Spider-man v. 2.0
"With Great Power Comes Sequels, Re-Boots, Etc....(A Spider-man's Work is Never Done)"
It may be a web-strand too soon to be doing a re-boot of the "Spider-man" franchise, but The Amazing Spider-man does do one thing that justifies its existence—it's better than the Tobey McGuire/Sam Raimi first film in the original trilogy, and right off the ledge manages to have the fun, energy, pop-soapishness, and inventiveness of the second film in that series, the one with Dr. Octopus. We have to go through the origin story again (but that's okay, we seem to have to with every "Superman" film, and evidently will with the next one).
The story is basically the same—Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a smart high school geek with a photog hobby, and his first encounter with an industrial science lab manages to put the bite on him, arachnidally-speaking, then strange things start happening as he does whatever a spider can, conflicts, conflicts, conflicts (of the physical and angst variety), "with great power comes great responsibility," yadda yadda yadda. But there's a lot of "Spidey"-history to draw on, and the writers (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent—who added a lot to Spiderman 2—and Steve Kloves—who mentored Harry Potter) have tinkered and brought a lot of missing pieces to the table. This time the love interest is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, who appears to be the oldest person in school, but that may be part of the appeal of the character, certainly to Parker), daughter of an NYPD captain (Denis Leary, who plays it straight, tough, and with impeccable comic timing), and bowing to the fanboyish, his web-powers are not so organic—he's got the little web-shooters now, although interestingly, he doesn't develop the web-goo. Oscorp is still around, although we never see its CEO (or do we?), so's the Daily Bugle—but Parker doesn't have a job there yet, so there's no J. Jonah Jameson (how could replace or improve on J.K. Simmons' interpretation?). The villain is another industrial bio-scientist, Curt Connors (played as if was Peter O'Toole by Rhys Ifans and he's terrific), who—not giving anything away here—eventually turns into the Lizard.
What's different is motivation and sub-text. Echoing the Potter series, attention and emphasis is paid to what happened to Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) that put him in the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, both extraordinarily good) and indications are that is the story which will run throughout this movie-arc (as well, I suspect, as the consequences of keeping secrets (as I said, there's a lot of history to drawn on).
What's also different and good is how everybody's perfected the formula, including director Marc Webb (who made the, to me, extraordinarily fine (500) Days of Summer): Garfield's Parker is more in line with the comic character, mood-swinging as well as web-slinging, and his Parker is awkward, stammering, frequently inarticulate and perceived outwardly as something of a jerk, a simp, or worthless* (hey, wow, they got the character of a misunderstood teenager down), and the fights, which in the past have been rushed and often unfollowable, now flow and, frequently—thanks to CGI—in one continuous shot that swoops, loops and parallels Spider-man's flight patterns. The pace is still there, but thanks to stunt arranger and second-unit director Vic Armstrong (a few of the Bonds and Indiana Jones), it's not all a blur. Also, under Raimi, some of these fights were brutal and sadistic, and, don't get me wrong, these are no less savage, and take more of a toll on the participants.** But the desperation is there, and the "wrong-ness" of the abuse of power, which kept my moral compass (or is it "Spidey"-sense?) from peaking out in the red zone.
So, yes, it's the same story, but more sure-footed (by having its hero less so), and also intriguing for what it might hold in the future. The first trilogy seemed to be a little wobbly as it went along, searching for story. This one already feels like it knows where its going, and will find the best and most opportune path to get there.***
The Amazing Spider-man is a Full-Price Ticket. (I saw it in IMAX 3-D, but it's not really necessary).
* And—a nice touch—he's thin and ungainly, not buffed-out, like the typical "strong-man" super-hero, which is the way he was when Steve Ditko first drew him. Nice.
** This does bring up something that will be difficult to sustain: Parker is frequently shown battered, bruised, and slashed from these fights, which makes his encounters post-fight with Aunt May a little illogical. And at some point, when will she clamp down on him, or child-protective services step in?
*** A couple more things: there's no interpretation of the "Spider-man" theme from the 60's cartoon ("Hey there, there goes the Spider-man!") but James Horner's score is his most inventive in a long time—if a little needlessly bombastic in rare instances; there is a "coda" of sorts, but early in the credits (so you won't be missing anything if you don't stay for the full credit roll); and the Stan Lee cameo actually made me smile and feel affectionate towards the man. Now, that's amazing.