cooler to audiences both old and young. Nolan's victories in technological areas were actually surpassed by his attention to plot and character development; something that's virtually absent here.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" exists only because the last franchise writer/director Sam Raimi was having script issues with a fourth installment, leads Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst quit and Sony was about to lose their distribution rights.
That's it. Those are the only reasons why this franchise is starting over from scratch and we're getting another "Part 1" instead of another sequel.
The good news is that "TASM" isn't an exact carbon copy and in many ways surpasses the other "Part 1." The most welcomed upgrade is with the casting of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy. In addition to being far more talented actors than Maguire and Dunst, they also have greater screen presence and are, for lack of a better description, more natural and easier on the eyes.
One of the studio's biggest selling points with "TASM" was the fleshing-out and expansion of the character's origin and backstory, which is accurate. We see, instead of just hearing about, Peter's parents and he's shown as a toddler but as far as the big picture is concerned, it offers little and raises as many if not more questions than it actually answers.
Peter's transformation into a quasi-arachnid follows the same trajectory; he's bitten, then confused, then pleased and finally able to retaliate against the jock school bully. A little more originality surfaces when he dedicates his first phase of superhero status to being a vigilante and, much like Batman, becomes an irritant to both criminals and the NYPD.
Taking an inordinately long time (roughly an hour) to formally introduce the villain, the three-man screenwriting committee and director Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer") test the audiences' patience and in particular the youngsters. At the press/VIP screening, the bulk of the under-10 crowd began squirming and yapping early on and only seemed interested when Spider-Man was swinging about town.
As for the villain -- the ultimate measuring stick of any action flick -- the one in "TASM" is by far the weakest in the four movies. Played by Englishman Rhys Ifans, Dr. Curt Connors/the Lizard has ties to Peter's father, a subplot that is barely explored, but is strongly foreshadowed in the post-final credits teaser that sets up the next installment. The Lizard is only on-screen for about 20 minutes and the fight scenes are nothing special and are only of minor interest thanks to the state-of-the-art CGI effects. The remainder of the time Ifans plays a nebbish professor-type spouting scientific mumbo-jumbo that sounds authentic but is also thunderously dull.
Despite its many narrative shortcomings and gaping plot holes, "TASM" is a visual stunner. In the wake of "The Avengers" and "Prometheus," the 3-D is spectacular and, even more than "Avatar," takes great advantage of depth-of-field. A subterranean scene where Spider-Man fashions a high-tech web is the most realized and impressive of these scenes. If studios wish to keep 3-D alive, they'll have to do what all four of these movies did: shoot everything in 3-D and stop tinkering with 2-D films in post-production.
If "TASM" were the first "Spider-Man" movie, it would certainly feel more groundbreaking. But coming so close on the heels of such a successful, publicly and critically-embraced franchise, like it or not, lends it an unavoidable been-there-done-that air. (Sony/Columbia)