Spinning a (too) familiar tale
By Ann Hornaday
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
“The Amazing Spider-Man” has been billed as a reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise, which got off to such a promising start in 2002 with Tobey Maguire in the lead role. Ten years later, Maguire and his director, Sam Raimi, have parted ways with “Spider-Man’s” parent studio, Columbia Pictures, and now the corporate overlords are asking audiences for a do-over. Back to one, as the filmmaking phrase goes, and: Action.
And there is plenty of action in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” in which the British actor Andrew Garfield plays high school student Peter Parker and Emma Stone plays his adored-from-afar crush, Gwen Stacy.
The good news is that Garfield and Stone whip up a warm, convincing froth as two teenagers caught up in a beguiling case of puppy love. The not-so-great news is that by “reboot,” the studio means taking audiences once again through every step of Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man, including the fateful mutant spider bite, an equally pivotal incident involving his beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), and those first wobbly forays discovering his superhuman powers of strength and agility and the ability to shoot bolts of monofilament to encase malefactors in sticky Saran Wrap cocoons.
The result is that, for its first hour (and, sorry to say, there is a first hour to this almost 2 1
2-hour tushie tingler), “The Amazing Spider-Man” subjects viewers to an origin story that they either already know or will find soporifically drab and draggy. Much of the background material is conveyed in a mind-numbing tour of the Manhattan labs at the genetic research company Oscorp, where a kindly scientist named Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is trying to find a regenerative formula on behalf of an unseen owner. “The Amazing Spider-Man” has been filmed in crisp, attractive IMAX 3D, but no amount of on-screen graphics or depth-of-field tricks can make up for a drearily dry lecture in speculative science.
Thankfully, things pick up considerably once Peter dons the famous skintight Spandex suit, first as an urban avenger on a personal mission, then doing battle with a green-scaled, yellow-clawed super-monster called, appropriately, the Lizard. Meanwhile, he’s being tracked with mounting concern by a New York police captain, who, as portrayed by the dryly funny Denis Leary, delivers the few genuinely funny lines in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” When discussing the options for dealing with the rock ’em, sock ’em lizard king that’s laying waste to Manhattan, he deadpans, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo to you?”
Marc Webb, best known for directing the inventive indie rom-com “(500) Days of Summer,” again proves adept at capturing the emotional currents between characters, especially the young and love-struck Peter and Gwen. And he handles the action sequences with clarity and graceful pacing, especially when Spidey is whooshing over Sixth Avenue with a gorgeously choreographed assist from a squadron of friendly crane operators. (Still, “The Amazing Spider-Man” suffers from its share of overkill, not only in its running time but in James Horner’s bombastic, assaultive musical score. Enough already.)
Primarily, though, “The Amazing Spider-Man” serves as something of an audience audition for Garfield, who delivers a more recessive, withholding performance than Maguire but whose lithe, rangy physique aptly lends itself to his character’s arachnidan alter ego. With his soulful brown eyes and mop of untamed hair, Garfield is winningly believable as a shy, nerdy outcast -- and just as credible as the scrambling, preternaturally limber superhero who saves the day.
Although fans of Maguire and Raimi’s Spider-Man movies may find themselves wondering whether they really need such an exhaustive refresher, they’ll also no doubt accept Garfield as the latest iteration of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic figures. Now that all the fussy exposition has been taken care of, the real fun can begin in earnest: Long may he weave.
Contains sequences of action and violence.
Photos: 'The Amazing Spider-Man's' transformation