Nonstop Movies: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

This isn’t your daddy’s Spider-Man. Shoot, it’s not even my Spider-Man.

Just five years after “Spider-Man 3,” Columbia Pictures has decided to relaunch the franchise with a new cast, new villain, even a new origin. Gone are Mary Jane Watson, the Green Goblin, the organic web shooters, Daily Bugle and JJ Jameson. In their place are Gwen Stacy, the Lizard, mechanical web shooters (thank you very much!) and Gwen’s dad, the police captain. So does this new take on the classic character have any radioactive bite? Meh.

The revision of Spider-Man’s origin is my primary issue with the film. Director Marc Webb and his writers have abandoned the “with great power comes great responsibility” theme of the comics and Sam Raimi-directed films, and gone with a vigilante vengeance theme. Now, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is so upset by the murder of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) that he hunts down every street thug in the city who resembles the murderer.

What is this? The Punisher? Giving Peter a dark side and making him a revenge seeker is a far departure from the true heart of the beloved character. This interpretation could have worked had the creators had faith in the concept and committed to it throughout the film. But once the Lizard, the alter ego of Doctor Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), makes his appearance, the entire revenge subplot is dropped, basically rendering the entire first half of the film virtually irrelevant.

Peter’s close relationship with his Aunt May (Sally Field) is also wrongfully underplayed. Growing up without parents and then having his uncle killed, Aunt May is the only family Peter has left, and he would die to protect her. However there’s no real love or closeness developed between them, and their scenes seem more forced than genuine.

These aren’t the only areas where the writing lacks sense or substance. Peter is initially tormented by bully Flash Thompson in school and fights him several times, but then Flash is sympathetic and nice to him. Comic book fans know their friendship and rivalry go way back, but for those who don’t know that, the sudden change of heart could be puzzling. There’s also a huge amount of responsibility and knowledge entrusted by the billion dollar corporation Oscorp to Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a 17-year-old year girl, just for the plot convenience of having her being able to provide a key antidote at the end of the film.

Still, the film has some positive aspects. The scenes where Spider-Man swings through New York City are beautifully executed. I also love how this film emphasizes Spider-Man’s quickness and web-shooting abilities. There’s also undeniable chemistry between Peter and his high school crush, Gwen. A couple in real-life, Garfield and Stone present a much more likable and believable relationship than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst ever did. In fact, the entire cast does a tremendous job. Ifans portrays Dr. Connors with an emotional depth and subtlety that’s in total contrast to the idiot roommate he played in “Notting Hill,” while Sheen, Field and Dennis Leary as Gwen’s father also all do the best with the material they’re given.

Webb, who’s also directed the fantastic “(500) Days of Summer,” certainly knows how to portray romance, and that’s a part of the film that works. With his surprising vision and ability to create genuine romance, I would definitely look forward to another Spider-Man film by Webb. But the underlying problem is that if you’re going to change the heart of a well-known character, it should be with a story that matters, not just a plot device to get characters from point A to point B. With the origin out of the way, the sequel should provide a great opportunity to develop a fully flushed out story.

Maybe the answer is to stop relaunching comic book films and just continue them as serial episodes with different actors, similar to the James Bond films. The audience doesn’t need to spend an hour watching the character’s origins yet another time, especially if that story will be abandoned in the second act. Since we’re all familiar with the story, let’s jump right in with a new story and new villain each time. Spider-Man certainly has an extensive rogue’s gallery of bad guys to choose from.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” 136 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.