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'The Amazing Spider-Man': Not new, but improved

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Tue July 3, 2012
Emma Stone, left, and Andrew Garfield star in
Emma Stone, left, and Andrew Garfield star in "The Amazing Spider-Man" as Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker, respectively.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Amazing Spider-Man" sings the same old song as its predecessors
  • There are some improvements, with the best being Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker
  • But none of its positives can dispel the whiff of déjà vu

Editor's note: Please be aware that this review may contain spoilers.

(CNN) -- When it comes to rebooting Marvel's tale of an adolescent web crawler, Sony seems more than happy to sing the same old song with today's release of "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Only 10 years have passed since Tobey Maguire started swinging through the urban jungle in "Spider-Man," and now Andrew Garfield is stepping into his flight path in what often feels like a straight-up remake.

Considering how important the idea of evolution is to this story, is it unreasonable to expect something more inventive than the same origin tale? Note to Sony: The entire planet saw Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," and you guys know this better than anyone! Copping iconic scenes from "Superman," "Batman" and "King Kong" only makes matters worse.

Yes, there are variations; "Amazing" isn't a carbon copy. And, to some extent, there are improvements. The biggest plus point has to be Garfield, the Anglo-American actor who played Mark Zuckerberg's former friend and ally in "The Social Network."

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At 28, Garfield's slightly older than Maguire was when he played Peter Parker in 2002, but his combination of fresh-faced innocence, nervous agitation and wry humor is immediately appealing.

Garfield's Peter is still very much a boy -- the prologue introduces him as a child, searching for the father he's about to lose. He's a good-hearted, curious kid who isn't prepared for the hormonal surges that sweep his body shortly after he's been bitten by a genetically modified spider in the research laboratory of one Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).

The next thing Peter knows, he's climbing the walls. He's stronger, stickier and getting a good deal further than he ever thought possible with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Not surprisingly, director Marc Webb -- whose last film was the sleeper rom-com "(500) Days of Summer" -- employs a deft hand with the relationship scenes, and Garfield and Stone have a nice, frisky rapport. The dialogue scenes are light and "on point." But none of this can dispel the whiff of déjà vu.

At least we get a new bad guy. When the semi-sympathetic Dr. Connors rashly doses himself into a poor man's Godzilla -- a Middle-aged Mutant Ninja Lizard -- Webb dutifully strings together three or four wham-bang set pieces, including a novel interlude in the sewers, where Spidey spins his own advance warning system, a welcome breath of presumably foul air after all his usual zip-lining antics.

The action is mostly coherent and the CGI is a notch or four up from the first Sam Raimi movie, but not a significant advance on the last of them unless you're crazy for 3-D. (A couple of dizzying subjective close-ups do make the case for it -- but they're the exceptions.)

This is yet another blockbuster sprinkled with numerous continuity errors, ridiculous coincidences, contrivances and gaping lapses in logic. To take just one minor example: An 8-foot reptile rampages across the Williamsburg bridge during rush hour, and no one gets a photograph?

And just because it runs two-and-a-quarter hours doesn't mean you should expect the filmmakers to tie up loose ends. The sinister billionaire who is bankrolling Connors' work, some chap by the name of Osborne, remains ominously off-screen, and we never do find out what happened to Peter's parents.

But I suppose that's not carelessness as much as it's confidence. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is slick and entertaining and artfully packaged, and Andrew Garfield is utterly engaging, so yes, you can count on seeing more of the same. Prepare to be unamazed.

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