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How Amazing Is the New “Spider-Man”?

July 5, 2012

No matter what the incarnation—comic books, blockbuster movies, Broadway musical—Spider-Man keeps snaring Americans in his web. Now, only a decade after Sam Raimi launched Spidey as a big-screen franchise, it’s been rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man, starring The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield as the titular arachnid superhero. Once again, the results are box-office fireworks: a record-breaking $35 million on Tuesday, July 3, alone.

No question The Amazing Spider-Man does the job—it’s competently acted, written and directed. But does it need to exist? It tells essentially the same origins story we’ve seen before: nerdy high-school shutterbug Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive insect and develops superpowers that he uses to fight crime. Sure, there are a few variations: the bite occurs not on a museum field trip but rather at the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the one-armed ex-colleague of Peter’s deceased parents, who transforms himself into the Lizard. Although he works for Oscorp, there’s no real sign of owner Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, or his son Harry, who figured so prominently in the 2002 original. And instead of redhead Mary Jane Watson, Spidey’s love interest is blond Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). But those are merely cosmetic changes, and you can’t help but feel you’ve seen this all before, done slightly better.

Much of the blame for this sense of cinematic deja vu falls on the shoulders of director Marc Webb, whose only qualification for telling this tale seems to be his surname. He’s only made one movie before—the overrated indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer—and he brings no new vision. Although the 3D technology make the scenes of the web-slinger swinging through the city more viscerally thrilling, Raimi achieved a similar videogame feel in 2D a decade ago. Webb seems best-equipped to handle the flirtatious scenes between real-life lovers Garfield and Stone, who achieve a genuine romantic chemistry despite the fact that they’re a decade and a half-decade older than their characters, respectively. Martin Sheen and Sally Field, on the other hand, seem a bit too youthful as Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May (must be all that Boniva in her case), and the surprisingly reserved Ifans doesn’t seem quite slimy enough to embody the Lizard. But Denis Leary, who’s having a big month with the impending release of the new Ice Age cartoon, sinks his teeth into the role of Gwen’s NYPD-captain dad, a straighter arrow than the cop he played on The Job.

At 136 minutes, Spider-Man joins the ranks of The Avengers and Prometheus as popcorn flicks that take way too long to get popping; it’s nearly an hour before Petey finally dons the mask. But given the heat wave that’s currently sweeping much of the country, you may not mind the extra time in the A/C. Seen in the cold light of day, however, this Spider-Man seems less Amazing than A-Meh-zing.

Did the new Spider-Man bug you? Post a comment!

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