Even after the reason for the Spider-Man reboot was explained to me, I still feel puzzled and at sea about it. The new movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, is basically a linear, block by block retelling of Tobey Maguire’s first foray as Peter Parker and his leotard-wearing alter ego. Some things are different: Mary Jane is now Gwen (Emma Stone, looking impossibly mature for high school), Peter’s Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) aren’t as old and seem to have had a better financial planner than their predecessors, and Peter himself (Andrew Garfield) is alternately geekier and cuter than Maguire.
Director Marc Webb and writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves dip a little bit deeper into the Marvel archives: There’s Gwen, of course, but they also suggest a delectable unsolved mystery about the death of Peter’s mother and scientist father. They then shy away from its exploration, however, preferring to reinterpret Peter’s moment of truth, when he realizes he’s no longer just a red-blooded American boy. This time around, he seeks answers from his late father’s lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a one-armed scientist intent on growing a new limb by mingling the species. Doc Connors seems to be in hock to some nefarious syndicate and, when said group pulls his funding, things go wrong quickly. Just as Spider-Man is learning how to combine his skateboarding technique with his newfangled web trickery, he’s got to save the city from Dr. Curt, aka The Lizard.
There are the prerequisite flight scenes and rescues, notably one in which Spider-Man method-channels his own insecurities to save a little boy from certain death. Gwen’s father (Denis Leary), the captain of the police force, initially mistrusts Peter—there’s a charmingly uncomfortable dinner scene where Spidey meets Daddy—but comes to be an important ally. Garfield is very good, somehow making us forget Maguire’s interpretation, and reminding us more of Peter’s sad beginnings; I appreciated scenes in which Peter, puzzled, afraid and frustrated, has to maneuver the intricacies of his new strength and nimbleness. Too often, however, there are scenes where he seems, inexplicably, to fight back tears, and the movie’s overall tone descends into a grim, Bergman-esque etude on loss and responsibility. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were injected with great wit and surprise, something desperately needed in the otherwise decent Amazing Spider-Man.