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Published: 2012-07-02 - 14:11:01
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The Amazing Spider-Man Review

By Joe Lozito

Webbed Feat

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Every superhero origin story is a study in existential angst. Why am I like this, what is my responsibility, who am I? Every hero must go through the stages of grief before finally achieving acceptance and proclaiming, "I am <insert superhero name>!"

Who can forget Christian Bale's first, guttural "I'm Batman", or Robert Downey Jr's cathartic, and very public, "I am Iron Man", or Tobey Maguire's triumphant "Who am I? I'm Spider-Man". So you'd be within your rights to wonder why, five years after the last Maguire Spidey movie, a new Peter Parker is saying those words.

This time it's Andrew Garfield of "The Social Network" donning the skintight red-and-blue and the movie is called "The Amazing Spider-Man" (personally, I thought "Spider-Man 2" was pretty "amazing" already, but I digress). Once again, this is the Spider-Man origin story, and despite the indie sensibilities of "(500) Days of Summer" director Marc Webb (really!), it's hard not to feel the redundancy in this franchise reboot.

All the classic moments are there. The spider bite, the discovery of new powers, Uncle Ben's untimely death. And oddly, it's in these pivotal moments that the film falters. Particularly, the death of Uncle Ben (played as an old school working man by Martin Sheen) is downright clumsy. Say what you will about Sam Raimi's Spidey films (two outta three ain't bad), but the man knew how to stage a death scene. Conversely, Mr. Webb's film excels during the smaller character-driven moments. The typically tiresome bullying scenes in Midtown Science High School (wha?) are given a dose of freshness thanks to the human treatment of Flash (Chris Zylka), likewise the love story with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, playing up the doe eyes) feels as authentic as it does awkward.

The film wisely steers clear of the J Jonah Jameson character (J.K. Simmons owns that for at least another generation), opting instead for Gwen's police chief father, played (like wearing an old cop suit) by Denis Leary. Rather than Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin, the baddie in this incarnation is The Lizard, alter-ego of genetic scientist Dr. Curt Conners (played with zeal by Rhys Ifans). The script - by the powerhouse team of James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"), Alvin Sargent ("Spider-Man" 2 and 3) and Steve Kloves (the "Harry Potter" films) - does a nice job tying together the fates of Parker and Dr. Conners, but we've seen most of that before. They also struggle to find - and tap-dance around - any quote as memorable as "with great power comes great responsibility".

The film has fun with its Manhattan locations - featuring some of the cleanest sewers you'll ever see in a major metropolis. At last, this is a "Spider-Man" film that tackles how tough it would be to actually get around by swinging from building to building (for anyone who's played the "Spider-Man" video game, you understand). There's one bravura sequence involving cranes (and C. Thomas Howell!) that might bring a tear to your eye.

But it's Mr. Garfield's performance that really keeps the film swinging. Rather than Mr. Maguire's super-nerd, Mr. Garfield's Peter Parker is a maladjusted loner - which makes sense for the character - and he wears it well. He also gets Peter's banter (while in costume) down-pat. It's a staple of the "Spider-Man" comics that Peter is constantly yammering away while he's fighting bad guys. Mr. Garfield has a lot of fun with that. And of course, he has his moment of realization when he accepts his new identity and declares, "I'm Spider-Man". And Mr. Garfield earns it. If only there were anything in the film to explain its own existence.

What did you think?

Movie title The Amazing Spider-Man
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary It's a tribute to the enduring strength of the wall-crawling superhero that this redundant origin story is as good as it is. Well, that and Andrew Garfield's excellent performance as the title.
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