"Is this Spider-Man 4?" my 5-year-old son, Luke, whispered as the movie started.
"No, it's Spider-Man 1," I replied, bracing myself for the inevitable follow-up.
"But there already was a Spider-Man 1," he shot back, dissatisfied. "And Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3."
"Yeah, well, some people didn't like the other Spider-Mans so they're starting over."
"Shhh, time to watch Spider-Man" I said, relieved that there was no more time to ponder the ridiculousness of a series reboot so soon after the last set of webslinger flicks.
"Shhh, Time to Watch Spider-Man" may as well have been the title the studio powers gave this flick, desperate as they were to make everyone forget the 2007 series-scuttling abomination known as Spider-Man 3.
Forget that it's as patently ridiculous to remake Spider-Man (2002) as it would be to rehash The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which came out the year before. The series needed a rapidfire do-over. Director Sam Raimi's Spidey movies were pandering, lowest-common denominator puffballs that trampled over the continuity of the comic books and committed the heresy of eschewing live-action stunts for pathetic, herky-jerky CGI.
Worse, Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man was a whining twerp who wanted to be pitied for his super powers and the responsibilities that came with them.
Newcomer Marc Webb, who made the impossibly, ludicrously amazing (500) Days of Summer, seems to hate those movies just as much as I did, and is determined to zig wherever the previous Spider-Man movies zagged. His spandexed web-slinger, played by Andrew Garfield, ditches the woe-is me emo nonsense for a joyful, wise-cracking exuberance that's contagious. Webb's story sticks close to the comic's roots, even on ridiculous yet adorable points such as Peter Parker inventing his own wrist-mounted web shooters.
Garfield, who nailed the emotional core of The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg's betrayed best pal, captures the vulnerability of the bullied geek turned spandexed vigilante. The rest of the casting is just as inspired, starting with Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter's crotchety guardians, on through Emma Stone's brainy-hot Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as her skeptical-of-Spidey cop dad.
Webb and his screenwriters also deserve credit for their restraint, taking time to introduce the characters and ease methodically through Peter's evolution into his destiny in the manner of Batman Begins. By the way, how perfect is it that the Spider-Man director's last name is Webb? It's like having a Superman movie directed by a guy named Cape or a Ghost Rider movie made by someone named Crap.
Ah, but this Webb does become tangled, eventually becoming (500) Cliches of Summer Superhero Flicks. The villain, a rampaging scientist/lizard man (Rhys Ifans) is cursed with a non-existent motivation and rarely has something more profound to say than "Raar!" It's also head-scratching how often Spidey insists on sharing his not-so-secret identity with all comers, stripping off his mask like he's desperate for beads at Mardi Gras.
This new Spider-Man 1 that isn't Spider-Man 1, but is, may not be amazing, but after those last three mediocre-to-horrid movies, I'll take The Adequate Spider-Man and run.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, based on a story by Vanderbilt, which was adapted by the comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Directed by Marc Webb. Rated PG-13. 136 minutes.