Cross-species genetics is all the rage in this latest incarnation of the web-slinging superhero franchise, which pits the titular Spider-Man against the lab coat-wearing Lizard. Directed by the appropriately-named Marc Webb, this reboot distinguishes itself from Sam Raimi’s trilogy by purporting to tell the untold story of high school nerd Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield): who were his parents and what happened to them?
At first glance it seems like this is a great way to reinvigorate the Spider-Man origin story since the question of Peter’s parents was never really addressed in Raimi’s more cartoony, exuberant films. Unfortunately however, the untold story is still largely untold by the end of The Amazing Spider-Man. Hints and clues are dropped throughout, but Mr and Mrs P mostly factor into the beginning prologue and a mid-credits sequel tease.
As a result The Amazing Spider-Man does retread a lot of familiar ground, with much of the ‘guy gets bitten by spider, becomes superhero’ origin playing out just like you’d expect. Webb is clearly committed to completely rebooting and remaking the entire Spider-Man story, taking no shortcuts unlike The Incredible Hulk did when it rebooted the Hulk character for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which The Amazing Spider-Man is sadly not a part of… Stan Lee cameo notwithstanding). The more traditional approach here results in the film bearing a hint of déjà vu; it’s not quite the revelation of Iron Man or Batman Begins rather it’s better described as ‘just another superhero movie’.
And yet despite the sense that the story is just going through the motions, The Amazing Spider-Man is generally well-executed and maintains a high level of polish throughout. The casting is especially good: Garfield is a better lead than Tobey Maguire, successfully capturing the smart awkwardness of Peter Parker as well as Spidey’s jubilant, wisecracking mannerisms. His chemistry with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is much more believable than the stretched romance with Mary Jane that slowed the previous films. Gwen is also a stronger character, less of a damsel in distress and more of a distressing damsel who holds her own by being level-headed and just a tad rebellious.
It’s the Lizard who disappoints however, as Spidey’s nemesis is both underdeveloped and unable to deliver menace which means the story lacks tension. The main problem is that actor Rhys Ifans is somewhat likable as Dr Curt Connors, the scientist who transforms into the Lizard after an experiment gone wrong, but little time is afforded to develop him as a truly sympathetic and tragic character. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation, as Connors has genuinely good intentions that get corrupted by his Lizard alter ego.
At least the effects are terrific – the Lizard is particularly well done and Spidey has a nice feeling of weight to him as he swings around New York. James Horner’s score is also quite different than the usual superhero stuff, being both intimate and heroic. Still, for all the good ideas and money behind them The Amazing Spider-Man lacks the ‘wow factor’ of some of the genre greats. It’s ‘just another superhero movie’, well-produced and probably my favourite of the Spider-Man films but the truth is that there’s not much here that you probably haven’t seen before.
A competent reboot of the series, The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t do anything groundbreaking but for fans of the genre there’s plenty to recommend.