Toby McGuire was certainly nerdy enough to play Peter Parker, but was he angsty enough? In The Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) re-imagines the famous daytime high school student and nighttime web slinger with so much perfect snarky Gen-Y attitude that he just about makes the case for this entire superfluous remake’s existence. Only ten years ago, director Sam Raimi delivered a perfectly adequate Spider-Man origin story. Peter Parker, an orphaned New York teenager living with his aunt and uncle, is bitten by a radioactive spider in a science lab, develops superpowers as a result, and is then driven to crime fighting by his uncle’s tragic death at the hands of a mugger. In the new film, the beats are exactly the same, and only after about 45 minutes of going through the motions does the new Spider-Man movie really begin.
Director Marc Webb (500 Days Of Summer) and his team of screenwriters attempt to hold our attention during that perfunctory period with new tidbits about the Parker parents. But what really keeps us enthralled is Andrew Garfield. With his case of perpetual bed-head, his skinny jeans and skateboard, and his constant air of guarded insecurity, Garfield’s embodiment is a new kind of geek, an offbeat urban hipster with a lost puppy allure and a too-cool swagger. The English actor’s profound performance educes everything we’d expect from a modern Peter Parker: He’s reckless and lonesome, bedraggled and bruised, but still good looking in an Indie Rock kind of way. When he stumbles home at midnight after receiving his radioactive infection, the psychoactive effects make him giggle and binge eat like a first-time weed smoker. He may not have done anything illicit, but his warped case of the munchies may evoke a few memories for the seasoned parents in the audience.
Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) look on helplessly. What are they going to do with this kid? Compared to Garfield’s isolated adolescent good-for-nothing, Toby McGuire was a Boy Scout. Nothing in The Amazing Spider-Man is as welcome as this Peter Parker makeover. Except maybe for the addition of Emma Stone as Parker’s first teenage crush, Gwen Stacy, an A-student in a series of mini-skirts, knee socks, and ponytails. With notebooks constantly pressed against her chest, Gwen is the daddy’s girl to Parker’s rotten apple, the Natalie Wood to his James Dean. And their chemistry scintillates. Her father, police Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), doesn’t particularly approve. But what father would?
If superhero puppy love isn’t your thing, rest assured. The Amazing Spider-Man’s got action, too. Just like in its predecessors, this movie has our wall-crawling vigilante taking down another mad-scientist whose experiment went awry. This time it’s Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a genius geneticist and amputee testing reptilian limb regeneration on humans. To make a long story short, he crossbreeds with a lizard, becomes a walking abomination, and takes refuge in the Manhattan sewer system (alligators in the sewers, anybody?). When he decides to infect the whole population with his gnarly deformity, Spidey swings in to save the day. The Lizard, as he’s called in the comic books, comes to life with CGI as a pint-sized Godzilla, and he’s a passable nemesis at best, not especially imaginative or complex.