To enjoy "The Amazing Spider-Man," it's not necessary to forget Sam Raimi's 2002 hit "Spider-Man" or his brilliant 2005 sequel. However, one does have to ignore them, because this Spider-Man is a different beast.
The differences start with an elaborate prologue that shows Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) hurriedly packing their bags and leaving 4-year-old Peter with Richard's brother Ben (Martin Sheen) and his wife, May (Sally Field). Richard is involved in some top-secret scientific work, but that's the only clue to his and Mary's sudden disappearance.
As a brainy high-schooler, Peter Parker (played now by Andrew Garfield) visits the headquarters of the biotech firm Oscorp Industries to meet its chief scientist, Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), who once worked with Peter's father. While at Oscorp, Peter sneaks into a lab containing genetically mutated spiders, and one of the bugs bites Peter in the neck.
Here's where the familiar origin story kicks in. Peter begins to change, developing powers that include sticky fingers, the ability to scale walls, and superhuman strength. He also develops his own web-shooting devices and a snazzy red-and-blue costume (actually designed by Cirque du Soleil).
The other part of Peter's origin story involves a cruel twist of fate. After letting a thief get away from a convenience store, the thief bumps into Uncle Ben who is shot and killed. Peter's guilt propels him to become a costumed vigilante, setting New York's media buzzing and angering NYPD Capt. George Stacy (Denis Leary).
As if to prove New York is the world's largest small town, Capt. Stacy's daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone), is one of Peter's classmates and his secret crush. Oh, and she's also an intern at Oscorp, where Dr. Connors is working on some genetic mutations that ultimately go horribly wrong.
Since director Marc Webb's only previous film credit is the romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer," it makes sense that the moments of "The Amazing Spider-Man" that work best are those between Peter and Gwen a meeting of young minds that is awkwardly charming. Credit much of this to Stone, who is blessed with good looks, a sultry voice and impeccable comic timing.
Garfield ("The Social Network") is somewhat miscast as Peter Parker, exuding too much slacker attitude for the nerdy brainiac photographer. (Raimi nailed this aspect of Peter's personality when he cast Tobey Maguire.) That said, he brings a proper playfulness to the scenes where Peter starts discovering his abilities.
Spidey's web-swinging trips through New York are energetically realized, but the big action sequences are routine and rather haphazard. They satisfy the requirements of the genre without reaching the heights of spectacle or humor scaled by, for example, "The Avengers." (Every action director in Hollywood must hate Joss Whedon right now for making them have to work harder.)
Of course, the finale is maddeningly open-ended, leaving many answers (as well as some classic characters, like the editor J. Jonah Jameson) to be discovered in future installments. And there will be future installments, because "The Amazing Spider-Man" is engineered to be a franchise starter and is just good enough to make audiences welcome sequels rather than dread them.
'The Amazing Spider-Man'
Though no match for Sam Raimi's 2002 version, this superhero origin story does the job.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Tuesday.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.
Running time • 136 minutes.