Spider-man spins a new web of intrigue

Andrew Garfield looks like a spider—a daddy longlegs. That is to say, he looks like a daddy longlegs with the head of a Byronic poet.

As the title character in The Amazing Spider-Man, the young actor, who previously made an impression as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, commands an inhumanly svelte torso, like a ballet dancer’s, with long spindly limbs that seem both frenetic and graceful in motion. Unmasked, as Spidey’s hapless alter-ego Peter Parker, Garfield’s delicate features often wear a smile, but it’s a bleak one, as of resignation to disappointment in love.

Spider-Man, Sam Raimi’s excellent rendering of the Marvel Comics saga with Tobey Maguire as the superhero, was released back in the dimly remembered bygone year 2002, so The Amazing Spider-Man is a “reboot,” a new retelling of Spidey’s origin story.

As before, Parker is a lovelorn high school kid who gets bitten by an irradiated spider, and soon finds himself super-strong, able to climb walls and swing from Manhattan skyscrapers via webs slung from dispensers at his wrists, and imbued with a “Spidey-Sense” of impending danger.

A momentary indifference to a crime he witnesses leads to a personal tragedy, thus teaching him that with great power comes…

…well, if you’re more than passingly interested in Spider-Man, you probably already know that with great power comes great responsibility. You aren’t alone if you wonder why it’s now thought essential to laboriously re-do the origin of a superhero just because it’s deemed time to re-cast the role with a younger actor.

Garfield makes a splendid Peter Parker, particularly adept at the character’s tragic side, and while I thought he seemed slightly less comfortable with the smart-alecky quips as Spider-Man, the performance is still an impressive success. But I really think audiences could have accepted the change of leading man without the obsessive do-over.

Still, the re-do is, at least, well re-done, under the direction of Marc Webb (yeah, I know). A music-video specialist, Webb’s work here is smooth, fast and efficient, if less magical than Raimi’s.

The movie really took off for me toward the end, when it’s finally time for Spidey to face-off against the movie’s supervillain, my favorite from the old comic: Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard. The Doc, played by Rhys Ifans, is a scientist who, trying to re-grow his missing arm, takes a dose of lizard juice and turns into a rampaging reptilian megalomaniac, and he at the Webhead have a couple of fine scraps before their main event above Manhattan.

Ifans can be a striking presence—he even managed to keep his dignity as Oxford in the absurd Anonymous—but he seems a bit sheepish here.

The other performances are strong, however: Emma Stone as Peter’s beloved Gwen Stacy; Denis Leary at his nettled best as her police captain father; Campbell Scott in the small role of Peter’s dad; Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May—that’s right, Gidget and the Flying Nun is now of an age to play Aunt May.