What people really like about Spiderman isn’t the web slinging or the red-blue spandex or the zippy one-liners; its that beneath the mask there is a smart, witty, nerdy, likeable and relatable kid in Peter Parker.
Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire knew that for their 2002 film “Spider-Man,” and Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield seem to know it here for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which is essentially a remake of Raimi’s film. But Garfield’s Peter Parker doesn’t have the boyish charms of Maguire’s, and his mixed persona makes for a film that suffers from its other clichés and hokey gags.
I’m dating myself when I realize that “Spider-Man” is in fact 10 years old, and there are likely a new generation of 12-year-olds who will watch this version and appreciate it just fine. But everyone else may have fatigue at just how familiar this origin reboot is.
Peter Parker is left with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents are forced to leave in a hurry, never to be seen again. Now as a bright high school teenager, he’s rediscovering his father’s past and tracks down an old colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who transforms into a monstrous lizard thanks to a genetic algorithm provided by Peter. It’s then Peter’s job to stop him after he’s bitten by a genetically mutated spider that gives him enhanced strength, reflexes and an ability to stick to walls.
What’s tiring is how boilerplate Peter’s backstory is. Of course he has to deal with the obnoxious bully in school, stumble through awkward conversations with the cute Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and rehash the boring pseudo-science that explains his mutation.
And while the original “Spider-Man” is no less guilty of these clichés, Director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) overdoes it. The high school drama consumes the entire first half of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and for every visual gag, there’s an added cinematic punch line in case you forgot how to react, be it in a cheerleader’s bubble gum popping over her face or a Coldplay song cueing in to fill the gooey void.
Garfield handles all these moments with a peculiar attitude. On the streets in his costume, he’s notoriously smarmy and glib, and then at home or around his girlfriend, he shuts up into an awkward ball of angst. Garfield emanates so little chemistry with Stone that you wonder why Gwen is so drawn to him.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” also lacks a moment as instantly iconic as Spiderman kissing Mary Jane upside down in the rain, and Webb is not the visual technician that Raimi is, so a few shots from Spidey’s POV as he careens through the air look plain cartoonish.
Maybe it’s the 12-year-old me talking, but I was able to take the original “Spider-Man” somewhat seriously and still realize it was a goofy popcorn movie. It was as if Peter Parker never forgot how dopey he really is just by putting on that mask. “The Amazing Spider-Man” on the other hand is cornball all the time and thinks itself otherwise. It forgets who’s inside that spandex suit.