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Dan's Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

It's been five LONG years. Prepare to be re-amazed...again.
The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony Pictures)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.

Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, Max Charles, C. Thomas Howell, Jake Keiffer, Kari Coleman.

Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Directed by Marc Webb.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:


Well, it's about time someone made another Spider-Man movie. Sheesh, it's been 5 long years since Tobey Maguire donned the red and blue tights. All sarcasm aside, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to redeem the Marvel franchise from the disastrous 2007 Spider-Man 3, so...bring it on.

Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker, a nerdy photography enthusiast whose parents died and left him to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt Mae (Sally Field). Looking for answer's to his parent's death, Peter is drawn to Oscorp, a chemical/technology firm headed by Charles Osborn (not seen in this version). Oscorp scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) was once a colleague of Peter's dad, and still works at Oscorp. Peter visits the New York City Oscorp skyscraper during his quest, and runs into the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), one of his high school classmates and assistant to Connors.

Connors, having worked with Peter's dad on cross-species genetics, has been trying to find a way to re-grow his lost arm. Using lizard DNA, Connors is close, but is missing the formula hidden by Parker's dad until Peter finds it hidden in his attic. Peter makes a secret visit to Oscorp's lab, where he is bitten by a hybrid spider, giving him super powers. Peter gives Connors the lost formula, enabling him to complete the genetic code needed to re-grow his lost arm.

At first, it seems the new genetic formula works fine, but a dangerous lizard side effect develops, turning Dr. Connors into a monster. Meanwhile, Peter develops his "Spidey" skills, gets revenge on his high school bullies, falls in love with Gwen and becomes a vigilante crime fighter.  Oh yeah, and Uncle Ben is shot and killed by in the street by a criminal Peter had just spitefully allowed to escape.

As Peter deals with his new powers and the death of his uncle, he must come to the rescue as The Lizard wreaks havoc on New York City. At the same time, Gwen Stacy's police captain dad (Denis Leary) tries to keep Spider-Man and the Lizard at bay.

While it's impossible to resist comparing the "new" Spider-Man with the "old" version, I have to admit there are certain improvements in the more contemporary installment of the Peter Parker story. That leaves me with a few housekeeping items to clear up between the two.

First, it should be noted that The Amazing Spider-Man is in fact an "origin" story, much like the Tobey Maguire version. As such, there are several elements that are mirrored, like the death of Uncle Ben, the spider bite, and Parker's dealings with bullies. Second, The Amazing Spider-Man is the same basic story of the original Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire version, but with a different girlfriend and villain. So, if you must compare, it could be like seeing Spider-Man wearing plaid one day and stripes the next. It's different, but basically the same. Whether that's good or bad depends on how much you like Spider-Man in general. It's a re-boot, not a sequel or a prequel.

Similarities aside, the differences should be noted between the two versions, and the good news is, there is improvement in the newer one. The most notable difference is Andrew Garfield's performance, who captures the sarcastic, smart-a** essence of Parker much better than Maguire. Garfield also exhibits a greater range in his acting than Maguire, whose portrayal of Parker seemed a little whiny at times (especially in Spider-Man 3). The other improvement is the computerized graphic sequences involving Spider-Man's web-slinging flights through the city, which seem much less "cartoony" than the Raimi versions. Spider-Man purists will also be pleased that the superhero's web-slinging mechanics are closer to the comic book than the previous versions.

All good Spidey-news aside, there are a few flaws in The Amazing Spider-Man that should be noted. One is the storyline involving Gwen Stacy and her role as some sort of supervisor at Oscorp (while still in high school). The other is some of the dialogue between Emma Stone and Garfield, which felt unscripted and awkward at times. While I liked Stone's performance, she also seems a little too old to be playing a high school girl. It would have been better had the film been set in Parker's college years.

Despite these glitches, The Amazing Spider-Man can be amazing at times, and can be seen as an improvement from the last version.


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