The Amazing Spider-Man is trapped in a tangled web, spun 10 years ago by Sam Raimi's Spider-Man that adequately covered much of the same origins material. There isn't a scene in the new, technically improved version that doesn't beg comparison or the question of why rebooting the franchise this soon is necessary.
Director Marc Webb's take on the Marvel Comics legend is better than Raimi's when it's being different, after smart re-casting and a decade of perfecting special effects. But it's essentially the same mutant spider-bite, awkward adjustment to super powers and revenge motive for using them. Not enough of The Amazing Spider-Man is dissimilar; the repetitive Spider-Man is more like it.
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) finally slips into Spidey's costume after an hour of re-introduction to Peter Parker, his high school alter ego updated to post-Twilight sensitivity standards. Rather than Tobey Maguire's mild-mannered nerd, Peter is now a brooding skateboarder bullied for not looking or acting like the pack. Garfield's sharp features and perpetually serious eyebrows are convincing, and he pulls off lighter moments with the mask on.
Another improvement is focusing Peter's romantic intentions on sparkling Gwen Stacy rather than dependable Mary Jane Watson, and hiring the effervescent Emma Stone to portray her. Stone's blue eyes are themselves a special effect, expressing curiosity about Peter and wonderment at his transformation, or locking dreamy gazes with Garfield. They reportedly began dating while filming, and the chemistry shows.
The connection plays into Webb's strength, after only one previous film to his credit, the hip, neo-romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. More surprising is Webb's firm first grip on CGI technology, sending Spider-Man on web-swinging flights through skyscrapers, and into acrobatic combat. You can't see the digital "wires" as readily as Raimi's version. Nothing reaches the delirious mayhem level of The Avengers but it's impressive.
If only Webb had a better villain at his disposal. Rhys Ifans is more interesting in human form as conniving scientist Dr. Curt Connors than in his genetically altered state as the Lizard. Sure, he's scaly-ugly with sharp teeth and a wrecking-ball tail. But what else do you have besides a villain that wasn't used before? Stick around for the end credits and the traditional Marvel cliffhanger, this one suggesting another rebooted character.
The Amazing Spider-Man is fun, as any summer movie amusement ride can be. But it left me feeling the same as Raimi's version; that groundwork has been dutifully laid for a winning franchise in need of a few surprises. And what does it mean, having that feeling a second time with the same superhero and so relatively soon? It means nothing moves the Marvel universe more than money and anyone is fair game to be forgotten. Robert Downey Jr., watch your back.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.