Film Capsule: The Amazing Spider-Man

The new superhero trilogy model breaks down something like this:

  1. Origin story: Establish main character, main conflict … explore protagonist’s motivation, flaws, strengths, weaknesses and values. Insert average villain for good measure. If the franchise tag is bankable enough, name recognition alone should prove more than enough to carry the box office.
  2. Introduce arch-nemesis: Stakes are heightened, a marquee villain arrives on the scene. An epic battle between good and evil ensues. Somewhere in the midst of all this, a major love interest gets compromised (This is the more viable reverse of the original franchise model which reigned supreme from 1980-2005).
  3. Final Resolution: What the final film loses in terms of relying on a lesser-known adversary, it more than compensates for via the freedom to take more chances, resolve ongoing plot points, and wrap the whole thing up in a multi-million-dollar bow.

This newer model is one of several reasons why The Dark Knight franchise has continued to gain momentum throughout the course of its seven-year run. This model is also the reason why Superman Returns is widely considered such a disappointing failure.

The Amazing Spider-Man somehow manages to straddle the awkward balance between those two. On one hand, it feels like the slightly-adjusted retelling of a story we’ve already heard. On the other, it veers just enough from that story to keep the entire franchise afloat.

In terms of casting, Andrew Garfield proves himself more than equal to the task, Emma Stone‘s character benefits from strong chemistry with him (both on-screen and off), and Martin Sheen approaches the role of Uncle Ben as if he was simply reprising Cliff Robertson’s dramatic turn from the original.

The most welcome surprise of this reboot – by far – is the casting of Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s Police Captain father. The biggest letdown, meanwhile, is how horribly out of place Sally Field seems playing Peter Parker’s venerable Aunt May.

Otherwise, the dialogue is subpar (often times even bordering on hackneyed), the plot relies far too heavily on rote gimmicks (rather than deft storytelling), and the climax works itself into such a 3D lather that you simply cannot help but roll your eyes.

Final verdict: While The Amazing Spider-Man certainly does provide a feast for the eyes, it also fails to live up to the worthwhile precedent set by Sam Raimi’s original. For something on that level, we may very well have to wait until the already-anticipated sequel, which is – of course – exactly what Columbia execs have been banking on all along.

(The Amazing Spider-Man opens in theaters today.)