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The Amazing Spider-Man

This Year's Model

The Amazing Spider-Man

The cliché about introducing an updated version of a product that’s been around for a long time used to be “It’s not your grandfather’s widget.” In the case of this reboot of the popular comic book hero, it would have to be, ”It’s not your big brother’s Spider-Man.” After all, it’s only 10 years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man launched the series that is rivalled only by Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as the best superhero movies ever made.

But the studio disagreed with Raimi’s ideas for a Spider-Man 4, and if they didn’t get a movie with the character into theaters this year they would lose the rights to him. Thus The Amazing Spider-Man, which is pretty similar to the 2002 movie but with enough changes to keep the fanboys arguing for months.

And, of course, a new cast. If you could plunder Hollywood history for the perfect actor to play Peter Parker, teenaged misfit turned wisecracking but still insecure superhero, how could you top James Dean? But since Dean is long dead (and probably wouldn’t have taken the part anyway), there’s British actor Andrew Garfield, who looks even more like Dean than James Franco.

If you have any interest at all in seeing this, you probably already know the basic story. This version, scripted by a passel of big-bucks writers (at least one of whom worked on the Raimi movies), differs in making Peter and his inamorata (Emma Stone) students at a high school for the scientifically gifted. He’s an amateur photographer but not working for the Daily Bugle (which means no J. Jonah Jameson or “Robbie” Robertson, though Denis Leary somewhat fills that role as a New York cop).

Instead of the Green Goblin, the villain du jour is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist whose well-intended research into limb regeneration turns him from kindly Jekyll to a Hydely beast unimaginatively called the Lizard. (Was Stan Lee away on vacation that week?)

All of which, I suppose, is only niggling. Bursting with top of the line special effects, The Amazing Spider-Man does an adequate job of dazzling young audiences while setting them up to root for characters closer in age to themselves than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst would have been in a Raimi sequel.

It does some things fairly well. Director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) doesn’t get so carried away with the digital effects that you can’t tell what’s going on. I liked the way that Parker’s development of his new powers uses Jackie Chan-ish acrobatics rather than fakery, even if it does require shadows to hide the face of the unknown stuntman pretending to be Garfield. And I was impressed at how hard the script works to be plausible, at least as far as it possibly can in a story that must eventually throw most logic out the window. (One of my pet peeves that no one else cares about: monsters that double or triple in size in under a minute. Where does all that extra poundage come from?)

More so than the Raimi movies, The Amazing Spider-Man is obviously set up to be the first in a series, which means numerous threads are left conspicuously dangling. More meat for internet speculation, I guess, which is a canny way of keeping interest in the sequels alive for a few years until tickets go on sale. Is it a better movie than the one from ten years ago? You may as well ask if Christopher Lee was a better Dracula than Bela Lugosi.

Watch the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man

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