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The New Peter Principles

The Amazing Spiderman spins a better web


The Amazing Spider-Man, a better-than-the-original reboot of the tales of Peter Parker, swings through the screen with the greatest of ease. The year's best superhero film (at least until The Dark Knight Rises opens), The Amazing Spider-Man answers the summer's hottest question: Why would any studio want to retread a tired franchise that has worn out its welcome?

Within minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man, the answer is clear: Because it's better. A whole lot better.

Any recollections of Tobey Maguire and the insufferable Kirsten Dunst fade fast as Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone take over as Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy, the two best-looking science nerds a high school chemistry lab ever saw. The new cast is rounded out nicely by Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary.

This go-around gives a deeper, richer back story to Spider-Man, and Garfield and Stone are up to the high-flying task. If anything, Spider-Man reminded me of why I disliked The Avengers, this year's financially successful but sloppy frat party of a film. Quite simply, if you're going to pretend to be a superhero, it helps if you act like one. The Avengers was nothing more than two hours of cape-wearing stiffs, each trying to top one another with zingers.

Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man offers characters with emotional resonance, tempered by tragedy and humor. None of it is forced. It's a nice mix of zeal, swagger and thrills--just enough to spill your popcorn.

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Spidey's swinging scenes no longer look cartoonish. Maguire's high-flying days were marked by technical wizardry that was too enamored with itself and, as a result, had little realism. The newer version actually looks like as ridiculous as it is--Spider-Man is a unitard-wearing nut job pretending to be Tarzan in the jungles of Manhattan.

Perhaps the biggest high-wire act is negotiated by director Marc Webb (yes, that's his real name). Webb's professional stock is rising as quickly as his box office receipts. The Amazing Spider-Man became the second-highest grossing Fourth of July film, second only to Transformers. In only his second feature-length film--his debut was 2009's delightful 500 Days of Summer--Webb is batting 1,000 and is a rare commodity: a film craftsman with successes in the indie house and the megaplex.

But now we wait for someone to activate the bat signal, apparently for the last time. The final chapter of director Christopher Nolan's angst-driven morality play, The Dark Knight Rises, opens to an anxious global audience on Friday, July 20.

Nolan and his all-star cast promise a rousing send-off for the Caped Crusader. And 2013 is already promising a relaunch of the Man of Steel as Superman returns to the big screen. But in the meantime, the new Spider-Man is at the top of the hero heap. And yes, he's pretty darn amazing.