If you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of people everywhere staring at the movie theater posters asking, "Did we really need a new Spider-Man origin movie 10 years after the first one?" The answer is: not particularly, but it's worth a look. The 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man is like Peter Parker pre-spider bite--cute, a little dopey, and good for a laugh. The new Marc Webb version, The Amazing Spider-Man, is like Peter after a few years of fighting crime: more polished and with swagger in his step. But still the same guy.
The people trying to convince you to part with your greenbacks keep mentioning that this is "unlike anything you've ever seen from this franchise," and that's only technically true on account of semantics--this one definitely looks and feels different from the previous three Sam Raimi-directed versions. But this version of the origin story hits the same general points that are still firmly rooted in memory from a decade ago. It has the edge over the original, but it doesn't re-invent the Spider-wheel. Peter (Andrew Garfield) is still a lovable outcast who gets bitten by a spider while visiting Oscorp laboratories. He uses his new talents to climb walls, embarrass bullies, impress chicks, and fight off the bad guy while the people of New York are still uncertain whose side he's really on.
Aside from the 3D animation looking fantastic and the film having a dark, complex feel to it that makes it feel more grown up, the primary reason worth watching is Andrew Garfield. When he showed up at Comic-Con last year dressed incognito as a bargain basement Spider-Man and revealed his true identity in Hall H, I was touched by his reverence for the character. This spirit resonates in every frame and makes the movie a huge triumph for the little guy everywhere--which is what Spidey is all about. He's perfect.
The rest of the cast's polish and lack of exhausting movie cliches boosts this version as well. There's plenty of time (maybe bordering on too much) for us to meet everyone--including Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is a much more interesting character than Mary Jane Watson. She's smart, funny, courageous and has the sassiness we've come to expect from Stone, and she and Peter's flirtation doesn't slow down the movie too much (although I gagged on my Jujubes when it started to get a little too precious). Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) makes for a good egghead-gone-bad, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May ground the film with their veteran ease. There's no J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) to sleaze things up, but we do get a glimpse of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz). Not enough for this to be a "completely different story," mind you, but I never complain about Campbell Scott showing up in anything. Ever.
In the interest of standing up for Sam Raimi, I admit that I really liked his version when it was released, even though it was a little cheesy and relied heavily on your built-in understanding of Spider-Man's universe. This one trims out those awkward Thanksgiving dinner scenes and love triangles and focuses on the whip-smart, driven Peter Parker who takes on an enormous amount of responsibility at a young age. It succeeds in the same way Batman Begins did stylistically to send the series in a different direction, which was the whole point. My biggest disappointment, though, is the lack of web-swinging action in favor of getting-to-know-your-power montages and science lab experimenting. But I know how this works--the next one is probably going to look fantastic and go from zero to 60 faster than you can say "radioactive." I'll be there opening day.