In a retelling of Spidey’s origin story, we see a 17 year-old Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), a genius loner who is still haunted by the disappearance of his parents. Living with his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen), he has little in the way of direction. However after a trip to see his father’s old work colleague Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and becomes the Amazing Spider-Man.
The above blurb will be familiar for anyone privy to the very recent Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. So recent is it, in fact, that when word of a complete reboot was announced a few years back there were few who thought this a rational idea. With the origin story already told with such class, it begs the question: what’s the point?
In simple terms, The Amazing Spider-Man fails to justify its own existence. When rebooting a franchise so soon since its last instalment, a franchise that contains two truly great super-hero movies, said reboot needs to prove itself as a worthy successor, to stand by itself, to be recognisable as its own film with its own merits, a tall order for a franchise kept in such high regard (we’ll ignore Spider-Man 3).
Unfortunately it only partially works. Had this been the very first Spider-Man film to have existed, consensus would probably move toward good but not great. In a genre that saturates the market with more superheroes than we can keep up with, we know that for every Avengers Assemble we get a Green Lantern, and The Amazing Spider-Man falls into the trappings of many of this troupe by falling smack in the middle.
Andrew Garfield as Parker is terrific, somehow portraying 17 year-old Peter so convincingly that you quickly forget the man is approaching 30. The chemistry between him and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacey) is also excellent, their teenage awkwardness peppered with enough sweetness to make their inevitable coupling work.
Yet whilst the acting can’t be faulted (even from Rhys Ifans), the film as a whole is sorely lacking. This cannot be attributed to any one thing, but more a feeling that this is a half-hearted effort. It covers many of the same aspects of Parker’s origin story (bullied at school, the death of his uncle, his transformation from his spider bite) yet, unlike Raimi’s effort, there’s little heart, warmth or effort. So formulaic is the film-making on show here that it’s difficult to care much about the characters or feel any tension when they’re in peril.
As likeable as Garfield, Stone, Ifans, Sheen etc are, we feel like we don’t know them well enough to give a shit, which is ironic considering the material has been covered before.
In the end it’s a mixed bag. There are moments that are legitimately entertaining but ultimately the film feels like it lacks purpose. There was still life in the Raimi/Maguire era. Garfield and co do their best but at its height, it’s nothing more than a needless imitator of a better film.