Review: Slick Amazing Spider-Man looks for an identity of its own

The business of making superhero movies is hitting a new wall: Rebooting. Every time a franchise restarts, the team behind it must find a new way to tell a well-known story. For every success (Batman Begins) there are a couple of failures: It took Marvel three tries to get the Hulk right.

The Amazing Spider-Man sits in the top third of the class. Director Mark Webb succeeds in finding new angles in the story but falters whenever purportedly tries to one-up Sam Raimi’s trilogy. Spidey’s newest incarnation has abandonment issues, a rebel streak and, more impressively, actually moves like an arachnid.

The basics are the same: High-school dweeb Peter Parker (a standout Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically modified spider and develops an uncanny ability to climb walls, among other skills (superhuman strength, acute sixth sense, costume design prowess). Feeling almighty, Parker becomes arrogant, but his unintended participation in his uncle’s murder sends him in the path of righteousness.

His first hurdle is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, Anonymous), a former colleague of his dad in a quest to regrow his maimed right arm using lizard DNA. Instead of acquiring a new extremity, Connors becomes a giant reptile with apocalyptic designs (the perils of self-medication).

There is also a back-story regarding the mysterious death of Peter’s parents that should feed upcoming sequels. Parker’s dad, a scientist employed by the ethically-challenged Oscorp Industries,  was allegedly killed in a plane crash shortly after making mayor headway in cross species genetics. Did he experimented on his son?

In order to differentiate itself from the Raimi-Maguire romps, The Amazing Spider-Man drops all the earnestness of the original trilogy. The new Peter Parker is better acquainted with irony and one-liners. Hardcore fans will appreciate that the love interest is historically accurate Gwen Stacy (a winning Emma Stone) as opposed to Mary Jane Watson. Also, it’s Parker himself who develops the wrist web-shooters (Raimi went ‘organic’, to the chagrin of some comic-book lovers).

It should be noted that Mark Webb’s previous effort was the lovely (500) Days of Summer. The relationship between Peter and Gwen is singularly poignant, and the undeniable chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone adds an extra oomph to what it could have been a perfunctory love connection. Garfield and Stone succeed at portraying teenagers in conflict with their raging hormones, an aspect completely amiss in previous Spidey films.

The action scenes -a requirement in any summer tentpole- seem somewhat forced. As slick as the film looks, the webslinger’s tussles with the villain du jour are never as exciting as the runaway train sequence in Spider-Man 2. It doesn’t help Rhys Ifans is replaced by an all-CGI creature for the climatic fight. The pathos and likability Ifans injects to the character is nowhere to be found under layers and layers of pixels. There is something to be said about actors in villain customes: Their humanity is irreplaceable.

The Amazing Spider-Man may be a necessary movie, an entertaining way to set up Spidey to spring in new directions in 2014. Just one tip: Synchronized construction cranes are kind of goofy.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.