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Spidey Redux 

The Amazing Spider-Man outshines its predecessors

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Take heed, all of you naysayers who are putting down the idea of a Spider-Man reboot without having seen one frame of the new film. I’ve seen and enjoyed the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire trilogy as well as the new, improved — yes, improved — film. Raimi is a terrific director, who infused those movies with humor, angst, wild energy and a neat comic book sensibility. Maguire gave the role his all, but his all in that case consisted of variations on a wide-eyed, awestruck look, accompanied by bouts of uncertainty. Maguire opened up more and showed a darker side in the third installment, but by then the series was beginning to show some tiredness.

Both Raimi and Maguire were initially game for a fourth entry, but wisely stepped down. Which led the folks at Marvel and Columbia to step up, to take a chance at starting the franchise all over, from scratch.

The biggest chance was going for an as-yet unproven director. Marc Webb cut his teeth on music videos and various TV series, but his only feature had been the well-directed but, let’s face it, underwhelming character study (500) Days of Summer. I doubt that the decision of who to play the next generation Spidey kept many studio execs up at night. All they had to do was look at the range Andrew Garfield had already displayed on film. You, too, might want to compare and contrast his work in Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, Never Let Me Go and The Social Network.

Webb has now proven that he can mix crazy action with words and emotions, resulting in a more realistic feel to this Spider-Man entry. Andrew Garfield has shown that web-swinging through New York doesn’t get in the way of him delivering a thoughtful performance that combines exuberance with inner turmoil at a level of believability that Maguire just wasn’t able to reach.

And even though there’s a tad too much time spent here in developing the backstory of Peter Parker’s childhood — a mystery surrounding his parents, life with his kindly aunt and uncle, being both shy and bullied in high school, a certain radioactive spider bite — this is a film that eventually turns to kick-ass mode, then sticks with it.

There’s an insightful parent-kid-type of relationship, though it’s really between aunt and uncle and kid (Martin Sheen shines as Uncle Ben, Sally Field shows some attitude as Aunt May). The long-gestating love interest angle between Peter Parker (Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is the film’s only weak link, as it seems that Stone is following Tobey Maguire’s wide-eyed approach to acting. And then there’s the villain, a classic one who is right in line with the Marvel tradition of giving an edge of sympathy to him. Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), before turning into the truly frightening Lizard (physically reminiscent of the Ray Harryhausen creatures of the late 1950s), is a scientist concerned with helping mankind. Then things go very wrong.

Life and death battles ensue — on the ground, underwater, up in the sky. Emotions get to run rampant when Peter realizes that Gwen’s dad is Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), the stubborn cop who wants the “vigilante” Spider-Man brought down. Those familiar with Spidey lore know that a huge chunk of the story concerns Peter/Spidey’s mission of revenge over the death of a loved one. And fans of Marvel honcho Stan Lee’s requisite cameo will easily spot him in a library scene.

So, is it too soon for a reboot of a popular and very successful movie series? Hell, no. They did it right. I’m already waiting for the 2014 sequel.

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