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“The Amazing Spider-Man” review: Peter Parker is back and better than ever

The Amazing Spider-Man

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It’s been just over a decade since Tobey Maguire first swung across the Manhattan skyline as Spider-Man, and three blockbuster films later, we have a brand new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield and a fresh spin on the web-slinging hero’s origin story in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Still, the bar is set pretty high for Spider-Man’s return to the big screen, with the previous three-film franchise earning almost $2.5 billion worldwide and receiving generally positive reviews across all three installments. For the studio’s gamble to pay off, “The Amazing Spider-Man” must not only succeed on its own merits, but also win over fans of its predecessor with a new director, star, and tone for the wall-crawling, web-slinging hero.

And thankfully, that’s exactly what it does — and what’s more, it goes a long way toward posing the question, “Tobey who?”

It’s worth noting early on that I’ve long considered 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” not only the best of the previous franchise, but one of the best comic-book movies made in the last decade. Even so, when the credits rolled on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I found myself wondering whether Garfield’s debut as teenage superhero Peter Parker might actually be a better film than “Spider-Man 2” — or either of the two other films, for that matter — in Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy.

Visually, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the natural evolution of the webslinger’s big-screen adventures, seamlessly combining fantastic practical and digital effects that blur the line between the superhero’s world and our own. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell where the computer-generated elements end and real-world sets and stunts begin, and just as the scenes of Spider-Man swinging through Manhattan grew more impressive with each installment of the previous franchise, the reboot shows every minute of the four years it had to improve on the effects of “Spider-Man 3.”

Along the same lines, the 3-D in “The Amazing Spider-Man” doesn’t show any of the normal issues associated with films that feature a lot of fast-moving, colorful elements, and manages to enhance the experience rather than distracting from it. Basically, it’s 3-D done right, and it shows you just how much the format can add to the theater experience — especially during some of the brilliant sequences shot from first-person perspective that director Marc Webb included in the film.

Plot-wise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” falls short of telling the “untold story” that the movie’s tagline promised, but that’s only because the movie stays closer to the character’s comic-book origin than any of the previous films. From Peter Parker’s mechanical web-shooters to the mysterious circumstances surrounding his parents’ death, to the presence his very first love, Gwen Stacy, “The Amazing Spider-Man” manages to be both a modern retelling of Spider-Man’s origin and the most faithful adaptation of those early comics we’ve seen thus far.

And where the previous films glossed over many of the moments that defined Spider-Man as a character in the comics — most notably, his relationship with Gwen and her father — “The Amazing Spider-Man” clearly isn’t afraid of taking the time necessary to develop the mix of emotional extremes that are a hallmark of the character. Fans know that Peter Parker is at his best when he’s grappling with the demands of his sense of responsibility and the unbridled glee of being a teenager with all of these amazing powers, and Webb delivers a film that captures that dynamic perfectly.

That’s not to say that “The Amazing Spider-Man” is without a few flaws here and there, though. Much like the previous trilogy, Spider-Man spends a bit too much time in costume without his mask, making the notion of his identity remaining secret a little far-fetched. At a time when every parking lot, street corner, and phone has a camera, the idea that Peter Parker’s hijinks sans mask could go unnoticed is a little sketchy.

The film also has some problems here and there with its primary villain, The Lizard, due to the amount of digital effects required to make actor Rhys Ifans into a massive, scaly monster with a tail the size of a compact car. A few close-quarters scenes with Spider-Man and Lizard feel a little too heavy on the computer-generated visuals, but Webb has a good handle on when to rein these scenes in before they run away with the film.

A scene from Amazing Spider-Man

The cast of “The Amazing Spider-Man” also seems to have a good grasp of the subject matter, and Garfield makes a strong case for himself as the new standard for Peter Parker. While his take on the character is less awkward and nerdy than his original 1962 counterpart, he clearly draws a lot from the modern-era Peter Parker introduced in Marvel’s line of Ultimate Comics, which filter popular heroes’ origin stories and adventures through a contemporary lens. (This is the same line of comics that Marvel Studios drew inspiration from for “The Avengers” and the rest of its recent films.)

Unlike his predecessor, Garfield seems to be conscious of the change that takes place in Peter when he puts on his costume. When he becomes Spider-Man, his movements become quick, jumpy, and spider-like, and Webb deserves credit for reflecting this in the action sequences. The hero of “The Amazing Spider-Man” uses his abilities in much the same way as a spider would, wrapping up his opponents with webbing in fast, darting attacks that are 100-percent arachnid, and using the strands of his web to sense what’s around him.

It’s a clever move by Webb that leaves you wondering why the original trilogy didn’t think to do the same.

Emma Stone also goes a long way toward bringing the Gwen Stacy of the comics to life on the screen, and along with being a visual match for the character, her chemistry with Garfield offers a great reminder of why Gwen Stacy is remembered so fondly by fans. First and foremost, she’s attracted to Peter, not Spider-Man — and she sells this key difference in the film. While the film’s duo move from casual acquaintance to tell-each-other-every-little-secret a little too quickly, Webb and his leads do a nice job of showing you why the pair were once one of comics’ most popular couples.

When the credits do finally roll — and make sure to wait until they stop rolling for an extra scene — it seems silly to think of “The Amazing Spider-Man” as anything but the best Spider-Man film we’ve seen so far. From the massive improvements in visual effects and action sequences to a more appropriate tone and leads who better embody everything fans love about the characters, Webb’s spin on the Marvel wall-crawler is proof that looking at a character with fresh eyes can sometimes be a good thing, and that “reboot” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

In the end, it’s entirely appropriate that “The Amazing Spider-Man” opened in the period between “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” as it occupies a spot that’s tonally equidistant from both films. Where Marvel’s big team-up movie was a lighthearted, fun adventure and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman finale is likely to be a dark, brooding exploration of its hero’s soul, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a balanced mix of bright and dark, fun and angsty, fast-moving and deliberately ponderous — just like its hero.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” opens July 3.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.