Other than the obvious cash grab, it's hard to understand why Sony decided Spider-Man was ready for a reboot a mere five years after Columbia released the final entry of Sam Raimi's version to theaters.
The studio's marketing angle, promoted heavily in press releases to the media and in interviews with the film's stars, was that director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) would do for the web slinger what Christopher Nolan had done for the dark knight-namely, make him grittier, smarter, and more realistic.
But by the time Nolan launched a new Batman franchise (eight years after the previous run), the brand had become a joke. Batman's earnings in the mid-'90s were average to awful compared to their cost, and the films were most noteworthy for the campy performances of stars who seemed embarrassed to be there. Raimi's Spider-Man, by contrast, ended on a high note, still popular with both critics and audiences. To make matters even more inexplicable, not only is Marc Webb no Christopher Nolan, he's no Sam Raimi.
There's nothing overtly awful about The Amazing Spider-Man (rated PG-13 for language and fairly cartoonish violence) except that it replaces the best elements of the previous versions with something far more cynical and calls it progress.
Under Raimi's guidance Tobey Maguire brought a sort of awkward charm to the headline role. With his gee-whiz courting of Mary Jane and his squeaky-clean appearance, Peter Parker was a bit of a nerd, but he was genuine. And he resonated with the nerd in all of us.
As played by Andrew Garfield, Peter is still something of an outsider, but he's a sulky, superior outsider-the type who sneers at the popular kids and congratulates himself for being too smart to be one of them. Wearing oversized hoodies and with trendy retro posters covering his walls, he tends to sneer at his guardians Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) as well. After Uncle Ben gives him all the information he can about the mysterious disappearance of Peter's father, Peter nonetheless lashes out at him.
He eventually comes to regret some of his actions, but his general attitude of rebellion is, for the most part, treated as a phase, as though selfish rage were merely a part of growing up. If grittier means brattier, then I suppose one could say Webb has made a somewhat grittier film.
But besides the fact that the new Spidey is less likeable, the film fails on Sony's other two promises as well. Plot lines, like when Peter conveniently stumbles onto unlocked doors in a highly secretive, highly secure genetic testing facility, are as undercooked as any other, less-vaunted superhero fare. Though only a high-school intern, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), Peter's love interest, apparently has full knowledge of every bit of classified research going on in Oscorp and has all the passwords to prove it.
And realistic? Leaving aside for the moment that the villain is a humanoid lizard (which I would have no problem with but for Sony's Nolan boasts), Spider-Man manages to inspire the love and devotion of the entire city only days after his first public appearance. Ask Tim Tebow how quickly New Yorkers are won over by those whose reputations are built on good works. A scene where a cadre of construction workers go into over-time to give Spider-Man a hand is particularly irksome in that it looks so much like one in Spider-Man 3, except here it feels manipulative and unearned.
As for that cash grab, there's no doubt that Sony's carefully orchestrated buzz and major ad campaign have done their work and that they will turn a profit on their Spider-Man venture. But marketing isn't everything. Adjusted for inflation, The Amazing Spider-Man took in less than half of what Raimi's final webbed adventure managed to snare in its opening weekend. That alone offers reason to suspect this webbed wonder may have a much shorter shelf life.