If it seems like only a few years since we thrilled to director Sam Raimi's “Spider-Man” trilogy, well ... that's because it was. Raimi's films were released in 2002, 2004, and 2007. After a mere five years, Sony is starting all over again. The question is: Was it worth it?
The James Bond series — the official Broccoli/Saltzman line — produced 20 films over more than 40 years before it was finally “rebooted” with Daniel Craig in 2006. “Superman Returns” came 19 years after “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (which, in any case, no one saw). There was a gap of eight years after Joel Schumacher essentially killed the Batman series with “Batman & Robin” before Christopher Nolan's “Batman Begins” made the characters fresh again in 2005.
Ang Lee's version had been a big disappointment, both commercially and critically. Similarly, back in the day, Warner Bros. released versions of “The Maltese Falcon” in 1931 and 1936, until John Huston finally got in right in 1941. But these are unlike the other franchises above, all of which were had been huge hits first time around.
Raimi's films grossed more than a billion dollars, and the first two were critical hits as well. What director Marc Webb and screenwriter James Vanderbilt have come up with in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a variant remake of the Raimi's “Spider-Man” (2002). (Given that Webb's one previous feature was the small-scale “500 Days of Summer,” we can only guess he was hired for his surname.) It makes obvious financial sense to revive such a tentpole franchise. But is there really any inherent aesthetic justification?
Like the 2002 version, this is an “origins” story, incorporating a few changes. The biggest of these starts in the opening sequence, in which Peter Parker's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) take a powder under mysterious cloak-and-dagger circumstances, leaving him in the care of Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).
Fifteen years later, Peter (Andrew Garfield) finds hidden papers in Dad's old briefcase; his curiosity drives him to delve into his own backstory. He sneaks into the OsCorp labs (where Dad used to work) and gets bitten by a genetically mutated spider. He finds himself developing spider-ish powers, although, in a really questionable new take, he invents strap-on web shooters — pretty impressive for a teenager, even one who's presented as a science genius. (Longtime Spidey fans know that the mechanical web shooters were in the original comic, but Raimi wisely made them into another organic change to Parker’s body.)
At the lab, he also meets his father's former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, once again seeming like a younger David Warner). In a Jekyll and Hyde development, Connors starts turning into the Lizard — the film's villain.
The action sequences seem overly familiar now, and the story changes less than monumental. The best element of the new film is the romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). No offense to Kirsten Dunst, who played the love interest in Raimi's films, but Stone radiates a more irresistible appeal. And Garfield's Peter takes the geeky shyness of Tobey Maguire and cranks it up to 11. This Peter is not just awkward: His inability to connect with his peers — it's a big deal when he manages to make eye contact with Gwen — is so severe that his he seems to have a degree of autism or Asperger's. The romantic chemistry ends up being more intense than Maguire and Dunst.
Is it worth the time? Certainly if you've never seen Raimi's films; maybe, if you have and you don't mind a bit of déjà vu. The whole affair is entertaining, but utterly superfluous.
One alert: In a bit of dirty pool, the most memorable element in the ads and trailers — the “Does he know who he really is?” bit — has no payoff. It's the last line in the film, a mid-credits teaser for the next “Spider-Man” film. Boo hiss.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).