Caught in a web of growing up.
Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Red Flags: Action violence
Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. He wasn't talking about Hollywood reboots, but I figured it odd when Columbia Pictures opted to restart the Spider-Man franchise when plans for Spider-Man 4 fell through. Only this time, instead of a straight comic-book actioner, we get a superhero coming-of-age film that seems to borrow from the Twilight and Harry Potter flicks.
The new Spider-Man is rebellious and conflicted, but it's also focused. It reworks or abandons key parts of the story we already know. Peter Parker/Spidey (Garfield) still takes pictures, but he's not gigging for the "Daily Bugle." Mary Jane is out of the picture, replaced with Gwen Stacy (Stone). The Green Goblin has been rejiggered into another green baddie. Fortunately, it leaves one ingredient alone: Parker's status as a nerd shutterbug who can't get a girl.
We get to see more of what happened before Parker became the webbed one. The film starts with a desperate hand-off of the young boy to his Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen). Fast forward to Parker's teenage years, where he's bullied for standing up to the school bully Flash (Chris Zylka) and mentored by his uncle. The opening 15 minutes reminded me a lot of the original Superman, when a teenage Clark Kent was struggling with an identity crisis and a family he didn't really know.
Parker learns his father was involved in some kind of cross-species genetic testing, which prods him to sneak into Dad's old laboratory. It's located inside Oscorp, a multinational behemoth that makes, well, a lot of stuff and has a really cool building to show for it in Manhattan. While poking around inside Oscorp, Parker gets a little too close to some genetically-diddled spiders, and you probably know the rest.
We see several great sequences of Parker learning to cope with his Spidey superpowers, although he is not pushed towards the red spandex look we're familiar with until his beloved Uncle Ben falls victim to a punk armed robber. At the same time, he's trying to help finish the work his father began, befriending Dad's old lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), who is about to embark on a disastrous experiment. And yes, he's going after Gwen in an awkward way.
If Tobey Maguire was a vulnerable, innocent Peter Parker, Garfield is more James Dean than Peter Parker. At times, The Amazing Spider-Man seems like it belongs on the CW's primetime schedule than on the big screen. It's heavy on teen love, angst and romance, so much so that it rushes other plot points, notably Parker's life-changing encounter with the spider. A final showdown contains a plot device that looks like it got there because the writers -- including Spider-Man veteran Alvin Sargent and Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves -- couldn't think up anything better.
When Warner Bros. rebooted the Batman series, it took on new maturity and depth. The new Spider-Man doesn't rise to that level, but it's at least willing to try to evolve beyond a run-of-the-mill comic-book movie.