DVD Release Date: November 9, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: July 2, 2012
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Genre: Action
Run Time: 136 min.
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Rhys Ifans, Irrfan Khan

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

That was one of the most memorable lines from 2002's Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire (Brothers). The film was a huge hit, spawning two successful sequels released in 2004 and 2007 respectively.

The studio behind the Spider-Man movie franchise, Sony Pictures, also has great power and great responsibility. It can green-light any film that it suspects will satisfy shareholders' profit expectations, and launch a franchise that will reap a bonanza in sequels and merchandising.

The company spent an estimated $215 million to simply reboot the same franchise it spawned all of a decade ago. The director (Marc Webb) is different, as is the star (Andrew Garfield), but The Amazing Spider-Man treads much of the same ground as Spider-Man. However, where Spider-Man was enjoyably filled with director Sam Raimi’s visual pizzazz, The Amazing Spider-Man spins a weaker web that feels overly familiar and more visually rote. It’s not difficult to sit through; the workmanship in front of and behind the camera is competent. But there’s too much of a "been-there, done-that" quality to this origin story to spark the enthusiasm that better summer popcorn movies can generate.

The Amazing Spider-Man opens with a nearly wordless sequence that is one of the film’s best: the discovery, by the young Peter Parker, of a break-in at the Parker home. No one is hurt, but Peter’s father, who has been researching cross-species genetics with his partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), is highly agitated by the intrusion.

Years later, Peter is a high-school student being raised by his uncle and aunt (Martin Sheen and Sally Field). His parents have disappeared, and Peter is dealing with the ups and downs of high school: a potential love interest, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), and a bully who’s making Peter’s life difficult. Gwen is an intern at OsCorp, the firm where Dr. Connors is at work on a serum that might help re-grow human limbs. Peter, searching for more details about his father’s earlier work with Connors, sneaks into an OsCorp lab and is bitten by a spider.

Soon Peter is exhibiting super-human strength, using it to have a little fun at the expense of others while forgetting about his more mundane family responsibilities. That doesn’t sit well with his uncle, who’s more concerned about what it takes to be a man than what it takes to be a superhero.

The strength of The Amazing Spider-Man is its first hour, as Peter comes to terms with the consequences of personal failure and new responsibilities. When one failure leads to the death of a loved one, Peter has to learn how to harness his powers for purposes greater than vengeance.

That’s a potent moral theme, but unfortunately, the second half of The Amazing Spider-Man chases after humor and special-effects, neither of which works very well. A wise-cracking Spidey subduing criminals might be amusing in and true to Spider-Man comics, but in the film, Garfield’s one-liners can be hard to discern. Even when they come through loud and clear, they usually fall flat.

Better is Parker’s budding romance with Gwen, whose father is—wait for it—a skeptical chief of police (played, enjoyably, by Denis Leary) who has little respect for Spider-Man. A dinner scene in which Parker tries to defend Spider-Man to his girlfriend’s father hits some familiar beats, but the verbal jousting is more lively than the inevitable fights between Spider-Man and the movie’s chief villain, The Lizard.

The outcome of a panicked decision by Dr. Connors to use himself as a guinea pig before his boss (Irrfan Khan) pulls the plug on Connors’ operation, The Lizard is pitted against our hero in battles royale that have become so routine in superhero films that no amount of CGI-driven destruction can rouse interest in the big-screen mayhem.

Even though The Amazing Spider-Man gets less interesting as it goes, it’s rarely boring. While there’s nothing here you haven’t seen done before, and sometimes done better, there’s also nothing much that stands out as sorely lacking. As summer popcorn movies go, this is the kind that satisfies a craving but which, even as you consume it, makes you think of the better, fresher batch of popcorn you had at another theater. You end up basically satisfied and not in much of a mood to complain, even if you don’t plan to tell your friends they need to partake.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: “hell”; “oh God”; “da-n”; “sucked”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing; Peter inadvertently rips the shirt off a woman, and we see her in a bra
  • Violence/Crime: The aftermath of a break-in at the Parker house; Peter is bullied at school; Peter uses his newfound powers to fight off attackers; a robbery; a man is shot; Peter tests his new powers by engaging in otherwise risky behavior, such as doing a handstand on a ledge and diving off a building; Peter goes after criminals in the act, and mocks them as he subdues them; Peter back-talks to police; Lizard slashes Peter’s chest with his claws, and the wounds are shown later; characters are shot, sometimes multiple times
  • Religion/Morals: Uncle Ben chides Peter for “getting even” with a school bully; Uncle Ben tells Peter to “be a man” by apologizing to his aunt; Dr. Connors seeks to “create a world without weakness”

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: July 2, 2012