Spider-Man’s amazingly uninspired reboot
Is there a reason we need a new “Spider-Man” movie 10 years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire got it done properly? Only if you’re Sony Pictures and the lawyers say you have to keep the movies coming or the rights will revert to Marvel Comics. That’s correct, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a contract extension, which is exactly how it plays on the screen. Dumbed down, tarted up, and almost shockingly uninspired, it’s the worst superhero movie since “Green Lantern.”
Which is too bad, because a lot of people, myself included, like Andrew Garfield and wish him well. The reedy, intense young actor (“The Social Network”) is joined by a promising cast: Emma Stone as Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s high school sweetheart Gwen Stacy; Denis Leary as her police captain father; Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curtis Connors, the scientist who tries to regrow his arm and, oops, turns into The Lizard. They’re all actors who know what to do with smart dialogue.
Which is not the same as knowing what to do with really stupid dialogue. “The Amazing Spider-Man” reboots the comic-book saga from the beginning, adding a few twists to Marvel orthodoxy. This time, Peter’s father (Campbell Scott) was a geneticist who died mysteriously with his wife (Embeth Davidtz) in the boy’s youth, leaving him to grow up with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Sneaking into the research corporation run by Connors, his father’s former partner, Peter stumbles into a secret lab in which modified spiders manufacture super-webs. He’s bitten. You know the rest.
You can see what they’re trying to do here: Inject an aging property with a little “Harry Potter” DNA. Nor is that the only cross-franchise genetic enhancement, since the relationship between Gwen and Peter has been hotted up with as much tremulous “Twilight” heaving as possible. All that’s missing from this Spider-Man is the lightning bolt on his forehead and some glitter. Gwen and a lot of teenage girls may be on Team Peter. Most of us will be on Team Some Other Movie.
We do get the classic Spidey mask (inspired, in one of the few successful comic touches, by a Mexican wrestling poster). The script (by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves) establishes that Peter is not a normal nerdy teenager — only the premise the story has rested on for 50 years and a key to our identification with him — but a scientific wunderkind who can memorize complex algorithms in a single bound and cook up highly technical web-shooters overnight. (It made more sense when they didn’t explain it.) But nothing in “The Amazing Spider-Man” holds water. It’s the kind of movie where the hero can find his father’s glasses, wear them for the rest of the running time, and never once wonder why the prescription matches.
Maybe you’ve come here for the action. Fair enough: There isn’t much of it and what there is has been edited into a mangle and squeezed through 3-D effects that achieve a new level of vulgarity. Not since 1981’s “Comin’ at Ya!” have this many things been thrown so witlessly at the camera, and when Spider-Man slingshots himself through a crane’s metallic tower, you feel like you’re watching a Six Flags cellphone video.
Where’s the pop grace? Where’s the pulpy joy? There’s no scene that gets close to Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie, with the hero swinging ecstatically through forests of skyscrapers or hanging upside down for a make-out session with Mary Jane. Stone has been given a blond dye job and it seems to have muted her sass; there’s little chemistry with Garfield’s Peter, since the star has decided to go the James Dean route of misunderstood twitches and averted looks. (The real Emma Stone could probably kick him into New Jersey.)
But it may be too much to ask for chemistry when the dialogue is this inert. (Peter, confessing all to Gwen: “I’ve been bitten.” Gwen, dazzled: “So have I.”) The only one who gets a bit of top-spin on his lines is Leary, who looks disgusted by the whole thing, which, granted, is his default expression. Poor Ifans, one of the more eccentric talents to come out of Wales, spends half the movie as a very ugly digitized lizard-man.
The director is Marc Webb, whom the producers must have hired for his name. They certainly didn’t hire him because he made “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), a charming little romantic comedy that is as far from a tentpole blockbuster as Marvel is from Shakespeare. He muffs the action sequences, can’t get the romance started, and doesn’t know how to use digital effects to create a cohesive alternate reality, the way Raimi or Christopher Nolan in the “Dark Knight” movies can do without breaking a sweat.
By the time we get to the film’s climax — surprise, it involves a doomsday device with a ticking countdown placed atop a skyscraper — the cynicism of the whole enterprise has become unavoidable. The producers obviously think they only have to make a new “Spider-Man” and we’ll show up, and, sadly, they’re probably right. That’s still no excuse for this cash grab. “The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t a movie, it’s a mugging.