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“The Amazing Spider-Man” slings a familiar web, but soars nonetheless


Barely ten years have passed since Sony re-launched the Spider-Man franchise into multiplexes throughout the world. Keeping that in mind, a “reboot” of the popular comic book hero seems highly unnecessary at best, and a recipe for disaster at worst. Spiderman photo: Sony

But alas, here we are in 2012, and The Amazing Spider-Man is hitting theatres for the July 4th weekend. Equipped with a more angsty hero, a crackling love interest, and some thrilling action sequences, the new “Spider-Man” is slick, effective popcorn entertainment. It’s the best reboot that no one asked for.

The film covers many familiar threads already addressed in Sam Raimi’s 2002 film, almost too many. Yes, there is a back-story regarding Peter Parker’s father, which remains shrouded in mystery, even at the close of the film. Yes, there are certain character tweaks and elements are handled differently (Uncle Ben). Yes, the new hero is shamelessly Emo, hardly the plucky, chipper geek that Tobey Maguire was.

However, for the majority, the film plays out in an awfully similar fashion. The villain, a troubled scientist (Rhys Ifans) who becomes The Lizard, shares some glaring similarities with Green Goblin from the first film. Mary Jane is absent, but Gwen Stacey is hardly a different shade of character, sharing the same tortured love for Peter Parker that Mary Jane did, right up to the epilogue. The events that chronicle Parker’s pre/post-transformation are overly same-y as well.

The performances are pretty solid across the board. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) is a great choice for Parker/Spider-Man, a more brooding alternative for the role. His facial reactions and body language energize the conflicted, awkward character, and Garfield also does a decent job at injecting some campy humor without taking it over the top. He’s a bit too pretty though.

As love interest Gwen, Emma Stone (The Help) is far too talented to let the slightly underwritten role take charge of her. A luminous and warm screen presence, Stone certainly makes a welcome impact as the stock girlfriend; she also has some terrific chemistry with Garfield. Hopefully she’ll have more to chew on if there is a sequel.

The rest of performances are average. Denis Leary lends some verve as a stubborn chief of police with a heart of gold. Martin Sheen gives some heart and pathos in his brief stint as Uncle Ben. Ifans is pretty standard as the scientist/lizard man. Finally, Sally Field, a truly gifted actress, does come across a bit bland and throwaway as Aunt May. Spiderman photo: Sony

Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) clearly shows some real talent in staging the romance elements and conveying a realistic high school setting.

What’s very surprising is how effective he is at executing a well crafted, thrilling action sequence or two. His aerial shots of the web-slinging hero zipping across the Manhattan skyline are hardly as showy or bright as Raimi’s 2002 film, but they’re also more focused and not as cartoonish. Webb’s film certainly doesn’t look like it requires a joystick.

I am probably one of the few individuals who really didn’t fall in love with the Spider-Man film released ten years ago. Although certainly visionary, that movie was overlong, uneven and the visual artificiality of the affair was detracting. The Amazing Spider-Man suffers from the fatal flaw of over familiarity, but it still manages to entertain and engage on a variety of levels despite that. This is a good film in its own right. Consider the franchise re-ignited.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photos: Sony