*** (out of four)
Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy may be only five years dormant, but the thing’s not untouchable. It would be more blasphemous to rejuvenate plenty of other franchises.
Please, don’t give Justin Bieber a new “Back to the Future.” Please.
There’s no need to debate whether “they” should have rebooted “Spider-Man,” now or whenever. Because they did. And it’s pretty good. Free of Tobey Maguire’s squeakiness or a story so reliant on secret identity, “The Amazing Spider-Man” becomes, at times, refreshingly playful and never corny.
Now played by an effective Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), Peter Parker does not lament the great responsibility that comes from the great power he attains after receiving a spider bite. At first, he can't believe how his newfound strength turns a simple task like squeezing a tube of toothpaste into an accident waiting to happen. Later, like most high school kids with sudden, web-slinging superpowers, he delights in the ability to cross bridges without any wheels. Well, when he’s not persistently tracking down bad guys to avenge his Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) murder, which occurs more urgently than it did in 2002’s “Spider-Man.”
Though his name surely will find him at the mercy of countless bad, spider-related jokes, director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) deserves credit for hitting some familiar story points without succumbing to redundancy. The movie has depth and purpose, if not total freshness.
Emma Stone, again tapping into her infinite charm reservoir, brings both sweet vulnerability and poise to Gwen Stacy, Peter’s classmate who first notices the quiet skateboarder in glasses when he stands against a bully and gets beaten up. Soon, Gwen and Peter bond with the youthful excitement of a barely suppressed giggle. That spark makes them look more like teenagers when Stone and Garfield, who reportedly date off-screen as well, average about seven years removed from their last homecoming.
This origin story certainly delivers a sense of déjà vu, laying groundwork that’s relatively fresh in our minds anyway. The agile “Amazing” still excites—asserting some reckless, dangerous behavior as an inevitable dimension of youth—and generates fun, big-but-not-overdone action sequences in Peter’s developing battle with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who’s much nicer when he’s not a giant lizard.
Batman has returned frequently with different bodies in the bat-suit. Another Superman takes off next year. That’s the nature of superheroes and Hollywood. Fortunately, the not-yet-missed Spider-Man earns his revival as a normal, likably conflicted guy who can legitimately get the girl not because of his costume, but the character of the guy inside.
That may not deliver iconic upside-down kisses, just better ones without some scratchy mask in the way.
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