Wondering why a reboot of Marvel's not-very-old Spider-man movie franchise was called for now, just five years after the third installment of the last series? Wonder no more. The Amazing Spider-Man directed by (yes) Marc Webb is a demonstration of the dizzyingly joyous entertainment value of well-executed 3-D filming. And the film is a lot more than effects.
With an unusually high-quality script for an action flick and a fine cast led by The Social Network's Andrew Garfield, this iteration of the web-slinger's origin story keeps several balls smartly in the air, including digital-age updating, a somewhat darkened family drama, and adherence to some of the important elements of the classic tale.
Garfield's skinny, smart, mild-mannered Peter Parker has a more punchy and rebellious spirit than past Peters. The arachnid that fatefully bites him is part of a long-running series of secret experiments in imbuing one species with the characteristics of another. But Peter's sudden powers doesn't just turn him into a superhero; first they peel away the layer of studied nonchalance he has used to hide a bully-reinforced sense of ineffectiveness.
As a love interest, the red-headed Mary Jane (and her grating portrayal by Kirsten Dunst in the earlier Spider-Man films) has thankfully been replaced by Gwen Stacy (the steady, winning Emma Stone), a feisty blonde with an unlikely after-school life of her own and a stalwart police captain (Denis Leary) as a father. Peter's gentle Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and a glowing Sally Field) are kindly as ever, Ben as preachy as ever, but both are a bit more worldly too (and I celebrated seeing an Aunt May with dark, still-long hair). Other departures: the film references Peter's budding photography career but then drops it, and the Daily Bugle, one of pop culture's most entertaining fictional newspapers, is just a paper here, not a factor in Peter Parker's life.