Odd that a movie about an arachnoid teenager coming of age and falling in love and doing battle with a lizard-man to save Manhattan should be so forgettable. What to blame but rebootitis? Sam Raimi’s trilogy of just a few years ago was after all just a numbered series of Spider-Men, whereas this new movie felt compelled to call itself Amazing. Well, it isn’t, and bland sincerity being its most salient feature must have something to do with Marvel Studios house style.
Let’s assume there’ll be a couple more in this configuration — with a fetchingly moony Andrew Garfield as our web-crawler hero, Emma Stone as his leggy and gently sassy girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and now Marc Webb directing — until arcs play out or players burn out or somebody wants a raise or a writing credit, to which the studio’s answer will be that replacing people is what studios (especially this one) do. By then the common complaint about franchise reboots won’t be of too-soonness but too-frequency, with all parties grudgingly resigned to the understanding that until the technology improves or its cost comes down, movies will remain at the mercy of whoever’s currently alive to make them.
So here we go (again): Young gadget-nerd Peter Parker, ostensibly orphaned by his father’s dangerous research and consequently overprotected by his salt-of-the-earth aunt and uncle (Sally Field, Martin Sheen), tracks down dad’s former partner (Rhys Ifans), a mostly genial bioengineer with a missing arm and a red-flag proneness to pronouncements like, “I wanna create a world without weakness!” Well, one little mishap in the secret room full of superspiders and suddenly he’s Peter Parkour, scampering up walls, sticking to stuff, swinging into costumed action. This invites cute complications with Gwen and especially with her dad (Denis Leary), the city’s top cop, but matters become more serious when the bioengineer morphs into a marauding reptile.
At least “The Amazing Spider-Man” reminds us that showing well is relative. The combined glare of rough lighting and IMAX 3-D could be kinder to Sally Field, for instance, but the last thing we need here is another rictus of cosmetic modification. Perhaps relatedly, it’s hard not to notice that Garfield being a beanpole isn’t much camouflaged by the Spidey suit — or maybe it’s that the suit’s essential silliness is harder to ignore with him in it. But then isn’t that the basic point of this geek-alter-ego mythology? Being lanky, it so happens, is an asset to this character, and really to any character construed as a teenager but played by a guy in his late twenties. (To see what Garfield really can do, rent the great “Red Riding” trilogy.)
Not lacking comic-book-blockbuster-with-heart qualifications, Webb last sought the serenity of young romance amid noisy movie machinery in “(500) Days of Summer.” With that last name he’ll be chided for a tangle here that’s really more thanks to writers Alvin Sargent (who had a hand in two of the Raimi films), Steve Kloves, and James Vanderbilt. Marvel instead at the poised display of tensile strength, that most essential prerequisite for sequel endurance.