"The Emo Spider-Man" wouldn't pop on posters, but it would be honest. This reboot of the Marvel franchise is a downshift from the Tobey Maguire-Sam Raimi trilogy. It has less action, humor, imagination and vitality, no Danny Elfman music, no classic lines like "With great power comes great responsibility" and, tragically, no J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.
In the unlikely hands of indie romcom director Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer"), it has more arguments and hugs and sulks and tears and lovelorn teens. It is "The Notebook" in Spandex. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is not quite so bad that you want to knock it off the screen and beat it to death with a broom, but it's hard to imagine fans being drawn into its web.
This yarn returns to Peter Parker's fateful bite by a science-lab superspider, the death of his guardian Uncle Ben and his first big crush (it's early girlfriend Gwen Stacy, not Mary Jane Watson this time). As a wise man once said, yadda-yadda-yadda. Spider-Man is a cultural icon. That is the reason you made a movie about him. Do not asphyxiate us with needless exposition.
This Peter (Andrew Garfield) is not the dweebish introvert of yore, but a skateboarding do-gooder who reduces his usually calm and collected classmate Gwen (Emma Stone) to a puddle of blushing giggles. Denis Leary plays Gwen's father, a New York City police captain peeved at Spider-Man for his vigilante raids on street thugs, which have knocked a carefully planned sting operation for a loop.
Peter and Gwen share a web-propelled tour of nighttime Manhattan. What looked genuinely romantic in "Superman" looks like a yo-yoing recipe for motion sickness here. Director Webb doesn't have the kinetic imagination necessary to put his own stamp on these action sequences, which look like extra-synthetic computer-generated animation.
Hoping to uncover information about his long-vanished parents, Peter contacts his father's fellow research scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the necessary villain. An amputee obsessed by the limb-regenerating abilities of reptiles, he has developed a serum that he hopes will restore his lost right arm. Unaware of the tradition demanding that scientists who test their own chemical inventions become psychotic, he transforms into the Lizard, the least convincing comic bruiser since Ang Lee's Gumby-style Hulk.
He creates a lab in the city's sewer system, where there is apparently an abundant supply of electricity. Using his serum as a bio-weapon, he will turn all of Manhattan into cold-blooded predators, if that isn't redundant.
There's a battle between Spidey and Lizzy on the Williamsburg Bridge, but a curious lack of crowd scene tumult. I guess these are just jaded New Yorkers who don't run from their cars screaming at the sight of a 12-foot man-iguana.
This "Spider-Man" is a puny offering beside the thunderously entertaining "Avengers." With great stories come great responsibilities. This one doesn't measure up.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
★★ 1/2 out of four stars Rating: PG-13.