We are about halfway through The Amazing Spider-Man – and an estimated $100 million in – when that pivotal character dies and Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) fate as Spider-Man is sealed. It is an origin story that most of the audience will already know. For those who do not I won’t spoil it by telling you who buys it, but surely you must know the part about Peter getting bitten by a radioactive spider. It is all in there, ever so slightly twisted or tweaked. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) replaces Mary Jane Watson, we find out more about Peter’s father, and The Lizard is the supervillain du jour. But that really seems like minor maintenance to the original trilogy. It does not merit the label major upgrade, let alone reboot. As a result, “critics are forced to compare product versions and work through old-versus-new lists (…) Sure, one can refuse to do that. But then there really is not a lot to say” (Tobias Kniebe, Süddeutsche Zeitung).
Based on this movie, one may ask: what merits a reboot, apart from the obvious commercial considerations? Why was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins an artistically relevant film whereas Marc Webb’s Spider-Man remix is not? The determining factor in this case seems to be the power of the director’s vision. Nolan developed a very specific idea about Bruce Wayne and Batman’s identity, which sprung from the comic book source material but also stood on its own and even enriched its heritage. Webb is really just a hired hand for the Spider-Man reboot with only his directorial debut (500) Days of Summer under his belt, an original entry in the romantic comedy genre starring Zooey Deschanel. Presumably, the producers were looking for someone who could focus on the character development and the love story between Peter and Gwen. And that aspect of the film is certainly enjoyable, thanks in large part to pleasant performances by Garfield and “the ever wonderful Emma Stone” (Tobias Kniebe, Süddeutsche Zeitung). But it is still cliché material to the second degree. Not only have we seen these patterns many times before in different configurations (boy being bullied by jock, beauty falls for beta male, nerd takes revenge, tough guy turns out to have heart of gold), in this case we already know the names that are attached to the characters as well: Peter, Flash, Gwen, with Uncle Ben and Aunt May in the background. Despite the familiarity, the first part of the movie is entertaining. Especially Peter getting acquainted with his superpowers gets some big laughs. But at the same time I was itching for a fast-forward to something less predictable. Which never comes.
What else is there to say about this movie? The 3D is fine, with a bit of innovation in the dynamic point of view shots of Spidey climbing and swinging, as if a camera was mounted to his head. Apparently the new, more lightweight Red Epic 3D cameras make those kinds of shots possible (or they may just have snuck in some post-conversion work there). The iconic Spider-Man poses look good (it’s hard to distinguish the stunt work from the CGI), there is the “Who are you? – I’m Spider-Man” moment as well as the taking-your-girlfriend-flying-scene. The unavoidable climactic fight is nothing special, but the emotional resolution that follows it is touching and well-handled by Marc Webb. But the big question I’m left with is this: whatever happened to a superhero’s identity being secret? By the end of this movie, everyone and their uncle (well no, not him) knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Perhaps that can be corrected in the next reboot.