JESUS CHRIST and Spider-Man: Perhaps the only two fictional characters whose origin story everybody knows. Mary and Joseph, Aunt May and Uncle Ben; love thy neighbor, great power and great responsibility; water into wine, skittering up walls. Fine, Bible fanboys: Maybe the analogy I just hastily made up isn't perfect. But the point, besides the obvious one about Spidey having cooler superpowers than Jesus: nerd → radioactive spider → dead uncle → spandex. It is known.
Which is the bewildering, frustrating, boring thing about the otherwise solid The Amazing Spider-Man: It's a movie that stupidly thinks it needs to tell us—again—where Spider-Man came from. (Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, with Tobey Maguire, told Spidey's origin only 10 years ago; the questionable Spider-Man 3 was a mere five years ago.) And once you get past its plodding redundancy, the rest of the script for The Amazing Spider-Man's isn't that spectacular either—the plot's driven by farfetched coincidences, major events are forgotten as soon as they're over, and a half-dozen half-hearted tweaks that are supposed to convince audiences that this Spider-Man is different from the one we saw a few years ago are tacked on and trivial.
Just about everything else in The Amazing Spider-Man is remarkably, giddily great. The Social Network's Andrew Garfield is a far better Peter Parker/Spider-Man than Maguire—Garfield's Peter is still earnest and likeable, both thrilled and burdened by his fate, but once the Spider-Man mask shows up, so do the character's smartass quips. Director Mark Webb—whose only previous credit is 500 Days of Summer—maximizes the spectacle of superhero action and the excitement of whipping through Manhattan's concrete canyons. (If there's a better argument for 3D or IMAX than getting to web-swing alongside Spidey, I haven't seen it.) Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, Peter's sharp, sweet girlfriend, and she's fantastic, because she's always fantastic; so is Denis Leary, who plays Gwen's dad, an NYPD captain who grumbles about vigilantes in unitards. Even Rhys Ifans—tasked with playing a goofy sewer-dwelling villain who's named the Lizard but looks like a middle-aged mutant ninja turtle—brings a hammy menace to the rote proceedings. The Amazing Spider-Man nails its characters, and its tone, and its action—and when it works, it works exactly like a Spider-Man movie should. Here's hoping that in the inevitable sequel, Spidey gets to do something we haven't seen him do already.