Spider-man swings back into the theaters, with new actors, a new director, a mutated origin, and brand-new webs of continuity.

Given how recent the Raimi/Maguire franchise is, I won’t even try to avoid occasional comparisons. Better questions remain, however: does this film hold up on its own, and will it appeal to the fans?

Title: The Amazing Spider-man

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Knowles, featuring characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben
Sally Field as Aunt May
Irrfan Khan as Rajit Ratha
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Max Charles as Peter Parker (Age 4)
Kari Coleman as Helen Stacy
Leif Gantvoort as Fateful Criminal
Stan Lee as Librarian

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

A nerdy high-school kid gains superhuman powers after he gets bitten by… Wait, are you serious?

In this incarnation, Gwendolyn is a science genius, Curtis Connor is an associate of Peter’s late scientist father, and a conspiracy lingers in the background that will be resolved in another film.

High Points:

1. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone do an excellent job capturing the essence of these characters. Behind the mask and the quips, the original, classic Spider-man was a broody guy who took a lot of punches. The comic-book Gwendolyn (pre-J. Michael Straczynski retcons) had a core of innocence and tragedy. We see all of those elements here, played convincingly. Just as Stan Lee wanted to take the comic-book superhero and make him slightly more realistic, so this film better grounds Spider-man in something a little closer to the real world, without losing sight of the comic-book origins.

2. Stan Lee gets his funniest cameo appearance to date.

Low Points:

1. Peter wanders into Oscorp on flimsy premises and then sneaks into a high security area, where he can tamper with a delicate experiment. Later, the 17-year-old intern of a man who’s been sacked has full access to sensitive equipment. Seriously, most modern high schools have better security than Oscorp. Further comments follow under “Story.”

2. 3-D. For all of the impressive shots of Spidey swinging over NYC, this film gives us little reason to be in 3-D, even if you’re among those who still think 3-D movies are a pretty nifty idea.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6. Spider-man can only be so original and, five years after the last movie series, this feels very familiar. Nevertheless, this cast and crew manage their own take on the web-slinger even if it means nobody says “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Spidey’s early efforts at being a superhero have to do with revenge, not living up to a moral precept.

Effects: 6/6 The film features excellent wallcrawler effects—I never felt like I was watching excerpts from the videogame. The production crew also makes the lizard CGI work.

Acting: 5/6 I’ve addressed Garfield and Stone elsewhere. Strong though these actors are, Hollywood really needs to stop telling us 29-year-olds are 17. This becomes especially annoying, given how much this film takes on the ethos and angst of teendom.

The supporting cast members also turn in impressive performances. Ifans is strong, if a bit Marvel-melodramatic and inconsistent, as Curtis Connor. I was leary of the performer they cast as Captain Stacy, but he turned out to be not too much of an as-hole, and he had good repartee with Garfield. Chris Zylka only appears briefly, but he’s far more the Flash Thompson of the original comics than Joe Manganiello in Raimi’s films. Speaking of Raimi’s films: Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson were perfect as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, but Sally Fields and Martin Sheen bring weight to the roles—and I can’t wait for the future moment when Spider-man realizes his aunt also has super-powers.

The characters have a little too much exposition to deliver, but that problem emanates from the script, not the actors…

Story: 4/6 The movie does a great job grounding the characters and their world; it fails mostly in its third act, which relies heavily on implausible developments, even for a film where altered spiders convey superhuman powers. The film also throws out a lot of problematic threads it fails to resolve, and I frankly dread the moment when the conspiracy involving Peter’s parents will resurface.

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 5/6. Raimi’s Spider-man was an event in the way this film could not be, it gave us a couple iconic movie moments (something this film lacks), and it did a better job of introducing the various familiar elements of the Spider-man mythos. Webb’s film more clearly captures the essence of Peter, and it does a better job of setting up for future sequels—in part, by leaving so many familiar elements out of the first film: no photographer’s job for the Bugle, no Osborn family with tortuous dynamics (Osborn is a reference, but not a character), no trace of MJ, and no echoes of the theme song.

In total, The Amazing Spider-man receives 31/42.

So…. Did this movie need to be made?

1. No. No movie needs to be made.
2. Yes. Sony was going to lose the rights to the character if they didn’t make some kind of Spider-man movie.
3. No. So soon after the Raimi/Maguire franchise, they should have just James Bonded the character and continued with a new Spider-man adventure. We don’t need to see his freakin’ origin yet again, five years after the end of the recent series.
4. Yes. They’ve done a better job of planning for future sequels, and this required a full reboot.
5. No. If Sony lost the rights, Spidey might have been folded into The Avengers-related Marvel movies. That would have been, like, so boss.
6. Yes. Sony wasn’t going to let #5 happen.
7. Your turn….