Oh, what tangled webs we weave.
Peter Parker knows a thing or two about webs. His father, it seems, was an expert web-weaver—not that Peter ever knew it, of course. He was only four when his parents dropped him off with Uncle Ben and Aunt May sans explanation, never to return. But when Peter (now a skateboarding, hoodie-wearing teen) discovers a secret formula hidden in a secret compartment of a now not-so-secret satchel, he feels as though he's discovered a strand of his father's past. And he's determined to follow it to its source.
The thread weaves right through the magnificent front doors of the Oscorp Industries building and leads to Dr. Curt Connors, a former associate of Peter's father. Pilfering an intern badge, Peter sneaks in and learns that Connors is working on some sort of genetic project in which animal DNA is inserted into a human host so it can give our ordinary double helix a leg—or wing or tail—up. Connors, who is missing an arm, hopes the technology will give humanity the power to regenerate lost limbs and cure a host of other ills. Of course, before his research gets to that point, it'll have to stop killing the test subjects.
Peter finds all this terribly interesting—but not nearly as interesting as the door marked with the same strange symbols he found in his father's files. Opening the door, he discovers a room filled with strange, delicate spiders … including one that thinks Peter would be a perfect mid-afternoon snack.
One quick little bite and—
Well, we know what happens next, don't we?
Peter eventually becomes the wisecracking, do-gooding hero we all know Spider-Man can and should be. But it takes him a while. And his transformation from troubled teen to superhero isn't always easy to watch. Peter can be a brat and a bully. He blows off (and sometimes blows up at) his aunt and uncle. He begins his turn as Spider-Man not out of some altruistic, heroic motive, but out of vengeance—longing to catch and do bad things to the man who killed his Uncle Ben.
But it's Ben, before his death, who tries to remind his nephew what a hero truly is. When Peter gets in trouble for humiliating a bully, his uncle gives him a well-deserved dressing down. When Peter forgets to pick up Aunt May, Ben demands that he apologize. Ben relays the message that was so powerful in the first Spider-Man movie (and, for that matter, in the comic books): "With great power comes great responsibility." Ben insists that his nephew has a duty to use whatever gifts he has wisely.
Spider-Man begins to understand what it means to be a hero when he rescues a little boy from a car hanging precariously over a huge body of water. The boy's too scared at first to even allow someone to help him. But Peter gives him his mask and, when the car catches on fire, he tells the lad to put it on. "It's going to make you strong," he says.
But it's chasing the Lizard—a half-human, half-reptilian monstrosity—that really kicks Spidey's heroism into gear. Realizing that he indirectly helped spawn the horrific hybrid, Peter understands that it's his duty to try to stop him, even at great personal risk.
Others embody heroism as well, from Uncle Ben trying to stop a would-be robber, to Peter's girlfriend (Gwen Stacy) brewing up a much-needed antidote, to Aunt May demonstrating steadfast courage. Aunt May also dispenses some strong advice. "Secrets have a cost," she tells Peter, quite sagely. "They're not for free. Not now, not ever."
A funeral is conducted in a church. Someone sincerely says, "Thank God."
The infamous upside-down kiss between Spidey and Mary Jane in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is considered one of the most iconic smooches of all time. This incarnation of the Spider-Man story doesn't have a single kiss that packs such potency. But what it's missing in intensity, the film seems determined to make up for in quantity.
Gwen and Peter kiss frequently, sometimes passionately. The first time, Peter actually shoots a strand of webbing onto her rear so he can pull her to him. Later, Peter sneaks into Gwen's bedroom, and the two begin another make-out session. Elsewhere, another high school couple makes out at school.
Gwen wears a skirt that's a bit on the short side. And while still getting used to his powers, Peter's sticky hands accidentally tear off the blouse of a woman on a subway; we see her in her bra.
From the moment Peter's bitten by that mysterious spider, the action flows fast and furious. Often it feels like the typically frenetic, largely bloodless mayhem we've grown accustomed to seeing in PG and PG-13 superhero flicks. But there are moments when it goes quite a ways beyond what we saw in, say, Thor.
Dr. Connors injects a three-legged mouse—one of two he keeps on hand—with a serum he hopes will enable it to regenerate its front paw. The plan works … and then some. The serum morphs the mouse into a mini-monster. We see vestiges of a glass mouse cage and a hole it apparently chewed through the glass. (Blood coats the surface.) We also see the mutant mouse on the laboratory floor, feasting on what's left of his now-devoured cagemate.
