1. The Amazing Spider-Man is less a reboot than a recital. It's professionally made and competent and sincere and well-acted, but it never quite overcomes the nagging sense that there's no reason for it to exist. Well, actually, there is a reason: Sony, to keep the rights to the character, needed to rush a movie into production before those rights expired. (It's an odd copyright issue; they basically have to make a movie so the rights renew. Rights law is strange. This is also the reason there's a Superman movie coming out next year.) The movie can't shake that ultimate pointlessness, that sense that we've not only seen all this before, we've seen it all recently. Honestly, how many times can we watch Uncle Ben die and still feel something?
2. The movie has a big heart, though, so you keep trying to cut it every break. The primary reason for this is the casting of Andrew Garfield, best-known as Zuckerberg Prey in The Social Network, as Peter Parker. Garfield is a terrific actor—he was nominated for a Tony in the recent Philip Seymour Hoffman-led Death of a Salesman—and he keeps finding new ways to approach a nearly ancient character. Garfield attacks Parker at odd, jutting little angles, making him less brooding and more intellectually curious, a teenager in number only, basically an endlessly optimistic nerd scientist who can't figure out girls but who happens also to have super spider powers. He's fascinating to watch; it's rare you see an actor of this quality in this sort of role. It's sort of the flip side of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Whereas that high-level actor blew up the part with his charisma, Garfield turns it inward. You keep getting sad when he puts the mask on.
3. Other than Garfield, though: This is pretty much the same shit. It's a bit exhausting to realize, very early on, that this isn't going to be a continuation of the previous Spider-Man movies (the last of which, after all, came out only five years ago) but in fact a complete restart. This means we have to sit through the whole damn story again, with the spider bite and the discovery of powers and the making of the costume and Uncle Ben dying and all of it. This takes up the first hour of the film, and it's extremely difficult not to lose one's patience: Yes, yes, we know he becomes Spider-Man, so just start spidering already. To give us yet another origin story, you need to blow up the whole enterprise and do something dramatic, like what Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins—recreate a whole world from the ground up. Director Marc Webb—he made (500) Days of Summer—either lacks the chops or the inclination to do that; he seems either too reverent of the enterprise or too scared that he might kill the golden goose to try anything all that new or daring, so we end up with just another Spider-Man movie it feels like we've already seen.
4. It also doesn't help this movie's fortunes that the first two Spider-Man movies are actually pretty great. (Let's ignore the third one and its campy, we've-lost-the-thread-here-haven't-we dance sequences.) You can't help but compare scenes in this movie to their counterparts in those, and the comparison does this film no favors. The memory of Spider-Man kissing Kirsten Dunst while upside down was so instantly iconic that it's still being parodied more than a decade later; here, you just get Parker shooting Gwen Stacy (a mostly wasted Emma Stone) with a web and spinning her toward him. There's nothing close to the surprisingly moving scene in Spider-Man 2 when Parker stops the runaway subway train and, unconscious and unmasked, is carried by grateful commuters to safety. The primary effect of this movie to keep conjuring up better movies.
5. Listen, this isn't a bad movie. Garfield and Stone have real chemistry, Denis Leary has some nice moments in a Commissioner Gordon-type role and the climactic action sequence has some real kick, as does a rescue scene on the Williamsburg Bridge. (Even if that just reminds you how good the rescue from the Roosevelt Island Tram was in the first Spider-Man.) The villain, The Lizard, a scientist-gone-wrong genetic mutation played by Rhys Ifans, is kind of lame, though, with extremely murky motivations. (I never quite understand what he was always going on about.) It's probably not fair, really, to The Amazing Spider-Man to find it so meandering and redundant; it is only its own movie, not anybody else's, and a bunch of people worked very hard with very good intentions to make it, and to make it well. It's not necessarily Marc Webb's or Andrew Garfield's fault that this movie mostly just feels like a rerun. But it does. It feels like we just did this.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.