According to police chief Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), the latest on-screen iteration of Spider-Man isn't a vigilante but an anarchist. If only! While the adolescent web-slinger does rough up a few cops (though hardly enough for my taste), invoking the idea of an anarchist in a comic book movie this close to the genuine article—Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight—is a naïve gamble at best.
Which is to say, it fits just fine into The Amazing Spider-Man, a movie so guileless that critical resistance is futile, so innocent that it might not even be aware of its own clichés: Young Peter Parker likes a nightlight and the crust removed from his sandwiches. We get a corny wisecrack about bad meatloaf and meet an unscrupulous foreigner. We're even treated to that most played-out of New York movie references, from Midnight Cowboy, tweaked here to "Hey, I'm swingin' heah!"
It takes little to clear such cobwebs out of a screenplay, and this otherwise enjoyable Spider-Man deserves better. (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb (hey, did he get this job because of his name?) takes his time with the familiar sequences of Peter (Andrew Garfield) turning into Spider-Man, and he and Garfield have contagious fun with the process. When the story starts to turn from self-discovery to battling a supervillain, it handles the obligatory shift surprisingly well. Rhys Ifans' transition into The Lizard is also handled with a light touch, and even his ones-and-zeroes lizard face is expressive and menacing.
Speaking of faces, this happens to be a Spider-Man who can't seem to keep his mask on for more than a few minutes at a time. It's another one of the movie's questionable gambles, but it makes sense that a movie that never gets its guard up wouldn't ask its hero to guard his secret identity with much vigilance.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Summer stars."