"Reboot" is a word thrown around a lot these days by Hollywood types who seem to enjoy the digital origins of the term almost as much as the way they use it — to tacitly suggest that their new project constitutes a significant improvement on the all-too-familiar series on which it is based. The last installment of director Sam Raimi's trilogy of popular Spider-Man movies arrived only five years ago. Do we really need a reboot of a franchise so recently and thoroughly exploited by Hollywood?
To ask that question, even rhetorically, is to deny Marvel Comics' apparently unstoppable plan to conquer the world via cinematic adaptations of its endlessly exploitable stable of comic book superheroes. The company's recent blockbuster The Avengers currently holds 28 all-time box-office records. The Amazing Spider-Man comes off far more traditional (and hokey) than The Avengers, and it lacks the subversive streak that helped elevate that movie above standard comic book fare. But Marvel Studios has done it again with The Amazing Spider-Man. It's another remarkably high-quality example of corporate craftsmanship that will absolutely thrill the voracious comic con crowd while keeping general audiences blissfully entertained.
How does Marvel do it? The surprising thing is that there doesn't appear to be a formula for the company's recent successes. Marvel seems consistently willing to take chances on young or under-appreciated directors who have at least shown signs of real talent. The Amazing Spider-Man was directed by 37-year-old Marc Webb, whose only previous feature was the indie romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. The old days of big-name producers hiring minimally talented but easily controlled directors to make blockbuster action movies appear to be dwindling, and audiences are the primary beneficiary.
Marvel's focus on long-term goals is readily apparent here. The movie's first hour is devoted to an almost action-free retelling of the Spider-Man origin story, starting with the mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker's parents when he was 7 years old. That's a lot of ground to cover, but Marvel is trying to build a substantial foundation for the innumerable sequels to follow. British actor Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) makes an appealingly nerdy Spider-Man. But for all her genuine charm, the almost 24-year-old Emma Stone can't quite pull off the role of Parker's innocent high school love-interest, Gwen Stacy. She's too self-possessed to be believed when awkwardly asking the even more awkward Parker for a date.
The story addresses Parker's gradual development of the Spider-Man persona as he tries to find out what happened to his scientist father, who used to work at a company researching cross-species genetics. Spider-Man eventually battles human-reptile hybrid villain the Lizard while New York City hangs in the balance. The 3-D effects are used sparingly where appropriate and spectacularly when needed — especially in IMAX 3-D (in theaters equipped for it), which in this case delivers both images and sounds of an almost holographic nature. In another kind of movie, that wouldn't necessarily signal an improvement over atmospheric pre-digital film grain. But it flatters The Amazing Spider-Man like a form-fitting superhero suit. — KEN KORMAN