Webb spins new Spidey into responsible reboot

Jason Fraley, WTOP film critic

WASHINGTON – How long should Hollywood wait to reboot popular franchises?

Bryan Singer waited 28 years from the 1978 launch of the Christopher Reeves “Superman” franchise. Christopher Nolan waited 16 years from the 1989 launch of Tim Burton’s “Batman” franchise.

As Hollywood grows more desperate for new ideas, we’ve seen three different actors play the Hulk since 2003. Now, just 10 years after Sam Raimi launched his “Spider-Man” trilogy, and just 5 years after the latest sequel, Marvel’s spidey senses are tingling again.

Such powerful box office potential ($2 billion worldwide for the Raimi trilogy) brings a familiar warning: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I’m relieved to report this rendition is responsible. The film admits its biggest flaw – unoriginality – in an attempt to defend it. A poignant scene features a lesson from Peter Parker’s English teacher: “It’s said there are only 10 plots in all of fiction, but I believe there’s only one: ‘Who am I?'”

Indeed, “The Amazing Spider-Man” explores the identity crisis of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), the daddy issues of never knowing his father, the teen angst toward foster parents Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), and his developing feelings for schoolmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose police chief father (Denis Leary) is out to arrest the “vigilante known as Spider-Man.”

How do the two versions compare?

The Hero. No doubt many allegiances are firmly tied to Tobey Maguire, but Andrew Garfield shines. He is meek enough to pull off the nerdy research, but with enough edge to test his powers at a skate park and kick criminal ass. We saw both sides in “The Social Network” (2010), where he believably played the nerdy co-founder of Facebook, then screamed “Mark!” as he made a B-line for Jesse Eisenberg and told off Justin Timberlake. Sean Parker, meet Peter Parker.

The Villain. Rhys Ifans (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) is given ample set-up as Dr. Curt Connors. Like the best of villains, he is not innately evil, but rather a man trying to play God, a one-armed scientist experimenting with animal DNA hoping to regenerate limbs for himself and other amputees. His transformation into the Lizard comes at a natural pace, and the CGI is, for the most part, convincing. The beast roars with the sound of a “Jurassic Park” T-Rex and wreaks havoc like Godzilla in King Kong land. Of course, he’s no Doc Ock, my pick for the best Spidey villain, but he’s about on par with Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin.

The Romance. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is just as good a love interest as Kirsten Dunst. While the latter’s Mary J famously kissed the upside down hanging Maguire, Stone joins Garfield for a romantic rooftop scene to rival Superman and Lois Lane in “Superman: The Movie” (1978). As Garfield tries revealing his secret identity, struggling to say, “I got bit,” Stone says, “So have I.”

The Director. The romance is handled with ease by the director of “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), the aptly named Marc Webb. You can see his eye applied to many scenes, letting Spidey swing in POV shots, muting the soundtrack with headphones as Stan Lee’s cameo librarian is oblivious to the battle raging behind him, and mastering the Worldwide Web as Parker clicks an image of New York City, expanding it to become the frame for the next live-action scene.

Was that also a little symbolic mise-en-scene I noticed? Webb blatantly places the image of a “Number 36” on the glass window of a door, referencing the comic book’s “No. 36” edition, a black-covered tribute to 9/11. Fittingly, the ghost of Leary’s “Rescue Me” hovers over the scene.

The nod to New York’s “real” heroes makes the film a fine July 4 popcorn flick. Dare I say I enjoyed it more than “The Avengers” (2012)? Granted, my 3D glasses worked properly on this one, and malfunctioned during “The Avengers.” Can’t have that first experience back. Bummer.

When all’s said and done, surely “The Avengers” will be the bigger cultural moment of 2012. For that, the timing has to be right, and “The Amazing Spider-Man” is too close to the last series to catch the zeitgeist. The generation that voted Maguire and Dunst for best kiss at the MTV Movie Awards is the same crowd that would watch this new rendition.

Waiting a generation is key.

Still, it’s a reboot that had every excuse to stumble, but took every opportunity to rise to the occasion.

★ ★ ★

Read more from WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley by clicking “Fraley on Film” under the “Living” tab above, following @JasonFraleyWTOP on Twitter, and checking out his blog, The Film Spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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