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5 Reasons Why 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Is Better Than Its Predecessor

July 9th, 2012 12:30pm EDT

Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man As a critic of all things entertainment, it’s my job to make quick, black-and-white decisions. So when it was announced that Sony was rebooting its Spider-Man franchise just five years after the Tobey Maguire fronted “Spider-Man 3” swung its way into theaters, I wasn’t just skeptical, I was downright livid. It seemed like nothing more than a movie studio’s desperate money grab, creative integrity be damned.

After being somewhat softened by the four-minute trailer, I’m happy to admit that I am a full-on marshmallow after seeing the “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and have never been more grateful to be wrong. I’m even going so far as to say that this installment of Spider-Man, led by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), is better than Sony’s last reincarnation for five reasons.

Andrew Garfield. If you’re going to build your tentpole superhero franchise on the shoulders of a fairly unknown, British actor, make sure he's a fanboy. Garfield reportedly is a diehard “Spider-Man” fan, and bought that love and respect to his vision of Peter Parker, creating an adorably gawky, heartbreakingly effected teenager loner, who even though he has loving caretakers in his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), radiates a palpable unsettled loneliness like the orphan he truly is.

Garfield also shines as the masked hero. Spidey, a teenager with epic powers, has always been as cocky as he is nimble, and this version is one of the best incarnations yet, even a few hairs better than Maguire’s. As Spider-Man, he plays games on his cell phone while waiting for a showdown with The Lizard. Out of the mask, he still moves like a lethal force of nature. Garfield had to move mountains to woo fans to the box office, and after the film raked in $140 million dollars in six days according to Deadline.com, I’d say that Everest is a few feet to the left.

The Nolan Touch. The earlier “Spider-Man” trilogy, especially the last installment, edged too far into outrageous camp with evil space goo and Peter Parker’s angry dance-off. After Christopher Nolan’s masterful and gritty reimagining of the Batman franchise, superhero films aren’t afraid to steer into the darkness. Superheroes are created by devastating psychological traumas and grief, so it was fantastic to see that “The Amazing Spider-Man” and Garfield dove headfirst into that raw emotion and yet managed to keep it from bogging down the movie with too much emotional weight. It is a summer popcorn movie after all.

It’s A Love Story. Super-heroic antics aside, the heart of his movie is the romance between Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s luminous Gwen Stacy. Even without upside down kisses, their awkward/amazing teenage flirtation can be as adrenaline-packed as Spider-Man’s web-swinging action scenes. Their relationship quickly moves far deeper than a teenage crush as Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben is killed and he struggles with the grief and guilt. As much as Peter pours himself into this invulnerable alter ego, with Gwen, he lets go, sharing his secret with the only one special enough to carry it. Garfield and Stone's chemistry is so kinetic and adorable, it's one scientific formula that's extraordinarily right.

It's a big bonus that Gwen is not Kirsten Dunst’s damsel, Mary Jane Watson. She’s a modern woman, who is arguably braver and smarter than her boyfriend.

It respects the mythology and builds upon it. If you’re an avid fan of Sam Raimi’s dedication to the original Spider-Man mythology, then you’ll appreciate how director Marc Webb cleverly tweaks it, removing the worn-out “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra while respecting Stan Lee’s core vision. “The Amazing Spider-Man” efficiently unspools Peter’s incredibly frightening and funny transformation from nerdy teenager to mega-strong arachnid man and all of the landmarks are there—the spider bite, the underestimated thief, the wrestling ring. It also creates time for the film dig deeper into the mysterious deaths of Peter’s parents, and enticingly skims the surface of an intriguing mystery that will probably unfold over the next two films. To say I can’t wait to see just where this geeky rabbithole goes is the understatement of the year.

Even superheroes can get hurt. As a superhero, facing dangerous villains is an occupational hazard, and even if you’re the kind of caped crusader with augmented DNA, you’re bound to return from a day at the office with a few bumps and bruises. Maguire’s Spider-Man got hurt, but there were rarely visibly wounds that had to be explained away or clumsily concealed. Conversely, Amazing’s Peter Parker rarely comes out of a night’s work unscathed, and those vicious injuries keep the character tethered reality as it affects the people who love him. Saving lives at any cost changes Peter, but in the end, so do the triumphs.

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Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Digital Inc.

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