I am sure many are questioning why even make a reboot of a franchise whose most recent edition only bowed out in theaters just five years ago. In reality it is a convoluted combination of Marvel not wanting their characters to linger too long in cinematic purgatory and the studios wanting to start from a cheaper financial jumping off point. I personally have a "what the hell" attitude and say bring it on people. Let's see what ya got. What they got is a redoing of Sam Raimi's own 2002 Spider-Man origin story, but with less emphasis on CGI effects and more on character development and the interpersonal stories that make the comics themselves so good. What we get is a somewhat better retelling of Peter Parker's origin, made possible through novice director Marc Webb's awe-inspired, not necessarily awe-inspiring, direction and the natural seeming chemistry between Andrew Garfield's web-slinger and Emma Stone's girlfriend extraordinaire Gwen Stacy.
Of course there is always a problem when telling an origin story, and an even bigger one when re-telling one. A lot of backstory, especially backstory that any regular reader of any of the kajillion Spider-Man titles that have come out of the Marvel bullpen already knows by heart, and even those non-comic readers who saw Raimi's original origin story know pretty darn well, can be...um, well it can be boring. Raimi counteracted this problem by throwing everything he could find, up to and including the kitchen sink, right smack dab at it. Webb on the other hand (and can I just make a quick aside by saying that the director now finds himself as the Webb of Spider-Man - all the true believer comic book heads in the room know of what I pun) counterpunches with a more intimate, more tender take on the whole thing. Now don't get me wrong, there is plenty of action here, but this action is blended in rather seamlessly with the coming of age story that is the crux of not only this film, but of many of the first hundred or so issues of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comic from the 1960's.
Much of this coming of age storytelling is brought even further into focus by Andrew Garfield. The US-born, UK raised actor who made an impression two years ago in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, plays Parker/Spidey with a more humanistic spirit than Tobey Maguire did in the Raimi version (not that Maguire wasn't good in the role as well). Garfield's lanky Ditko-esque appearance, charming boyish smile and nervous banter, as well as the aforementioned chemistry between he and the always bewitching Ms. Stone - their repeated meet-cute encounters never get tiresome - make for a very good story when the webs are not flying. When those webs are flying though, we get a less hectic beast than what Raimi gave us (that was his thing though, and I mean no disrespect toward him) but never any less exciting. Director Webb, whose only previous time spent behind the camera was 2009's charming, though sometimes a bit too charming indie hit (500) Days of Summer, makes his way through this film with a hit and miss trepidation that pays off more often than not, much in the same way our intrepid wouldbe spider-hero finds his way through the ups and downs of herodom.
With Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Conners, a one-armed not-so-mad scientist who eventually becomes a bit hot under the collar when he transforms himself into a The Lizard - always one of my favourite of the web-head's overpopulated and somewhat overstuffed rogue's gallery - and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen's very overprotective father-cum-police chief, providing antagonistic fervor, and Sally Field and Martin Sheen shoring up the homefront as the eponymous Aunt May and Uncle Ben respectively, Garfield and his dishy smile that blends a cocksure attitude with a sheepish kind of grin, donned in an appropriately slightly misfitted costume, is helped along famously. True, in the end, this reboot, brazenly (and comic lore appropriately) adjectivized as The Amazing, is an improvement on Raimi's version, but not any drastic kind of improvement, and anyway the original probably did not really warrant any need for improvement in the first place. So does that mean this new version is superfluous? Some might say yes. Is it a fun movie? I would say yes to that as well. But then, even superfluous is fun sometimes.