The Amazing Spider-Man has had the misfortune of having to reach the viewer through a whole fog of questions. “Is it too soon for a reboot? Why are they making this? Is it just a money/rights grab? Where is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer any of those questions, but I can tell you that you probably won’t be worried about them at all once the movie begins.
As you’ve almost certainly gathered by now, Spider-Man is another retelling of the classic superhero’s origin. It’s mostly the same story we all know and love: Peter Parker, nerdy high-schooler, gets bitten by a radioactive (or in this case genetically modified) spider that gives him superpowers. Parker fails to use these abilities in pursuit of something other than his own gain, resulting in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben, who passes on the famous aphorism “with great power comes great responsibility” and encourages Peter to use his abilities to protect New York City. Curiously, Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen exactly as fans of 50 years of Spider-Man comics would want him to, neglects to say the line that made him famous, but still puts out the sentiment.
What sets this retelling apart from others is just how precisely they nail the essence of all these classic characters. There’s a common opinion that Batman: The Animated Series is the perfect distillation of the Batman character and all his accompanying themes and ideas. The Amazing Spider-Man does something pretty darn similar. Andrew Garfield is about as perfect a Peter Parker as I could have wished for. After reading Spider-Man comics my whole life, Garfield feels like the meat space version of the person I always envisioned. Of particular note is the balance he strikes between Peter and Spider-Man. When he’s still just Peter Parker, he’s lonely, nerdy, outcast, but not quite shy; when the mask goes on and he starts fighting thugs he’s almost literally a different person. He starts slinging jokes and even stands more confidently once he’s empowered by the mask.
Every other character is just as close to their comic counterpart: Dr. Curt Connors maintains that well-meaning good nature that’s taken over by lizard DNA, Sally Field is stern but comforting and caring, rather than the Sam Raimi trilogy’s doting and borderline senile Aunt May, and Emma Stone is great as Gwen Stacy. Stone puts in a great performance, never making Gwen seem too above Peter, the popular girl dating below her station, but rather like they’re perfect for each other. Heck, she even looks like classic John Romita Sr.’s Gwen Stacy!
The problem though, is that all these pitch perfect versions of the characters don’t have a lot to do in the movie. Things start strong, really strong, but by the time Peter actually dons the suit there isn’t much momentum. It seems like the movie is as content to wait and see as the audience until the last act suddenly bursts out and things start happening again, sort of. Spider-Man doesn’t even seem to do that much, uh, Spider-Manning. The Lizard isn’t threatening enough of a villain to drive things forward, and Spidey’s commitment to live up to his great responsibility isn’t compelling to carry the movie on its own.
Conclusion: The Amazing Spider-Man is like buying the finest possible cake ingredients you could possibly find, and then using them to make Twinkies instead. Yeah, those are really good Twinkies, but they’re still just Twinkies. Likewise, perfect characters and acting can’t break The Amazing Spider-Man out if it’s Twinkie of a script. That said, Twinkies still taste good, and so does this movie. (Don’t eat this movie.)