Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves. Directed by Marc Webb. PG. 137 min. Opens July 3.
Given the cheesy stench emitted by the earlier Superman and Batman franchises at their worst, you can’t begrudge the makers of recent superhero reboots for trying to restore some solemnity to their respective comic-book heroes. By contrast, the Spider-Man movies faced the opposite problem. Since the cycle had grown so self-important by the time of Sam Raimi’s third entry five years ago, giving Spidey the Christopher Nolan treatment might’ve stopped him dead.
Thankfully, director Marc Webb keeps things loose and limber with his reboot, which feels sufficiently fresh despite the fact that it spins much the same hero-origin story we got in Raimi’s first Spider-Man. The biggest reason for its vitality is its star. What with his scruffy demeanour, nervous energy, and half-decent stab at a Noo Yawk accent, Andrew Garfield isn’t so much playing Peter Parker as he’s channelling Peter Falk. And while the 28-year-old Garfield’s hardly plausible as a high schooler, he’s terrific at capturing both Parker’s nebbishy qualities and the less endearing aggressive side that emerges after that fateful spider bite.
It also helps that Garfield has plenty of chemistry with real-life squeeze Emma Stone, who plays Peter’s classmate and first love Gwen Stacy. It’s a shame, however, that matters of the heart are sidelined here by the less engaging events that will turn Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the former business partner of Peter’s late scientist father, into The Lizard, Spider-Man’s scaliest nemesis. Though their battles do not yield much more than the usual CG-enhanced trashing of midtown Manhattan, the movie’s action scenes still have some zip thanks to the smart use of parkour choreography, several nifty Spidey-POV shots and one brilliant sight gag involving the requisite Stan Lee cameo. If only every reboot was so spry.