As 7-year-old Peter Parker, playing hide-and-seek, announces: "Ready or not, here I come."
Is the world ready for another Spider-Man? Here's hoping it is, because "The Amazing Spider-Man" is an emotionally rich and exceptionally well-acted and -executed retelling of the comic-book hero.
Andrew Garfield, following in the high-flying footsteps of Tobey Maguire, makes Spidey his own. Fresh from his Broadway turn as Biff in the revival of "Death of a Salesman," he invests the role with a tearful vulnerability, weighty sense of moral responsibility, burning desire for revenge and devilish sense of payback for a high-school bully.
As someone observes, Peter is a "man of many masks," and he is not the only one exploring dual identities and the peril of secrets. A wise woman cautions the teen, "Secrets have a cost. They're not free. Not now, not ever."
"The Amazing Spider-Man" takes the story back to its beginning, as little Peter's doting parents flee their house and some unspoken danger and hand the boy over to kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). We later see a flash of a news story reporting that a plane crash claimed the lives of Peter's mother and father.
The action fast-forwards to the present, with Peter now a high-school senior and budding photographer who is a frequent target of a bully and largely invisible to girls, including classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), although that is about to change.
Peter's discovery of his father's leather briefcase leads him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his dad's former partner and an expert in cross-species genetics working in Manhattan's 108-story OsCorp building. Connors, who is missing half of his right arm, is an authority on reptiles who wants to create a world without weakness.
During a tour of OsCorp, Peter slips into a locked lab and is showered with spiders, one of which later bites him on the neck.
Spider-Man is born and the seeds of mutant lizard-man are planted, along with Peter's growing closeness to Gwen even as he suffers more losses, with one leaving him wracked by guilt.
His anger turns him into a costumed character some consider a vigilante, some an anarchist and some a hero. The New York Police Department is not pleased with the crime-fighting competition. "Thirty-eight of New York's finest versus one guy in a unitard? Am I correct?" a police captain (Denis Leary) asks.
Spidey's biggest challenge will be trying to save the city from the sharp-clawed grasp of the Lizard, Connors' alter ego, who boasts superhuman/reptilian strength and a diabolical plan that could change the face of New York.
"The Amazing Spider-Man," directed by Marc Webb, who made his feature-film debut with the romance "(500) Days of Summer," is both familiar, foreign and the beneficiary of a decade's worth of visual-effects advances since Sam Raimi launched his film franchise. Even if you've seen all three of those movies, this will not seem like a repeat.
This Spidey is tall and lean, discovers his strength and the stickiness of his fingers and feet in amusing ways, and devises silvery ropes of webs with impressive tensile strength and versatile uses. As expected, he scampers across ceilings and up sides of buildings and swings among the shimmering skyscrapers, sometimes with help from grateful admirers and our 3-D glasses (worth it this time).
Garfield and Stone, a couple in real life, have natural and obvious chemistry. Their eyes are often lit so they shine with love in bloom, terror or sadness, and while Gwen is given a crazy amount of access at OsCorp for a high-school intern, she's also a young woman who is brainy, responsible and devoted to her dad.
Stan Lee, the legend behind many Marvel Comics superheroes and here appearing in a clever cameo, once wrote that he didn't want Spidey to be strong and charismatic. "I wanted him to be frail and nerdy-looking, inhibited and shy, scorned by the high-school jocks and ignored by his female classmates. At least in the beginning."
The Everyman who became Spider-Man evolved into a hero for his time and any time, and that's the case here whether he's steadying a boy in mortal danger or tackling the safety of an entire city.
Although the story may break or bend some of the rules established in the comic books (I didn't grow up reading them), "The Amazing Spider-Man" lives up to its title.
It's fun, fast, occasionally funny and whets the appetite for the inevitable sequel, teased in an enigmatic scene that appears during the credits, so pretend you're stuck to your seat like Spidey at least for a few more minutes.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.
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