MANILA, Philippines - For the new film "The Amazing Spider-Man," director Marc Webb explores not just the origin of how Peter Parker becomes crime-fighting superhero. He and the writers craft a tale that is as much about Parker - a 17-year-old filled with angst, independence and desire for love - as it is about action, adventure and catching crooks.
"I am a huge Spider-Man fan and I am an even bigger fan of Peter Parker, and I love this idea that there is this kid that has the same problems we do," said Webb, known for low-budget film romance "500 Days of Summer."
Spider-Man's famous blue-and-red suit doesn't even appear for much of the first half of the big-budget 3D movie, which debuted in theaters last Friday.
The new tale reboots the modern film series that began with 2002's "Spider-Man" starring Tobey Maguire as the comic book crime fighter over three movies directed by Sam Raimi.
The fourth installment puts Andrew Garfield, 28, into the Spidey role. Relatively unknown when first cast, the Los Angeles-born, British-raised Garfield showed his acting chops in 2010 Facebook film "The Social Network" and this year was nominated for Broadway's Tony award in "Death of a Salesman."
Teen angst, first love
"The Amazing Spider-Man" begins with Parker as a 7-year-old as his parents place him with his aunt May (Sally Fields) and uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), then mysteriously disappear.
Ten years later, Parker is an outcast - a bullied, skateboarding high schooler with a chip on his shoulder and an eye for classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, who, in real life, is dating Garfield). The pair share a love of science and soon begin to fall for each other. One problem: Stacy's dad is a New York City police captain.
As Parker transforms into super strong, web-slinging Spider-Man, a clue from his family's past leads him to his dad's former scientist partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).
Events soon transform the seemingly benevolent scientist Connors into Spidey's first adversary - a 9-foot tall lizard that terrorizes the Big Apple and inadvertently helps Parker find a sense of purpose as Spider-Man.
Most reviews have been positive. "The Amazing Spider-Man" received a score of 78% on the film website Rotten Tomatoes.
While the movie is winning fans for its focus on characters and the romantic heat between Parker and Stacy, there is plenty of action as Spider-man flies through the air on his sticky web strings, fights common criminals in the streets, and battles The Lizard in the city's sewers and atop its skyscrapers.
"This Spidey reboot refreshes an old story through the on-trend notion of making a Marvel superhero less...super-heroic," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, who gave the movie a rating of A-.
"'The Amazing Spider-Man' may be the first big-ticket, big-budget, big-action-sequence comic-book movie that also doubles as a lilting coming-of-age indie," she added.
While most critics agreed that a reboot is unnecessary, many still enjoyed the film.
"To call it pointless wouldn't be unfair. The last Spider-Man movie was only five years ago," said Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. "That being said, 'The Amazing Spider-Man' has its virtues, chief among them its two stars ... [Webb] allows time and space for Garfield and Stone, both stellar, to turn a high-flying adventure into something impassioned and moving. A Spider-Man that touches the heart. Now that really is amazing."
Roget Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times lauded the film for being "more thoughtful."
"The best of all the Spider-Man movies remains Raimi's 'Spider-Man 2' (2004), with the best of the series' villains, Doc Ock. This film is probably the second best. The Lizard is not especially inspired and seems limited to the dramatic range of a Godzilla," Ebert wrote.
But Lou Lumenick of the New York Post was not swayed by the movie, calling it "hardly awful but not coming close to living up to that adjective in the title either."
"Sometimes dull and mostly uninspired, it’s much less a satisfying reboot like 'Batman Begins' than a pointless rehash in the mode of 'Superman Returns,'" he said. -- With reports from Reuters