Well, at least they got the casting right.
In the original Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire was just about perfect as Peter Parker. Radiating intelligence, boyish enthusiasm, and vulnerability, Maguire brought a level of nuance to the role that, at the time, was just about unprecedented for a superhero movie. Ten years later, he seems as inseparable from the character as Christopher Reeves was to Superman or Connery was to Bond. One of the major risks of rebooting the franchise—apart from the obvious risk of rehashing too much familiar material and boring the audience to death—is finding an actor capable of standing in Maguire’s shoes.
Luckily, they’ve managed to find such an actor in Andrew Garfield, who does for Peter Parker what Daniel Craig did for Bond. His performance is a bit darker and edgier, but just as good. With Never Let Me Go and The Social Network, Garfield proved himself to be one of the best young character actors around. With The Amazing Spider-Man, he has graduated to major movie star.
The rest of the cast is also fairly strong. As Gwen Stacey, Peter Parker’s love interest, Emma Stone gives a character who feels underwritten a strong, vivid personality. Playing her father is Dennis Leary, who keeps getting better and better at playing curmudgeonly characters. Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Rhys Ifans round out the cast, and all are equally fine in their respective roles.
Unfortunately, the makers of Amazing Spider-Man aren’t able to deal with the other major risk of rebooting the franchise—the one about boring the audience to death—nearly as well. At least 25% of the things that happen in the original Spider-Man also happen in the new movie, but in a slightly different way. Peter once again gets bitten by a radioactive spider, only this time he gains access to the lab by pretending to be an intern rather than by going on a field trip with his class. Uncle Ben once again gets murdered, only this time he’s murdered by a convenience store robber rather than by a sporting event pickpocket. Peter once again gets his revenge against bullies, only this time it’s on the basketball court rather than by the lockers. The repetition eventually becomes the basis for one of the movie’s best jokes. In one scene, Peter falls through the roof of a building and lands in the middle of a wrestling ring. At this point, you can’t help but think, “Oh no, is he going to (briefly) become a wrestler again?” But it turns out to be a clever misdirection. Peter just needed to see a wrestling poster in order to get the idea of wearing a costume. When we see him in the next scene fighting thieves rather than wrestlers, it comes as an enormous relief.
The stuff that wasn’t already covered in the original Spider-Man isn’t much better. The villain this time is The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who has to be the least interesting villain in superhero movie history. He’s given a few throw away lines about hating weakness, injects himself with lizard DNA in an attempt to regenerate his amputated arm, and then before you know it, he’s masterminded a sinister plot to release a chemical cloud over the city. The climax involves Spider-Man attempting to get to the chemical launch site while Gwen Stacey works on an antidote/hides from the Lizard. If you’ve ever seen an episode of 24 or any of the last few Mission: Impossible movies, you’ll know exactly how this sequence plays out.
Still, the fight scenes are pretty entertaining (Stan Lee’s cameo as a school librarian oblivious to the destruction going on behind him is a highlight) and Garfield and Stone are strong enough to hold your attention when the story starts to lag. With the same cast and a different group of writers, a sequel could have enormous potential.