The biggest difference between this film and Sam Raimi's 2002 version of Marvel's classic comic about a nerdy Queens teen who gains superpowers after being bitten by a spider is the addition of the word "amazing" in the title.

Not surprisingly, The Amazing Spider-Man is a bigger, slicker production than Raimi's original film and benefits mightily from digital 3-D and improvements in CGI, with the live-action and computer-created sequences blended so superbly audiences would need super-enhanced senses to tell the difference.

But the Spider-Man reboot is far from amazing simply because it's so familiar and, despite its evident quality, does not establish a strong enough reason to exist beyond commercial considerations.

Sony should be congratulated for taking a risk on incoming director Marc Webb (yes, honestly) to restart its most lucrative comic-book franchise - one it believes had run out of steam after Raimi's successful but not especially well-liked third Spider-Man movie.

Webb's only previous feature is the indie rom-com 500 Days of Summer, a beautifully directed movie but a world away from the mega-budget and gargantuan action of the so-called northern summer tent-pole movie, which can feel more like the launch of a cruise liner designed to carry a studio for years to come.

Webb certainly brings delicacy and maturity to the central relationship, the tentative romance between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and his classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

But it's nothing we haven't seen done well before by Raimi and his cast.

So if you don't mind a retread (a more accurate description than reboot), The Amazing Spider-Man is an entertaining ride, with a terrific cast. Garfield and Stone inject real character and emotion amid the polished comic-book mayhem.

Ironically, the best part of the movie is the most familiar - the first hour or so in which the orphaned Peter struggles with issues of masculinity and identity and, after being bitten by a spider with altered DNA when visiting a research facility, grapples with his new-found superpowers.

Waking up in a subway train several hours after the incident, a nonplussed Peter inadvertently rips the shirt of a woman with his newly sticky fingers then accidentally tears the carriage apart.

The next morning he does much the same in his bathroom, throttling the life out of a tube of toothpaste and ripping off door handles as if they were rosebuds.

Even better are the scenes in which Peter learns to harness those powers, swinging from building to building, using his skateboard like a turbocharged jet ski (a nice touch to remind us that he's still a teenager) and ridiculously outclassing the school bully on the basketball court.

The second half is less interesting because the villain, a one-armed scientist seeking to tap the DNA of reptiles for their regenerative powers, is less interesting, despite a solid performance from Rhys Ifans.

His Dr Curt Connors begins intriguingly enough - he is seeking to eradicate human weakness - but ends up just another rampaging monster without much human dimension.

The main hook of Webb's Spider-Man is the performances of Garfield and Stone.

They manage to make the characters their own even though the film is somewhat generic, giving them a richness that moves a step beyond their very good predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

Garfield channels James Dean (hands deep in pockets, hoodie, stammering) in giving his Peter an anguished, angry quality appropriate to a kid whose parents disappeared years ago and who is struggling with his new powers (the talented Social Network star certainly nails the troubled adolescence metaphor).

And the lovely Stone's Gwen is sassier, sexier and more mature than Dunst, giving their relationship an almost screwball comedy kick, culminating in a fabulous scene in which Peter uses his web to lasso and kiss his girl a la Antonio Banderas' Zorro.

Garfield and Stone are so good together that they almost tip The Amazing Spider-Man into the terrain of romantic drama which could make the legion of male fans who come for the web-slinging action very uncomfortable.

Has the lucrative franchise been bitten by the love bug? And where will it all end? Babies? Hundreds of them with that arachnid DNA.

Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility.

The West Australian

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