A reboot of a superhero franchise barely a decade old, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is more a note-by-note remake of "Spider-Man," the 2002 blockbuster that got the series going, than a freshly reimagined take.
Like its predecessor, "The Amazing Spider-Man" offers an up-to-date riff on the Marvel superhero's decades-old comic book origin story: Nerdy New York teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains strength, agility, the ability to climb walls, and a "spider sense" that lets him dodge punches and bullets.
Parker decides to become a masked superhero after he selfishly refuses to help stop an escaping street criminal who immediately murders Parker's beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Before long, Parker is taken under the wing of a scientist at Oscorp, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who transforms into a crazed, green superpowered villain after running a desperate experiment on himself. In the midst of all this, Parker also falls for a girl.
There are a handful of minor changes from the original: Spider-Man's love interest is no longer Mary Jane Watson but Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (a wonderfully cranky Denis Leary) is a police officer pursuing Spider-Man for vigilantism. Peter Parker's parents are briefly involved, and Spider-Man's guiding principle, "with great power comes great responsibility," has been awkwardly rewritten into a clunkier variant: "If you can do good things for other people, you have a moral obligation to do those things. Not choice — responsibility."
Indeed, the movie is essentially a lesser rewrite, like a VHS copy degraded by duplication. Aside from a few rearranged plot points, there are few new ideas to be found: Like Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin from "Spider-Man," Mr. Ifans' Lizard is a sympathetic villain who carries out arguments with himself. Even a final stirring moment in which New York's residents come to the hero's aid is lifted almost directly from the original.
Director Marc Webb, who displayed a knack for capturing youthful longing in "(500) Days of Summer," brings a light touch to the character work: His superhero action scenes are merely competent, but he shines when it comes to the budding teenage romance between Parker and Stacy, whose flirtations produce real romantic sparks. Any sense of energy, however, is undermined by the odd feeling of having seen nearly the exact same material play out in previous films just a few years before.
Inevitably, "The Amazing Spider-Man" pales in comparison not only to the zippy pop brilliance of this year's earlier Marvel hero film, "The Avengers," but also to last summer's big superhero reboot, "X-Men: First Class," a Cold War-era take on the comic book mutants that offered both an updated origin story and a surprising new sense of purpose.
"The Amazing Spider-Man," on the other hand, feels more like the much-derided Clone Saga from Spidey's mid-1990s comics: It offers a lesser replica that no one asked for. Ultimately, this less-than-amazing reboot lacks any reason for being except to keep the massively profitable franchise alive and earning.
Sadly, the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that with great box office potential comes great filmmaking responsibility.
TITLE: "The Amazing Spider-Man"
CREDITS: Directed by Marc Webb, screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
RATING: PG-13 for comic book violence
RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS