THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN–a redo of Sam Raimi’s 2002 SPIDER-MAN starring Tobey Maguire–is better and worse. Raimi’s was a darker, more interesting and resonant film, but Andrew Garfield is my preferred Spidey. Garfield has the narrowest body on the big screen today; when he suits up, he seems barely wider than the silver filaments he casts to propel himself through the metropolis. His Peter Parker becomes a human arachnid hot on the heels of bad guys — the one who shot his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and left his Aunt May(Sally Field) a widow, and The Lizard who later emerges as his nemesis. But shorter shrift is given to these characters, Peter’s relationship to them, and the web of conflicting feelings all of these circumstances generate.
It’s as though the filmmakers were impatient for the action sequences. The film is both pumped up and stripped down–pumped up on special effects which are unquestionably light years beyond the 2002 version (curiously, 3D didn’t seem to add much ) but emotionally stripped down. All the ambiguity is unraveled. Peter Parker tells his girl –this time Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)– right away who he is and she believes him. Later when he must abandon her, she figures out pretty soon why, and relieves the tension, until the final moments that leave no doubt this love story will continue.
Garfield and Stone do generate some heat, but theirs is a more obvious teen love story, not the simmering burn cooked up by Maguire and Dunst’s dark and ambivalent dance. Garfield’s Parker is all youthful angst, visibly twitchy in his own skin, unlike Maguire’s more internally turbulent and ironic take on the character. And Stone, sparkling and feisty, isn’t a moody damsel in distress; she comes to the hero’s aid more than once. It’s a more modern, but more superficial take on the relationship. Nonetheless, these two young actors remain remarkably charismatic, despite having to deliver some rickety dialogue, and fill up a few underpopulated scenes in the big climactic moments which fall emotionally short, lack suspense, and feel almost corny.
Rhys Ifans– as Peter’s father’s former colleague Dr. Curt Connors– is a terrific actor, but is wasted. He turns into a reptile too fast– no haggling with himself or Peter, no buildup to the big show-down, by way of scenes that would have allowed us to appreciate his evil genius. Before you know it, he sets up a complex lab in the sewers among the lizards. Huh? OK. I know it’s a Marvel Comic, but this all felt too fast and unearned. And Denis Leary– he’s funny in his deadpan surly way, but also stiff as Gwen’s father the Police Captain.
There’s a line in the beginning of the film when Peter Parker is attempting to sneak into a lab, and has to choose among several fake ID’s to wear. The receptionist asks him, “Are you having trouble finding yourself?” That, of course is the key question for Spider-Man. Raimi did a better job of making us feel enmeshed in that trip and how sticky that journey is for anyone, let alone an orphan who has stumbled into foreign genetic territory within himself. Director Marc Webb (couldn’t make that up) and the screenwriters haven’t woven a tangled enough web; if only they’d left us hanging– just a little bit– by a thread more suspense.