I THINK WE all understand why Hollywood kept trying to perfect the recipe for the Incredible Hulk, a comic-book icon and proven brand on TV.
First it tried Oscar winner Ang Lee and Eric Bana, then action director Louis Letterier with Edward Norton, on the grounds that he had already ("Fight Club") played a guy with an alter-ego who liked to beat the stuffing out of people. Both attempts failed to connect with audiences.
Hollywood couldn't abide the idea of failing to do something Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were able to do 30 years ago. Finally, they dropped Mark Ruffalo into "The Avengers," and at last, everything clicked.
Which brings us to "The Amazing Spider-Man." Hasn't this adaptation already clicked, big-time? It was a passion project just 10 years ago for genre vet Sam Raimi, who turned the offbeat casting of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst into a smashing success, commercially and artistically.
And it would be one thing to plug Andrew Garfield into an ongoing, established "Spider-Man" series, building on Raimi's work. Here, though, the studio is going for a reboot, rehashing essentially the same origins story we saw in 2002. Peter Parker gets bullied, Peter gets bitten, thrills to his new powers, beats up the bully, attracts a cute girlfriend (Emma Stone), lives to regret his last conversation with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), turns soulful vigilante, etc.
The cast is top-drawer, the movie is competent, but beats are essentially the same, and as a fan of the "original," I found that frustrating. The tone is different, slightly darker, and Garfield appears to have been brought on board for his skills as a tragedian — twice, he kneels Hamlet-like over the bodies of loved ones and emits a howl of psychic pain.
Two times too many, for my taste. The story does not rise to that level of dramatic intensity. I liked the melancholy Garfield of "Never Let Me Go," and "Red Riding" (the best trilogy you've never seen) but here, he's not an orphan who discovers he's a clone raised to have his organs harvested, or a news reporter who learns that all the powerful forces in Yorkshire have conspired to enable and conceal the rape and murder of young women.
He's Spider-Man, and he's wrestling a large, green lizard.
The lizard, by the way, is the deranged and hopped-up form of Rhys Ifans, playing a one-armed scientist trying to fast-track a drug that will allow humans to grow appendages as easily as lizards. Remember Doc Ock? Meet Doc Oops.
Ifans is a delightfully cockeyed screen presence who should have great fun as a lizard man, but he seems tamped down here, as does former firebrand stand-up Denis Leary, straitjacketed as a tough-talking chief of police.
As for Garfield, some advice: The next time you are cast in a movie that requires you to go all Lycra, think about doing some squats and lunges and doubling down on the protein. In uniform, the spindly Brit looks like somebody backing '70s David Bowie, circa Ziggy Stardust, less Spider-Man than a Spider from Mars.
Never has the contrast between costumed actor and his digitized, supersized, action-sequence counterpart been so glaring, and yielded a feeling of such detached fakery.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.