Usually I don’t stump for the extra surcharge and the glasses, but The Amazing Spider-Man is probably worth seeing in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find, just for the swinging scenes. No, not Ice Storm swinging; Spider-Man swinging. The guilt-stricken hero shoots his webs, which are stronger than any cable, and slings himself all over New York City, from precipice to precipice. It’s a beautiful sight, and from time to time director Marc Webb slows down or even pauses the action so that Spider-Man hangs suspended in the night air for a pregnant moment. Computer effects have improved vastly since the first Spider-Man movie ten summers ago, so Spider-Man actually seems to have weight and mass. I didn’t care much about where he was swinging to, but it looks terrific.
As you may have heard, this is a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, ignoring Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films and starting from scratch. Once again, we see the origin story: dorky Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically altered spider and gains a variety of powers. He can crawl up walls and across ceilings; his strength and endurance are enhanced, and he has what the comic books refer to as “spider-sense,” enabling him to intuit danger. (This has never helped the myriad spiders I’ve squished with a newspaper, but we don’t look to Spider-Man for verisimilitude.) All told, it’s about an hour before Peter finally climbs into his red-and-blue costume; before that, he swings around (on homemade web-slingers, not organic as in the prior films) in his civvies and then in a luchador-inspired mask.
The original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics had an elegant simplicity. Peter never knew his parents; he was brought up by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (played here by Martin Sheen and Sally Field). Here, much is made of Peter’s parents disappearing into the night for some reason connected to the father’s scientific research, which in turn is connected to the life’s work of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who hopes to merge various species’ DNA to cure human ailments. Connors, who has only one arm, injects himself with some reptile stuff and becomes the Lizard, the big villain this time out. (In the Raimi films, Dylan Baker played this role and was obviously being groomed to be the villain in a future Raimi Spider-Man film, but now his character seems to have no reason to be in those movies.)
The problem here is that the reboot forces links where there needn’t be any. The conflict between Spider-Man and the Lizard seems to be part of a larger arc that will unfold across another trilogy, probably connected to OsCorp, Connors’ employer, named for Norman Osborn, better known as the Green Goblin. In other words, the film seems to be setting up a vast conspiracy involving Peter and his parents, the endgame of which will be made clear … in a few years. I go to a Spider-Man movie to see the guy duke it out with powerful bad guys. I’m simple that way. I don’t need a welter of convolutions. It’s become a bad habit, not only among screenwriters adapting comics for movies but among comics writers, to take a basic, enjoyable origin story with an element of randomness (high-school boy is bitten by spider, becomes hero) and remove the randomness.
Meanwhile, there’s a faltering romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whip-smart daughter of the same police captain (Denis Leary) who wants to arrest Spider-Man. Stone is entertaining as always, but her character doesn’t go anywhere special here; longtime fans of the comics, of course, know what befell Gwen, though the jury’s out on whether the movies will have the guts to go there. Despite Marc Webb’s fancy talk about how the film’s theme is that “we’re all missing a piece,” that just seems pasted onto what reads as a soulless ploy by Sony to retain the rights to Spider-Man. Still, I did recommend that you spend the extra dough for the 3D, so here are some other things I enjoyed: Connors’ expression when he first realizes who Peter is; Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo, probably his funniest yet; Spider-Man using his webs to detect the Lizard’s movement; Denis Leary’s horror when faced with an allegedly menstruating teenage daughter. Few of these things have much to do with the superhero I grew up with, and this movie doesn’t even have time for Peter’s and Spider-Man’s ultimate nemesis, J. Jonah Jameson. I never thought I’d miss the old coot so much.