"You seriously think I'm a cop in a skintight red and blue suit?"
It's hard to review this without referring to the original 2002 Spidey movie, so we might as well just dive straight in - it's better. Not by loads, but by a fair bit.
Obviously the special-effects and CGI are worlds ahead. Also, liberties are taken that assume a decent knowledge of Peter Parker's outings, meaning the film can get things moving faster and explore more elements of the story. So on that level, The Amazing Spider-Man owes a bullshit-clearing debt to its origin movie. This remake advantage, however, also has its problems - we know what's going to happen and when. So how does a movie do the same thing without boring the audience?
Drama - this is where The Amazing Spider-Man beats the original to a bloody pulp. Key moments that we know are coming (such as the radioactive spider bite) are wrapped in a tense drama and emotion that the original never had. Which is more compelling - a boy gets bitten during a routine school trip, or a boy gets bitten after sneaking into a science lab to discover secrets about his dead father? It's a no-brainer. And it's like that throughout - we don't mind re-seeing moments from the first film because they're wrapped in a different, more compelling story.
Grounding the movie entirely in high school is also a good move, giving it a better sense of realism and making Peter Parker a more relateable character. The relationship with Gwen Stacy is more basic than the one with Mary-Jane seen in the first movie, but it's also more compelling. There's less awkward "he likes her but she doesn't know he exists" moments, and more of the "they like each other but there are always obstacles". In this case, they take the form of Gwen's super-cop dad and a giant killer lizard. Life's shit that way.
Which brings us to Peter as a character. Andrew Garfield does an incredible job, making both Peter and Spider-Man the same person. It was a problem with the 2002 film - I never felt the guy in the mask was the guy we saw in plain-clothes. But this Spider-Man is closer to the comics - a smart-mouthed fun-having superhero. Parker is still a geek, yes. But now he's a cool geek - one of those alternative Ramones-loving guys who doesn't care what people think. It's a better, more relateable character and it's the Peter I always wanted. Garfield also brings a great emotion to the role, particularly in a scene with Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben, which culminates in a destroyed door and one of those moments we know is coming!
The one element that doesn't surpass the original is in Rhys Ifans' Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard - Ifans does a good job, but his character is a little too much of a mad scientist, and you'll be hard-stretched to find a better man than Willem Dafoe for the job. There's nothing in this remake as cool as Green Goblin's mocking: "You've spun your last web, Spider-Man. If you had not been so selfish, your little girlfriend's death would have been quick and painless. But now that you've really pissed me off, I'm gonna finish her nice and slow. MJ and I, we're gonna have a hell of a time!"
So overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is great film. I know it's cool to rail against "pointless" remakes (I'm looking at you Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday 13th/Wicker Man/Psycho!), but this one (a) works, and (b) brings enough new material to the table to actually make it worth doing. By the end of the movie, I found myself desperate for a sequel. You can't argue with that! Recommended.
Read more of Neil's movie reviews.