The phrase “Déjà vu all over again” comes to mind when sitting through Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. You know you’ve been here before, but somehow, you couldn’t help but lead yourself down the same path again. The plot is vaguely familiar, most of the characters are the same and the Oscorp company name is bandied about heavily and generally used for evil purposes. Considering the comic book has been in publication since 1963–with new incarnations as late as 2010–one would think there would be a more disparate story to choose from than 2002′s Spider-Man, detailing the genesis of how Peter Parker came to be Spider-Man, as well as 2007′s Spider-Man 3, in which Bryce Dallas Howard plays the role of Gwen Stacy instead of Emma Stone.
These facts aside, there is something to be said for the latest casting choices in the story. Andrew Garfield, with his English lilt and gawky build, may actually trump Tobey Maguire’s far too polished version of a nerd. And, then, of course, there is Emma Stone, whose portrayal of Gwen Stacy makes it hard to believe Peter Parker would ever cast a glance toward Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson.
The only ingredient that seems to be missing in this rendering of Spider-Man is a counterpart for the role that James Franco played as Harry Osborn. Without any true cohort, Peter Parker seems especially powerless against the likes of high school bullies like Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), though it almost sounds impossible that anyone could be antagonistic at a school bearing the name Midtown Science High School.
As Peter becomes increasingly obsessed with figuring out what his father, Richard (Campbell Scott), was researching before he mysteriously disappeared with Peter’s mother, Mary (Embeth Davidtz), leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (the slightly abrading Sally Field), he starts to uncover more of his father’s scientific findings. He soon discovers an equation Richard developed called the decay rate algorithm, designed for regenerative use by creating cross-species, genetically altered humans. Yes, apparently science and action genres can coexist.
Peter’s studies lead him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who worked with Richard at Oscorp before his disappearance. Under the guise of being an intern named Rodrigo, Peter gains entry into Oscorp and is quickly surprised to find Gwen is in charge of giving all of the interns a guided tour. She spots him in the crowd after he intelligently answers one of Dr. Connors’ questions and assumes he snuck in to follow her. Preferring this assumption, Peter seizes the opportunity to snoop around and unlock the room where the cross-species experimentation takes place and somehow calmly stands there as a slew of random spiders crawl on his body (whereas anyone else would be freaking the fuck out).
As he leaves Oscorp, Peter is unaware of a spider that has latched onto him and bitten his neck, an incident that will change him permanently and in ways he soon realizes while riding the subway back to his house. In one of the most comical scenes of the movie (in addition to Stan Lee’s appearance as an oblivious librarian), let alone any action-oriented story, Peter accidentally gets his hand caught on a woman’s shirt, rips it off, and then ends up beating the shit out of everyone in the train car.
As his transformation accelerates, so, too, does Dr. Connors’ desperation to find a cure for the ailing owner of Oscorp, Norman Osborn (who I was hoping would somehow appear as Guy Pearce looking exactly the way he did in Prometheus). Using the algorithm that Peter gave him, Dr. Connors uses it on himself before one of Osborn’s stooges, Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan) can test it on unsuspecting victims at the veterans’ hospital. This little experiment mutates him into a lizard that bears a strong resemblance to a dinosaur.
From then on, it’s as though Dr. Connors has no control over his own actions (much in the same way that Peter is grappling to learn how to deal with his recently acquired characteristics), wreaking havoc all over the city (Williamsburg Bridge included–even hipsters aren’t immune). Although Peter tries to warn Gwen’s dad and the head of the police department, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), that Connors is about to use his formula to transform everyone else in the city into cross-species humans, Captain Stacy can only quip, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo?”
In the meantime, Peter’s bond with Gwen grows stronger, particularly in the wake of his uncle’s murder (which, yes, also happens in Spider-Man). This causes heartache later when Captain Stacy makes Peter promise to protect the city, but to leave Gwen out of his plans for the future. In spite of promising this, it is clear that Peter won’t be able to stay away for long after responding to one of his teachers who chastises him for being late by saying it won’t happen again. The teacher then cautions,”Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” leading Peter to lean forward and whisper to Gwen, “Yeah, but those are the best kind.”
Regardless of being a well-made reconstruction of Spider-Man movies and comics past, I almost feel as though you could glean more new insight into Spider-Man by seeing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark instead. But perhaps the sequel will provide us with a story we have yet to experience on the silver screen.