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FILM REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man

Categories: Movies

It is a good time to be a comic book fan. Marvel's super team, made up of a Norse God, a drunk cyborg and a green rage monster, shattered box office records and reminded us these marvelous tales were supposed to be FUN. Of course if it's grim and gritty you'll looking for, Chris Nolan's dour dark avenger is less than a month away.

Emma Stone, Andrew GarfieldEmma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. (Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures)

So now as the clamor of The Avengers fades and before The Dark Knight Rises ...along comes a spider.

Why was Spider-Man reboot just five years after the last version? Well, many reasons, such as:

That Tobey Maguire is now 38.

That 2007's Spider-Man 3 was a incoherent mess (albeit a maddeningly profitable one.)

Or perhaps that lizard toys sell better than vultures.

A couple of years ago Spider Man 3 director Sam Raimi was mulling over making Spider Man 4. Word is the villain would have been the Vulture played by ... wait for it ...John Malkovich.

Sheen, Field and GarfieldMartin Sheen, left, and Sally Field portray Peter Parker's Uncle Ben and Aunt May. (Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures)

As scene-shreddingly awesome as that sounds, Hasbro & Sony weren't too thrilled about trying to sell a balding senior in a bird costume. So Raimi's project got shelved, and Spidey was given the reboot treatment by Marc Webb, the visual maestro behind the pop-erific 500 Days of Summer.

So what type of Spider do we have this time?

Played by Andrew Garfield, this is a Spider with a strut in his step. Just read what Marvel exec Avi Arad said in an interview earlier this year.

"Here, he's a hero even before he got his powers. He's not a loser; he's an outsider. He's cool. He's brilliant. Girls notice him."

And it's true. In Webb's reformatted origin story, Peter Parker is a sulky but smoldering teen. Andrew Garfield's version is more angst-ridden than awkward. His parents are gone, due to a mysterious conspiracy involving research his father was working on. We see Peter at high school, still the shutterbug, but also a skater, wheeling his way through the halls in a hoodie and perfect bedhead hairdo.

This time, exposure to a spider bite in a bio lab gives Peter a ego boost as well as the powers of an arachnoid. He mashes the bully Flash into the lockers and shatters the backboard dunking a basketball.

With the Coldplay soundtrack burbling away, this is the Garden State of superhero films. Forget the confrontation between Peter and Dr. Connor (who becomes the Lizard) -- the real heart of the film is the flirtastic relationship between Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Peter.

 Rhys Ifans starts out as Dr. Curt Connors in The Amazing Spider-Man. (Columbia Pictures)

Stone brings some welcome intelligence to the role of Spidey's girlfriend. Indeed when Peter shows up at Dr. Connor's lab, it's Stacy running the tour. No surprise, Petey spends more time with the mask off than on. All the better for Garfield to emote as he's swinging from date to doom.

But by the time the end of Amazing Spider-Man rolls around, it all seems too familiar. The always-watchable Rhys Ifans as Dr.Connor/Lizard is smothered in a scaly computer-generated costume, raving like some reptilian Phantom of the Opera. The city bands together to save the day, but the timing is off. The music swells as Spidey swings from crane to crane. It's one of the few moments The Amazing Spidey finds its groove, that pure hit of joy Raimi and Maguire captured so well. Then we're back to a climax straight from the blockbuster blueprint. Tall building, large object. Things break, lives are spared and lost.

In creating a Spider-Man for 2012, Webb and his rogues' gallery of writers have overlooked the one quality that made him universal. What Stan Lee knew when he created the character decades ago is there's a bit of Parker in all of us. Not many of us can identify with Batman's rage or Superman's inherent alien qualities. But even the most popular person has felt out of place at one time or another. Spider-Man's nerdy nature is what brought him down to earth.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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