Insect in the backyard!

For the 3D generation, Spidey's crimefighting is not a therapy but a joy

The new Spider-Man is a cocky high schooler on a skateboard, a tad pompous and narcissistic, largely unperturbed by the preternatural power that allows him to leapfrog, shoot webs and climb walls. Once aware of his superheroism, he demonstrates it on a school's basketball court, slam-dunking the hoop and shattering the backboard into pieces _ to the eye-popping awe of his former bully. It helps that Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker; he's not a depressed teenager who broods over the great responsibility that comes with great power, as Tobey Maguire's arachnoid Peter Parker did in the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy that began in 2002.

Worldwide web: Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man.

The new Peter is less geeky, more confident, fashionably self-absorbed. Shooting webs and fighting crime are not his therapy _ it's his pride and joy.

Every generation has a Spider-Man it deserves. The Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb's reboot of the Marvel Comics franchise that first leapt into life 10 years ago, features a blithe, buoyant mood, perfunctory on drama and high on teen fantasy. Superheroism is physical and hormonal here, whereas in the Raimi-Maguire movies, it's more psychological, even existential (as much as is allowed in Hollywood blockbusters).

But hang on, the real point of The Amazing Spider-Man is the enriched visual experience, namely IMAX and 3D. Ten years ago, Peter Parker's Tarzan-style high-swinging from Manhattan skyscrapers was thrilling, and here it's designed to be even more so, almost vertiginous at times. People have wondered aloud _ and quite rightly _ why we need another new Spidey movie barely five years after the last one. The answer is simple: the IMAX and 3D tickets are more expensive. So even if the story is the same, the reason is not.

Things proceed largely the way we remember it. Peter Parker is a young man whose father, a bio-engineering scientist, left him abruptly when he was still a boy. He grows up with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, lending their pedigree), who drill a sense of civility and responsibility into the boy. At school, Peter is subjected to recess-time harassment, but he sticks to his principles and receives a nod of admiration from Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Parker's fetish for pretty blondes is well-documented, and since we're on the subject, Mary Jane Watson is not Spidey's first love in the comic series.

It's Gwen, daughter of the police chief who'll soon hunt Spider-Man; here Emma Stone (Easy A) makes a slightly routine romance compared to the melancholic Kirsten Dunst as MJ.

A trip to Oscorp, where his dad once worked, leads Peter to the one-armed scientist Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), growling with a mixed sense of optimism and obsession in his cross-species manipulation. Then comes that inevitable bite by a genetically engineered super-spider that turns Peter Parker from an innocent boy into a mutant with a super-spring in his step. The point of no return in Peter's life, however, is the death of Uncle Ben in a random shooting, which leaves a trauma that festers into dark vengeance and vigilante activism.

But Peter's fury dissipates swiftly; Webb's version of Spider-Man concerns itself less with causes than with consequences, less with sadness than with vitality. And soon Peter goes on a crime-busting rampage around Manhattan, while another mutant, a jumbo reptile _ half-Hulk, half-dinosaur, a total badass _ emerges with a typically far-fetched and apocalyptic intent.

The film is lively because of Andrew Garfield, who makes Spider-Man reckless, dashing, humorous. Garfield, best known as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, is not much of an action man, but that's entirely kept insignificant by the brisk cutting and high-flying effects that milk the potential of 3D (I saw it on an IMAX 3D screen _ impressive). The true worth of 3D _ or actually, whether it's of any worth at all _ will continue to be hotly debated, but if there's a film that harnesses the dizzying exhilaration of the technology, it's this kind of physical cinema aimed solely at inducing visual thrill and immersive, amusement park-style spectacle. As the main demographics of superhero flicks remains roughly under 17 around the world, this is what the new Spider-Man professes itself to be.

A few last words on Andrew Garfield. US-born but growing up in England, the actor is 29, is reduced to playing a high school nerd who still tries to find out about the disappearance of his dad by the most natural method of all: Google. Playing Mark Zuckerberg's friend/foe in The Social Network, he has the charm of a naive boy who's got caught in a web of something he's too tardy to understand, which is what Peter Parker is. But to see him act, try the intense, bloodied crime drama from the UK, called Red Riding Trilogy: In The Year Of Our Lord 1974. Crimefighting required no mask and Spandex suit in that movie, only pure guts and the ability to see into the dark of the human mind. Spider-Man is fun all right, but he's still not ready for the real thing.

COSMOPOLIS GIVEAWAY

David Cronenberg's new film Cosmopolis will open in Bangkok on Thursday.

The Bangkok Post has 10 tickets to give away (for five lucky winners, two tickets each) to the press screening on Monday at SF Central World, starting at 7.30pm. To win the tickets, tell us who's the lead actor in the film. Email us at cosmo.bkkpost@gmail.com and we'll contact the winners this weekend.

Cosmopolis is a day in the life of genius investment banker Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson) who's riding across Manhattan to get a haircut while the world, the stock market, and his own life, are disintegrating.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Bangkok Post columnist