Dr. Connors' own transformation into the Lizard looks painful as he sprouts a new arm and grows scales. Spidey soon shows up, of course, and the fighting begins. In one confrontation, Spider-Man pulls the Lizard's tail off, which he promptly grows back. The two have several other melees that Spidey seems to get the worst of. Sometimes he's tossed around like a rag doll, getting hit and kicked and thwacked and pummeled with frightening frequency. During their first confrontation, the Lizard rakes his claws across the hero's chest, leaving deep, bloody gashes in Peter's flesh.
Someone tries to burn the lizard (which doesn't work). Someone else tries to freeze him (which does, temporarily). In his frozen state, the man's arms get blasted away with a shotgun, bit by bit. Policemen also empty scores of bullets into the beastie, obviously causing him great pain.
Uncle Ben is shot by a criminal, a wound that leaves him bleeding profusely. The Lizard uses his fearsome claws to impale one poor soul. Peter, unfamiliar with his own talents, "accidentally" knocks out several people on a subway car and tears apart his own bathroom. Peter and a school bully nicknamed Flash go a couple of rounds with each other. At one point, Peter is gasping on the ground and nursing a big bruise on his face after Flash punches him and kicks him in the gut. (Gwen worries Peter might have suffered a concussion.) Peter later puts Flash into a frightening headlock.
Spider-Man pummels and humiliates criminals—sometimes to the point that you almost feel sorry for them. He also beats up several police officers in an effort to get away to fight the Lizard. He gets Tasered and shot in the leg. He falls through floors from very high buildings, sometimes dodging dislodged bits of masonry in the process. Cars get ripped apart. Civilians are harried, assaulted and biologically transformed by the Lizard.
Crude or Profane Language
One use of "a‑‑," one of "d‑‑n" and three of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused a half-dozen times. Peter exclaims, "You Mother Hubbard!" as a substitution for something obscene.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Beer bottles make appearances. Characters are shown with wine glasses.
Other Negative Elements
Peter isn't exactly the lovable, well-meaning geek we saw Tobey Maguire give life to in Spider-Man. Actor Andrew Garfield's incarnation of the famous wall-crawler is a bit darker, a bit more rebellious.
Peter is reprimanded by a high school principal for riding a skateboard in the hallway, for instance. In class, we see him disinterested and doodling. He steals an intern badge to sneak into Oscorp (while the real, now badgeless intern gets hauled away by security). He sneaks into Gwen's bedroom, and she hides him from her father. (She lies, telling her dad she has cramps.) He also encourages Gwen to sneak off with him.
As noted earlier, Spider-Man begins his crime-fighting career not as a do-gooder, but as a vigilante. The fact that he stops a lot of crimes seems almost beside the point in his quest to catch his uncle's killer. And his self-centered actions disrupt a bigger police operation at one point. Spidey shoots some folks in the crotch with his webbing, apparently just to embarrass them. And, critically, he indirectly helps a criminal to get away from a convenience store after the crook throws him a stolen bottle of chocolate milk.
When Peter apologizes to his English teacher for showing up late, the teacher tells him not to make promises he can't keep. "But those are the best kind," he whispers to Gwen as she smiles.
Ten years? Really? I'm all in favor of a good reboot, but normally it's nice to let the original gather a bit of dust before retooling it. And considering that Spider-Man was released in 2002—and that Tobey Maguire's last turn in Spidey's iconic red-and-blue suit was just five years ago—that's not much dust-gathering time.
As such, I was primed to dislike The Amazing Spider-Man from the get-go. Imagine my surprise, then, to walk out thinking that this incarnation was the equal of, if not a tick better than, the original as a story. But note those final three words: as a story. Because from a content perspective, The Amazing Spider-Man has a few issues—and a few more than its predecessor.
Peter Parker isn't as likable, for one thing. He's not the sort of kid you picture winning the science fair (though he's clearly capable of doing so), but rather a guy you'd expect to see in the principal's office every other week or so.
In some ways, that might make the film more resonant. We know Peter has issues that have nothing to do with his spider bite. He wants to do right by his aunt and uncle, and he tries to protect some of his school's bully victims. Yet he's also struggling with anger and discouragement and a desire to rebel a little, too—making him a lot like many a real-life teen.
But while Peter may embody some real-life problems, that also makes him less of a cinematic role model—particularly since he doesn't completely turn his back on rebellion even as he transforms into a hero. Add to that multiple kissing scenes, a bra-baring web misfire and violence that's amped up a notch or three beyond the '02 flick, and The Amazing Spider-Man may leave parents' Spidey-sense a-tingling.