"The Emo Spider-Man" wouldn't pop on posters, but it would be honest.
This reboot of the Marvel franchise is a downshift from the Tobey Maguire-Sam Raimi trilogy. It has less action, humor, imagination and vitality, no Danny Elfman music, no classic lines like "With great power comes great responsibility," and, tragically, no J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.
In the unlikely hands of indie romcom director Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer"), it has more arguments and hugs and sulks and tears and lovelorn teens. It is "The Notebook" in Spandex. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is not quite so bad that you want to knock it off the screen and beat it to death with a broom, but it's hard to imagine many fans being drawn into its web.
The long-running James Bond series doesn't feel the need to retell 007's origin story every time a new actor steps into the role, but this yarn returns to Peter Parker's fateful bite by a science-lab superspider, the death of his guardian Uncle Ben and his first big crush (it's early girlfriend Gwen Stacy, not Mary Jane Watson this time). As a wise man once said, yadda-yadda-yadda. Movie people, we know who Spider-Man is. You know we already know who he is. He is a cultural icon.
That is the reason you made a movie about him. Do not asphyxiate us with needless exposition.
This Peter (Andrew Garfield) is not the dweebish introvert of yore, but a skateboarding do-gooder who reduces his usually calm and collected classmate Gwen (Emma Stone) to a puddle of blushing giggles. Denis Leary plays Gwen's father, a glowering, growling New York City police captain peeved at Spider-Man for his vigilante raids on street thugs, which have knocked a carefully planned sting operation for a loop.
Peter and Gwen share a web-propelled tour of nighttime Manhattan. What looked genuinely romantic in "Superman" looks like a yo-yoing recipe for motion sickness here. Director Webb doesn't have the kinetic imagination necessary to put his own stamp on these action sequences, which look like extra-synthetic computer-generated animation.
Hoping to uncover information about his long-vanished parents, Peter contacts his father's fellow research scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the necessary villain. An amputee obsessed by the limb-regenerating abilities of reptiles, he has developed a serum that he hopes will restore his lost right arm. Unaware of the tradition demanding that scientists who test their own chemical inventions become psychotic, he transforms into the Lizard, the least convincing comic bruiser since Ang Lee's Gumby-style Hulk.
He creates a lab in the city's sewer system, where there is apparently an abundant supply of electricity. Using his serum as a bio-weapon, he will turn all of Manhattan into cold-blooded predators, if that isn't redundant.
There's a battle between Spidey and Lizzy on the gridlocked Williamsburg Bridge, but a curious lack of crowd scene tumult. I guess these are just jaded New Yorkers who don't run from their cars screaming at the sight of a 12-foot man-iguana. There are not one but two countdowns to doom with a helpful recorded voice calmly ticking off the seconds. The only suspense is how much time we have to kill before the sweet relief of the closing credits.
This "Spider-Man" is a puny offering beside the thunderously entertaining "Avengers." With great stories come great responsibilities. This one doesn't measure up.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186