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"The Amazing Spider-Man" review: Webb spins a worthy Spidey reboot

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The Amazing Spider-Man

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"The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012)

Directed by: Marc Webb

Written by: Alvin Sargent, James Vanderbilt, and Steve Kloves

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field

Spider-Man: Ahem. You know, in the future, if you're going to steal cars, don't dress like a car thief, man.

Car Thief: Who are you? Are you a cop?

Spider-Man: Really? You seriously think I'm a cop? Cop in a skin-tight red and blue suit?

With the upcoming release of director Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital streaming next week, fans of Marvel Comics' wall-crawling, web-slinging superhero may want to revisit 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man."

After Sony and Columbia Pictures passed on a fourth Spider-Man film by director Sam Raimi after "Spider-Man 3" failed to impress critics and fans, they decided to bring more life to the franchise in a radical fashion.

Instead of continuing the series with Raimi at the helm and the familiar on-screen presence of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Rosemary Harris, the powers-that-be decided to do a total reboot..

Thus, not only would there be a new director and a new cast, but also an all-new origins-of story.

Though 2002’s “Spider-Man” had already told the story of how Peter Parker becomes a wall-crawling, web-slinging superhero after being bitten by a mutant spider, director Marc Webb and screenwriters Sargent, James Vanderbilt and Steve Kloves ignore the existing Raimi trilogy. Instead, they go back to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s 1960s Marvel stories and explore Peter Parker’s backstory and fuse it to an updated version of Spider-Man’s origins.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” begins when four-year-old Peter enters his father Richard’s (Campbell Scott) study while playing hide-and-seek. To his surprise, it looks as though someone ransacked it. His dad and mom Mary (Embeth Davidtz) scoop Peter up and spirit him to Richard’s brother Ben’s (Martin Sheen) home in Queens, New York, “just for a little while.”

Unfortunately, Richard and Mary are killed in a mysterious accident, leaving Peter to be raised by Ben and his wife May (Sally Field).

As in the 1963 comic book, the main story of ”The Amazing Spider-Man” starts as a high school age Peter (Andrew Garfield) is coping with the burdens of adolescence and his precocious talents in science, technology and photography. Bright yet isolated from most of the other kids, Peter is restless and an easy target for bullies like Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).

Peter also has a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone. Gwen is the gorgeous and intelligent daughter of police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary). Appealing and nonconformist, she is a chief intern at Oscorp, the huge research and development conglomerate owned by Norman Osborn.

Oscorp is also the employer of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who is Richard Parker’s former colleague. Connors is currently conducting research on reptiles and their ability to regenerate tissue and regrow missing limbs. Though he’s on the payroll of Norman Osborn, Connors is motivated by his desire to regrow his missing right arm.

Although updated for the cyber-connected present day, ”The Amazing Spider-Man” covers much of the same ground as 2002’s "Spider-Man" and the original Marvel Comics stories. The film’s focus is divided between Peter Parker’s journey of self-discovery and his alter ego Spider-Man’s clash with Lizard, the monstrous result of Connors’ self-experimentation with a revolutionary regeneration serum.

My Take: Though some viewers might think that rebooting the Spider-Man franchise only a few years after the last Raimi-directed film was “too soon,” it’s hardly without precedent. Director Louis Leterrier’s "The Incredible Hulk" was released only five years after Ang Lee’s badly-received "Hulk" (2003) and successfully used the same “ignore what came before” technique employed by ”The Amazing Spider-Man”’s creative team.

Director Marc Webb gets great performances from the new cast. British-American actor Andrew Garfield is excellent in the dual role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man; his take on the character is markedly different from Tobey Maguire’s. In ”The Amazing Spider-Man”, Garfield’s Peter is a geek but not as meek and obviously nerdy. Garfield infuses the high school genius with a nervous restlessness that’s all twitches and head bobs early in the film. This restlesness gradually disappears as Parker gains more self-control and confidence as Spider-Man.

Emma Stone is also good as Gwen Stacy, who in the original Marvel universe was Peter’s first great love. Though Bryce Dallas Howard played the same character in Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, she was more of a fifth-wheel rival to Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson.

Here, the film restores the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man chronology and eschews “MJ." Stone’s Gwen is both physically attractive and an intellectual equal to Peter Parker.

Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors (a role originated in the Raimi films by Dylan Baker) is yet another riveting nemesis for Spider-Man. Like Baker, Ifans plays Connors as a semi-paternal mentor to Peter, but in this film his hubris leads him to become Lizard, a transition which never materialized in the 2002-2007 trilogy.

Though Lizard is violent and dangerous, Connors is not an evil villain. Rather, he’s a brilliant man who makes tragically bad choices in order to achieve a laudable goal.

Rounding out the main cast are Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Denis Leary, who (respectively) play Uncle Ben, Aunt May and Capt. Stacy. All three actors are stepping into prominent supporting roles created by others (Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris and James Cromwell, respectively). They, too, put different spins on their characters; Sheen and Field’s Ben and May aren’t as “sweet and perfect” as Robertson and Harris were in the first films; indeed, their relationship with Peter is somewhat strained, partly because Ben had some issues with his late brother, and partly because the couple has been keeping secrets from their orphaned nephew.

As for Leary, who often plays disaffected or “the hell with rules” characters, it’s interesting to watch him as a “by the book” Capt. Stacy. Leary plays him as a loving and understanding dad to Gwen and a no-nonsense authority figure when he’s on the job at his N.Y.P.D. precinct. Fans of Rescue Me, his comedy-drama series on the FX cable network, will be surprised to see no traces of the cynical and flawed firefighter Tommy Gavin.

Although ”The Amazing Spider-Man” rehashes much of the origins story told over a decade ago in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it is one of the best reboots a Hollywood studio has ever made. It’s faithfulness to the Lee-Ditko stories from the early Sixties is coupled with a “bring Spider-Man to the 21st Century” vibe that reintroduces the character and the franchise to a new generation of fans.

Blu-ray Specs:

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Subtitles: Cantonese, Chinese, English, French, Korean, Spanish
  • Dubbed: Chinese, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: November 9, 2012
  • Run Time: 136 minutes
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