The unmistakable air of Hollywood calculation hangs over The Amazing Spider-Man,"but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The studios wouldn't survive if they didn't make smart bets from time to time to balance their multiple bonehead maneuvers, and this new superhero saga is a shrewd wager that mostly — but not entirely — pays off.
The first piece of calculation was the determination that, only a decade past the first Spider Man film and five years after "Spider-Man3", the world was ready for a complete reboot of the franchise, starting the story from square one with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, a.k.a. the Man, and Emma Stone as First Girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Given the hundreds of millions that have been sunk into marketing, that part of the bet will likely pay off.
The second nervy maneuver was to hire Marc Webb, whose only previous feature was the inexpensive indie romance (500) Days of Summer to helm a major summer tent pole with a budget estimated at $220 million.
What executives remembered was that the relationship between stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was a key factor in the $2.5 billion the three previous "Spider-Man" films earned. If Webb took care of business there — which he has — they could always surround him with canny Oscar-nominated veterans like cinematographer John Schwartzman and visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen — as well as four members of the stunt coordinating Armstrong family — to take care of the heavy lifting the major action sequences demand.
Effective as that strategy is at times, its de facto division of responsibility means that "Spider-Man" feels less directed with a consistent vision than simply cobbled together. What especially falls through the cracks are the nonromantic, nonaction parts of the story, which take up a healthy chunk of a movie that has been allowed to unreasonably bloat to 2 hours, 18 minutes.
The result is that "Spider-Man" goes in and out of focus. This is a film that is memorable in pieces but not as a whole, doing enough right things in key areas to ensure box-office success but permitted to drift into earnest pokiness when the spotlight is not on.
The best piece, obviously, is the relationship between Garfield's Peter Parker and Stone's Gwen Stacy. Not just because this is a strength of the director and the James Vanderbilt-Alvin Sargent-Steve Kloves screenplay but also because of the abilities of the actors in question.