There’s a scene in the newest Spiderman movie where our hero, Peter Parker, is just discovering his powers, and on the wall behind him there is a poster of Albert Einstein, saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This might have been the mantra of the filmmakers as well as all involved in creative industries. Imagination, in this respect, appears to be a uniquely human quality, something that sets us apart from other species.

This issue is central to the storyline. A well-meaning scientist, who turns out to be the villain, is interested in cross-species genetics, specifically how to make broken people whole again, to regrow limbs and recover lost abilities. This advanced genetics, using DNA from lizards, backfires, and turns the scientist into a monster. This particular retelling of the Spiderman tale paints the scientist as more likeable, more conflicted as to whether his research is for good or evil, and thereby engages us more fully in the story. We root for the hero, but understand the villain. Even bad guys, when they are successfully imagined, have qualities that make them human.

Part of the challenge of sequels and prequels is to re-imagine a familiar story with a new interpretation. It’s similar to the task placed in front of anyone reinterpreting a fairytale, as audiences saw in the two recent retellings of the Snow White fairytale, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Graphic novels deal with this dilemma often, especially as comic book heroes get suited up for the big screen, where fans are already familiar with the basic premise and plot of the stories they love.

The Amazing Spiderman treads along a familiar path, and spends the first hour of screen time retelling an already well-known story, yet we are never bored. Once again, Spiderman is cast as a vigilante outsider, an outcast who must find a way to use his powers for good. This proves to be more of a dilemma for him this time around, and he struggles with discovering his “real self.”

The very end of the film acknowledges the difficulty of this task when Peter Parker returns to his high school classroom. The teacher tells the class that a writer once said there are only ten basic plots, but she announces there is only one. The only plot she recognizes is how to grapple with the question, “Who am I?” This forms the crux of the story, and it turns out to be a fascinating journey, probably the best blockbuster, and maybe even the best movie of the summer season.

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