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Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ weaves familiar web

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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Last we checked in with Spider-Man, it was 2007, and I can’t say I’ve missed him all that much.

“Spider-Man 3” was repugnant; a bit of popcorn cinema so overwrought with villains and by-the-numbers set pieces that it was absolutely intolerable. It was sucked into such a weak abyss of filmmaking that it negated the barely acceptable mediocrity of its two predecessors.

Columbia Pictures’ reaction? “Screw that noise – let’s reboot this sucker,” apparently.

In 2010, the studio decided it was time to reboot Spider-Man, which, by my math, was only eight years after the first “Spider-Man.” Though Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was not one that ever really carried even a bit of heft or importance, it’s hard to make sense of rebooting a franchise so young so quickly. That is unless either 10 human years equates to something like 50 spider years, or Sony would lose its Spidey rights to Disney, which now owns Marvel, if it didn’t churn out another film, and fast.

Because this is America, the latter is probably the safer bet.

The result is “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the aforementioned reboot helmed by director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) that doesn’t really feel like a reboot at all.

We pick up with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), who has been abandoned by his parents and raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). You see, Peter is a bit of an altruistic wise-ass; you know, the actually watchable version of Tobey Maguire’s Peter from the Raimi trilogy. He stands up for the bullied, even if it means getting beaten up by the bullies.

He’s also essentially a boy genius, which is hard to believe at times because he uses Bing and Internet Explorer. Regardless, he falls for his high school classmate, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who must also be a whiz kid too because she’s the head intern at Oscorp, where the one-armed scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) had been unsuccessfully attempting to develop a concoction to re-grow lost limbs until Peter came along to help.

But that all goes horribly, horribly wrong. Peter eventually becomes Spider-Man after doing something that’s not all that different to how he became Spider-Man in the 2002 film.

Then some important people die, and Spider-Man will not stand for that because he’s a superhero and he must do those altruistic superhero things that sometimes feel ripped straight from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Then a big, scary lizard comes, because Connors thinks, “You know what’s cooler than humans? Humans who are lizards.” It sounds cool, except the lizard is never all that scary, but rather just animated extremely well by the film’s visual effects team.

On its own, “The Amazing Spider-Man” certainly isn’t bad. It has quite a few almost-emotional moments, but those moments are excruciating teases. It’s almost as if Webb wanted the audience to actually feel something – unlike Raimi, whose films were soulless and without any identity or flair. The last few minutes of the film put together a few of those moments, but they feel so scattershot that they never really coalesce into anything of importance, leaving the film without any real directorial fingerprint to separate itself from the original trilogy.

“The Amazing Spider-Man’s” biggest issue is that the setup just takes too damn long. Now, it’s a bit unfair to fault an origin story for excessive exposition, but when the origin story is only marginally different at best from the story we got only a decade prior, it’s hard to excuse having to wade through all that to get to the real action, which is why anyone really goes to see Spider-Man in the first place and you know it.

Once it picks up, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a pretty good time, even though the set pieces aren’t anything incredibly original which at times feel like something out of a video game, particularly during a couple jarring instances where we view Spidey swinging from building to building in first person.

It’s the cast, however, that is arguably the film’s greatest success. Garfield is a much more believable Peter Parker than Maguire, though that probably didn’t take much. Sheen is also great.

Heck, even James Horner’s rousing score is a sight (sound?) for sore ears, actually containing something called “melody,” which seems to be a concept forgotten by some other big, summer blockbuster composers. (I’m looking at you, Hans Zimmer.)

Is “The Amazing Spider-Man” the reboot we needed? No. Is “The Amazing Spider-Man” at least a good time? Yeah, sure. And stick it out through the credits.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is due to hit theaters Tuesday.

Grade: B-

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