Cross-species genetic superpowers eliminate the need for eyeglasses in The Amazing Spider-Man, though no mutation is necessary to clearly see that Marvel’s “reboot” of their signature franchise is an unimaginative remake of Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man. As in that barely-a-decade-old saga, Marc Webb’s film details the origin story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), a New York high school nerd living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who’s forced to learn that with great power comes great responsibility after he’s bitten by a lab-engineered spider that gives him enhanced agility, quickness, and wall-crawling abilities. Hewing to its comic-book source material rather than Raimi’s predecessor means that Parker’s web-slinging doesn’t stem from biological means, but from mechanical devices created by the kid, though that sort of change hardly makes this would-be blockbuster the “untold story” its poster tagline promises. The new never overshadows the familiar in this CG-amplified tale, so that even though the fiend this time around is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an armless scientist who, in trying to regrow his arm, becomes the malevolent Lizard, his relationship to Parker—both as a human mentor and a monstrous enemy—is woefully similar to that shared between hero and villain in Raimi’s superlative Dr. Octopus series entry, Spider-Man 2.
What Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t duplicate from Raimi’s efforts, unfortunately, is a truly iconic image—or conception—of the wall-crawler. Despite persistent talk about “responsibility,” even after Uncle Ben meets his preordained demise thanks to Peter’s lack thereof, there’s no sense of the teenager truly coming to grips with the obligations forced on him by his powers; rather, such ideas are trotted out more like dutiful concessions to character fidelity, an impression that also extends to the guilt Peter feels over both Ben’s death as well as his role—via a scientific equation that doesn’t work out—in creating the Lizard. Webb’s slow-motion portraits of Spider-man swinging in front of the moon certainly recreate the hero’s most famous poses, but almost to a fault; there’s no exhilaration to these sights, nor to the many Raimi-esque sequences in which the camera trails behind its protagonist as he swings and hops above Manhattan streets and through crowded alleyways. The same goes for a few POV shots that come across as look-at-me gimmicky in a way that’s also true of aerial panoramas (including a laughable one that passes over a skyscraper spire) that call direct attention to their this-is-for-3D purpose, all without conveying any sort of requisite larger-than-life scale.
As Parker, Garfield nails not only adolescent insecurity, but also cockiness, with the latter amusingly extending to his masked derring-do, during which he cracks wise with a sarcasm that’s a welcome nod to the character’s smart-alecky origins. Everything to do with Peter’s investigation into his father’s (Campbell Scott) work, however, is a dreary and unnecessary distraction, and his romance with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)—despite natural awkward-smitten chemistry between Garfield and Stone—comes across as obligatory and secondary to the chaotic action at hand, which eventually centers on the Lizard’s snooze-worthy plot to use toxic gas to turn Manhattanites into reptiles. So often is it rehashing moments already handled expertly by Raimi’s films (such as Peter’s bullying spats with Chris Zylka’s school bully, Flash), or reimaginaging signature events with leaden goofiness (Parker first gets the idea to swing via rope in a boat-warehouse scene weirdly reminiscent of Footloose) that Amazing Spider-Man never takes flight. Even in a finale in which construction workers maneuver cranes to give Spider-man a means of swinging to the Lizard, the notion of New Yorkers (including Denis Leary’s initially anti-Spidey police chief) banding together to fight a common enemy plays like a feeble photocopy of Spider-Man’s evocation of New York’s post-9/11 unity—in the process making Webb’s do-over feel an uninspired idea short.