Amazingly successful franchise is spun by Spider-Man


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Call it a reverse Cinderella move. Instead of scampering home as the clock strikes midnight, movies now embrace the witching hour.

"The Amazing Spider-Man," a reboot introducing Andrew Garfield as the web slinger, will arrive in many theaters at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and everywhere later in the day. It may be the first time in the history of movies where an actor has leapt from a Tony Award-nominated turn as Biff Loman in "Death of a Salesman" to Spidey. In IMAX and 3-D, no less.

Mr. Garfield stars alongside Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy; Rhys Ifans as the villainous Lizard; Denis Leary as Gwen's father, a police captain; and Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, who raise Peter after his parents suddenly disappear.

As the new movie nears, here's a look back at the recent trilogy dedicated to the character who debuted in Issue No. 15 of the anthology series "Amazing Fantasy" in August 1962. Spider-Man's adventures continued in "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 1963.

'Spider-Man'

Opened: May 3, 2002.

Stars: Tobey Maguire plays high school student Peter Parker, who is bitten by a genetically altered spider and gains super powers; Kirsten Dunst is Mary Jane Watson, the girl he pines for; James Franco is pal Harry Osborn; Willem Dafoe is Harry's father and Spidey's nemesis, the Green Goblin. As Peter's kindly Uncle Ben, Cliff Robertson delivers the money line: "With great power comes great responsibility."

How we rated it: • • • 1/2 out of four stars.

What we said: In naming it No. 8 on the Post-Gazette's list of the best movies of 2002 ("Chicago" topped the roster), the late Ron Weiskind wrote: "Yeah, it's based on a comic book. But director Sam Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp treat the characters like real people, with real emotions and real failings.

"When teenager Peter Parker, expertly portrayed by Tobey Maguire, turns into Spider-Man, he is as exhilarated and as confused by his new powers as any kid going through puberty. They don't help him get the girl (Kirsten Dunst, who was born for the role), protect his friends and family or solve all his problems. Comic book or not, it's just a damned good movie."

Trivia time: For his 12th birthday, Mr. Raimi's parents gave him a painting of Spider-Man. In our review, we took care to note who played Eugene "Flash" Thompson, a high school bully who was big, strong and drove a fancy car. It was none other than Joe Manganiello, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School and Carnegie Mellon University long before "True Blood," "Magic Mike" and a shelf full of magazine covers.

By the numbers: Grossed $821.7 million worldwide, including $403.7 million in North America, according to Box Office Mojo. Nominated for two Oscars, for sound and visual effects, but lost both.

'Spider-Man 2'

Opened: June 30, 2004.

Stars: Mr. Maguire, Ms. Dunst, Mr. Franco and Rosemary Harris as now-widowed Aunt May returned and were joined by Alfred Molina as villain Doc Ock.

How we rated it: • • • • out of four.

What we said: "It's a character study masquerading as an action movie, an examination of the kind of identity crisis we have all experienced, often as a teenager or young adult (like the characters in the movie)."

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"The movie boasts one of the best screenplays since 'L.A. Confidential,' which was only the best movie of 1997. It is also that rarest of movie creations, a sequel better than its predecessor."

The computerized special effects were flawless, the story shot through with insight about masks real or psychological, and Mr. Maguire carries the film as masterfully as Spidey gripping Mary Jane while swinging her to safety.

Trivia time: Michael Chabon, author of "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," received story credit along with Alfred Gough and Michael Millar.

By the numbers: Grossed $783.8 million worldwide, including $373.6 million in North America. Won an Oscar for visual effects, also nominated for sound editing and sound mixing.

'Spider-Man 3'

Opened: May 4, 2007.

Stars: Thomas Haden Church, as the villainous Sandman, along with Topher Grace as a photographer angling for Peter's job at the Daily Bugle and a blond Bryce Dallas Howard as police captain's daughter Gwen Stacy joined the returning core cast.

How we rated it: • • • out of four.

What we said: "The third time is not the charm, but 'Spider-Man 3' has its tender and thrilling moments, thanks to dear Aunt May, a villain shaped out of shifting sand and a turn to the dark side for Spidey." A gooey alien substance blackens his suit and personality, triggering an identity crisis as Spider-Man tangles with three villains and a reenergized desire to avenge the death of Uncle Ben.

" 'Spider-Man' was as intoxicating as a first love. The screenplay of 'Spider-Man 2' made it a four-star winner. 'Spider-Man 3' gives Mr. Maguire a new color and emotion to play, along with fearsome villains and an examination of the fine art of forgiveness, but it doesn't soar in the same way. After all, with great power comes great responsibility ... to entertain."

Trivia time: The least favorably reviewed of the trio nevertheless allows Aunt May to share some wisdom. She informs Peter that revenge is like a poison. It can take over and, before you know it, turn you into something ugly, the way an alien parasite can.

By the numbers: $890.9 million worldwide, including $336.5 million domestically. No Oscar love.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published July 1, 2012 4:00 AM


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