The Amazing Spider-Man would prefer if you didn't call it the fourth Spider-Man movie. See this ain't the Spider-Man your older brother knew from ten years ago — it's a reboot. The latest adventure to feature the comic book webslinger throws three movies worth of established mythology straight out the window swapping the original cast with an ensemble of fresh faces and resetting the franchise with a spiffy new origin story. "New" in the loosest sense of the word — the highlights of ASM mainly a sleek new design and spunky reinterpretation of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and gal pal Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) are weighed down by overpowering sense of familiarity. Nearly a beat for beat replica of the 2002 original with some irksome twists of mystery thrown in Amazing Spider-Man fails to evolve its hero or his quarrels. The film has a great sense of cinematic power but little responsibility in making it interesting.
We're first introduced to Peter Parker as a young boy watching as his parents rush out of the house in response to a hidden danger. Mr. and Mrs. Parker leave their son in the care of his Aunt May (Sally Fields) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who raise him into Andrew Garfield's geeky cool spin on the character. Parker's a science whiz but faces the challenges of every day life — passing classes talking to girls the occasional jock with aggression issues — but all of life's woes are put on hold when the teen discovers a new clue in the mystery behind his parents' disappearance. The discovery of his dad's old briefcase and notes leads Peter to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a scientist working for mega-conglomerate Oscorp and his Dad's old partner. When they cross paths Connors instantly takes a liking to the wunderkind and loops him into the work he started with his father: replicating the regeneration abilities of lizards in amputee humans (Connors is driven to reform his own missing arm). But when Parker wanders into Oscorp's room full of spiders (a sloppily explained this-needs-to-be-here-for-this-to-happen device) he receives his legendary spider bite that transforms him into the hero we know.
Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) desperately wants Amazing Spider-Man to work as a high school relationship movie but with the burden of massive amounts of plot and mythology to introduce the movie sags under the sheer volume of stuff. Stone turns Parker's object of affection Gwen Stacey into a three-dimensional character. Whenever they happen upon each other an awkward exchange in the hallway a flirtatious back-and-forth in the Oscorp lab (where Stacey is head…intern) or when the two finally begin a romantic relationship the two stars shine. They're vivid characters chopped to bits in the editing room diluted by boring franchise-building plot threads and routine action sequences. Seriously Amazing Spider-Man another mad scientist villain who uses himself as a test subject only to become a monster? And another bridge rescue scene? Amazing Spider-Man desperately wants to disconnect from the original trilogy but it's trapped in an inescapable shadow and does nothing radical to shake things up. Instead it settles for the same old same old while preparing for inevitable sequels instead of investing in its dynamic duo.
There's a sweet spot where the film really hits his stride. After discovering his spider-abilities Peter hits the streets for the first time. He's superhuman but still a headstrong teen full of obnoxious quips and close calls with shiv-wielding thugs. The action is slick small and playful Webb showing us something new by melding his indie sensibilities with big scale action. If only it lasted — the introduction of Ifans reptilian half The Lizard implodes Amazing Spider-Man into incomprehensible blockbuster chaos. A gargantuan beast wreaking havoc around New York City promises King Kong-like escapades for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man but the lizard man has other plans: to rule the world! Or something. Whatever it takes to get Lizard and Spider-Man fighting on the top of a skyscraper over a doomsday machine — logic be damned.
Amazing Spider-Man peppers its banal foundation with great talent from Denis Leary as Gwen's wickedly funny dad and the police captain hunting down Spider-Man to Fields and Sheen as two loving adults in Peter's life to Garfield and Stone whose chemistry demands a follow-up for the sake of seeing them reunited. But it's all at the cost of putting on the most expensive recreation of all time with new demands imposed by the success Marvel's other properties (except that franchise teasing worked). Amazing Spider-Man introduces too many ideas that go nowhere undermining the actual threat at hand. No one wants to be unfulfilled but that's the overriding difference between the original movie and the update. You need to pay for the sequel to know what the heck is going on in this one.
Once again we journey into the not-too-distant future when the Moon has been colonized and it's just one big party town. Pluto Nash (Eddie Murphy) is an ex-con who takes over a dilapidated club and turns it into one of the hottest spots on the otherwise frigid lunar rock. Of course his luck can't be all good. Soon a mysterious gangster named Rex Crater whom no one has ever seen sends in his crony (Joe Pantoliano) to try to buy Club Pluto--mostly because he wants to take over the Moon (what else?). When Pluto refuses he suddenly becomes target practice. Along with lovely waitress/singer Dina (Rosario Dawson) and his robotic bodyguard Bruno (Randy Quaid) Pluto tries to get to Crater before the bad guys can get to him. Pluto Nash has absolutely nothing to offer in the way of action if that's what it is going for but there are some comedic moments. The usual "what-would-the-future-be-like?" jokes are there including Hillary Clinton's face on a $1 000 bill the advancement of body enhancements and cloning. Still whether trying to be a comedy or an action adventure Pluto Nash unfortunately misses the mark on both counts.
When choosing Pluto Nash Murphy probably decided he was tired of wearing a fat suit being upstaged by talking animals or even playing a donkey. He probably wanted to be just Eddie Murphy again. Unfortunately those other film personas such as Sherman Klump and Dr. Dolittle are what put the comedian back on the map after a string of failures at trying to be "just Eddie Murphy." He should remember that. Pluto is charismatic and affable but even in Murphy standards is still pretty tame. Dawson is appealing as Dina and manages to eke out a worthy performance from a thankless part. Coming off another hapless female role in Men in Black II the actress should look at trying to sink her teeth into something more meaningful next time around. Then there is the long list of small roles played by strong actors including Pantoliano Illeana Douglas John Cleese Jay Mohr Pam Grier Luis Guzman and Peter Boyle. Why they are in the film is a mystery--maybe they were looking for a paycheck. It is still fun to see how many of them keep popping up. And poor Randy Quaid. He's never really found his potential as an actor but as the robot Bruno he at least gets a few laughs.
Luckily there are a few things that did work with Pluto Nash so the experience isn't a total bust. The film looks great from the set design to the special effects to the costumes. In a cross between the future crowded city of Blade Runner the construction feel of Mars in Total Recall and an over-the-top comic-book look director Ron Underwood (City Slickers) creates a pretty wacky world on the Moon. "Little America" is the main city on the Moon and is definitely like the Wild West where anything goes. Yet the hover cars and the casinos all have a distinctly '40s feel to them. The film's look combines different eras. We even get to go on the lunar surface outside of the domed city and watch the actors bounce around in zero gravity. Well it looks like fun anyway. It's just a shame the rest of the film couldn't fit in with same wild carefree attitude it conveys visually. There could be a good reason why the film sat on the shelf for awhile before being released. The bare-bones story only manages to elicit a few chuckles here or there--and it's hardly an "adventure."