Dir. Marc Webb
Despite the popular uproar about Sony's decision to re-boot their signature franchise a mere four years after the previous installment, I think the question needs to be reframed: It's not whether or not a studio should bring back a film series before anyone had really missed it, it's whether or not the reboot can significantly improve on the original.
After all, it's not exactly as if the Sam Raimi-helmed Spider men were above reproach. Many found Raimi's campily comic sensibilities well in keeping with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's single greatest comic creation, but I was not among them. Raimi's films stuck to the facts for the most part (though they made allowances for Peter Parker's love interest), hit the major plot points, but somehow the series felt devoid of the spark of originality. They weren't unenjoyable, exactly -- at least the first two; I think we can all agree the less said about Spider-Man 3, the better -- but they were a bit wearying, and the series had at least one other fatal flaw: an absolute inability to conjure a villain worthy of Spider-Man's attention. Instead of Red Skulls or Gods of Mischief, we had a series of flabby, well-meaning brilliant scientists who somehow lost their marbles along the way.
Marc Webb's film, then, had the opportunity to give the franchise a swift kick, righting the wrongs and making us all forget Peter Parker ever had a James Brown dance number. Unfortunately, despite the film's somewhat more serious tone, and a terrific lead performance from young Andrew Garfield, many of the same vexing issues from the first series persist.
To begin with, the positive differences: The essence of the main protagonist is a good deal closer to Stan Lee's original character. Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker was always slightly above himself, as if constantly winking to the audience, which was far more in keeping with Raimi's ham-fisted approach. By contrast, Garfield plays him much more straight, all shy glances and nervous tics, a massive amount of insecurity wrapped around a skinny, good-hearted kid. It's unclear which one makes a better Spider-Man, but it's obvious who's the better Peter Parker.
The origin story has also been tweaked, not necessarily for the better, but one that's slightly more in keeping with the rest of the production. Here, Parker sneaks into Oscorp, in the hopes of finding out more about his parents, who vanished shortly after depositing him with his grandparents in Queens one rainy night when he was a little boy. There, he happens to run into Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his biggest high school crush, who is the lead intern for a brilliant, one-armed scientist named Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Dr. Connors is continuing Peter's father's work in "Cross Species Genetics," a theory that, if proven, could lead to virtually eradicating health issues across the board, even going so far as to re-growing lost limbs (see if you can tell where this is going).
On his initial visit to the laboratory -- a gleaming glass-and-steel monolith with Oscorp branding everywhere you look, set in a towering Manhattan high-rise that looks like a giant, metallic claw scratching at the surface of the heavens (not ones for subtlety, those Oscorp architects) -- Peter also gets bitten by the infamous radioactive spider, which ultimately gives him his various spider-powers, though the producers do take pains to make Spidey's web production non-organic -- the kid develops electronic web shooters he straps to his wrists.
In any event, Dr. Connors eventually injects himself with his own serum, which has the usual bad repercussions, and we're on our way. Clearly, the film is still stuck on the scientist-as-sympathetic-villain bit, which is a notable disappointment. And that's not the only place where the film drops the proverbial ball: By the end of the movie's 136 minute running time, enough nonsensical plot holes and outright logic gaffes have permeated the proceedings to disavow some of the positive early efforts. Finally, and I admit this is obviously something of a personal preference, I'm not at all sure I want to live in a world where venerable, aged Aunt May (Sally Field) can be portrayed by Gidget.