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He flies through the air with the greatest of ease. That daring young British-American actor, Andrew Garfield, makes the role of Spider-Man his own as he dons red spandex and swings through urban canyons holding on to a strand of web in The Amazing Spider-Man.
The Spider-Man reboot opens today (July 3). The film is an origins story, showing audiences in detail how Peter Parker (Garfield), after being bitten by a scientifically enhanced spider, gains superhero powers, transforming the New York City high school student into the crime-fighting Spider-Man.
Sound familiar? With good reason. It has been only a decade since the last Spider-Man film franchise kicked off with its first film, Spider-Man, which starred Tobey Maguire as the masked web slinger. It proved a blockbuster and was followed by equally successful sequels in 2004 and 2007; all together, the trilogy grossed north of $2 billion worldwide. That $2 billion figure doesn’t include the additional humongous truckloads of green collected in DVD and broadcast sales, not to mention action figures, toys and t-shirts.
It’s in hopes of making similar dough that Columbia Pictures and Marvel Comics decided to jumpstart the Spider-Man franchise all over again. The two are counting on a whole new generation of moviegoers – many of whom were still in Pampers when the last Spider-Man movies arrived in multiplexes – to embrace Garfield as a Spidey to call their own.
So, what does Garfield, 28, bring to the role? The Social Network star gives us a Peter Parker who is more conflicted, moodier and arrogant than his predecessor’s. Maguire’s Spidey came across as an all-American teenager thrilled at his superpowers but also somewhat embarrassed by them. He took a gee whiz, golly, aw shucks approach to suddenly being able to sling a web and swing high above Manhattan.
Garfield makes his Spider-Man darker and more emotionally complex. His Peter Parker takes longer to master his Spidey superpowers and to figure out how best to use them. At the same time, he’s more of a showoff, eagerly testing out and using his powers, as when he confronts the school bully who earlier regularly used to target him.
Physically, Garfield appears rangy and wiry in the role. When his Spider-Man first dons his form-fitting superhero costume, there’s no washboard abs or pumped-up chest on display. This is not to say that he looks like a 90-pound weakling, but rather that Garfield’s Spidey appears to be a fit but gangly guy who happens to be able to climb skyscrapers and leap from atop them.
As for the movie itself, it works best when concentrating on Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man and his budding romance with a bright classmate (Emma Stone). When it has Spidey tangling with the movie’s villain (Rhys Ifans), a one-armed scientist who eventually turns into a giant, rampaging lizard, the film loses its specificity and becomes just another comic book movie filled with extended CGI-filled chases and action scenes.
During those sequences, the visual line between movie, video game and comic book becomes increasingly blurred. Call me old-fashioned, but I want a movie that’s a movie, and not a video game or comic book.
In the end, for anyone who sat through and enjoyed the Maguire Spider-Man films, this latest Spider-Man seems superfluous. It’s competently made (though overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours) and Garfield and Stone are likable but, really, what’s the point?
There was no huge crying need to make it. This new Spider-Man is neither revisionist enough in its story nor such a great leap forward technologically as to be a clear and obvious improvement on the earlier film. It’s not, after all, as if the Maguire movies were made so long ago that they were covered in, ahem, cobwebs.
Do you plan to see Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man?