If you’ve never seen a Spider-Man movie before, then … well, then you should probably start with Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, and then move on to his Spider-Man 2, which is still one of the best superhero movies ever made. But if Raimi’s Spider-Man films (even the spotty but still entertaining Spider-Man 3) are somehow completely unavailable to you, then you might as well start with the new The Amazing Spider-Man, which retells the character’s origin in competent but unexceptional fashion, with decent performances, mediocre action and passable special effects.
With 50 years’ worth of Spider-Man comic-book adventures to draw from, it seems almost perverse to return to the one story that movie and TV audiences are most likely to be tired of hearing, just because there’s a new director (Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer) and a new cast onboard. It takes the movie an hour to get teenage Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) powered up and into his Spidey suit, with exactly zero surprises along the way. At this point, it’s almost like going through the stations of the cross: high-school outcast, spider bite, strange new powers, Uncle Ben dies, power, responsibility, etc.
Once Peter finally starts superhero-ing around New York City, the movie should be able to establish its own identity and tell its own story, but late-breaking villain the Lizard, aka scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), takes even longer than Peter does to get into superpowered mode, and doesn’t make for a particularly compelling antagonist. Other than a few exciting point-of-view shots as Peter swings through New York City, Webb lacks a distinctive visual style, and he fumbles the underdeveloped central romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), although Garfield and Stone are appealing to watch, and Garfield nicely captures the movie’s slightly more brooding and angsty version of Peter.
By the time the climactic battle turns out to be yet another showdown atop a huge skyscraper, it’s clear that The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t have a single original idea going for it. The movie ends with the requisite post-credits teaser, emphasizing the entire story as one long setup for a sequel. Couldn’t we just have skipped to the good part?