‘‘The Amazing Spider-Man’’ — It’s impossible to avoid the comparisons, so we may as well just get them out of the way early so we can move on. This reboot — Prequel? New chapter? It’s hard to decide what to call it — is pretty much different in every way from the staggeringly successful Marvel Comics-inspired trilogy that preceded it. The basics are the same: A high school kid gets bitten by a scientifically modified spider, discovers he has newfound super powers, decides to use them as a vigilante crime fighter and takes to the streets of New York in an unforgivingly tight red-and-blue suit. But in terms of tone, characters, performances and even visual effects, ‘‘The Amazing Spider-Man’’ feels like its own separate entity. It may not be as transporting an experience as those earlier films, especially the first two, but it finds a distinct voice. Much of that has to do with the central performance from Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. In the hands of Tobey Maguire, who originated the role in ‘‘Spider-Man’’ a decade ago, Peter was nerdy, scrawny, insecure — that’s how his everyman relatability manifested itself. Garfield plays Peter as more of a misunderstood outsider, a rebel with a chip on his shoulder. And that slightly arrogant attitude gives the whole movie a restless, reckless energy and a welcome sense of danger. At the helm, Marc Webb is a very different sort of director. He may not have sounded like the most obvious choice for a hugely anticipated blockbuster based on his only previous feature, the romantic comedy charmer ‘‘(500) Days of Summer.’’ His big set pieces may lack some of the imagination that director Sam Raimi brought, but they'll do. More importantly, though, he conveys an emotional truth, a pervasive sense of humanity, which may be an even tougher feat in this kind of fantastical scenario. Emma Stone is bright as ever as Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy, with Rhys Ifans nicely underplaying his role as Spider-Man’s nemesis. PG-13 for sequences of action and violence. 138 minutes. Thre e stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’’ — This is sheer poetry on screen: an explosion of joy in the midst of startling squalor and one of the most visceral, original films to come along in a while. The story of a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) living on a remote, primal strip of eroding land in the southernmost reaches of Louisiana is so ambitious and so accomplished, it’s amazing that it’s only the first feature film from director Benh Zeitlin. Working from a script he co-wrote with Lucy Alibar, based on her play, Zeitlin deftly mixes a sense of childhood wonder with the harsh realities of the adult world. His film is at once dreamlike and brutal, ethereal yet powerfully emotional. And he’s coaxed some surprisingly strong performances from a couple of inexperienced actors he had the daring to place front-and-center. Wallis, who was only 6 when shooting began, has a fierce presence beyond her years but also a plucky, girlish sweetness. This is Hushpuppy’s fairy tale but she’s no damsel in distress. Her mother left long ago; now she and her ailing, alcoholic father, Wink (Dwight Henry), are living together on the narrow and ruggedly beautiful Isle de Jean Charles, known affectionately by the rag-tag locals as ‘‘The Bathtub.’’ As her father becomes consumed by poor health and drink — and with a damaging storm on the way — Hushpuppy must figure out how to survive on her own. PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sexuality. 91 minutes. Four stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
‘‘Magic Mike’’ — Steven Soderbergh makes movies about sexy subjects, then strips away the sexiness about them. He is fascinated by process, often to a clinical extent. In recent years this has been true of ‘‘The Girlfriend Experience’’ (starring real-life porn star Sasha Grey as a high-priced Manhattan call girl), ‘‘Contagion’’ (about a viral outbreak that claims lives worldwide) and ‘‘Haywire’’ (featuring mixed-martial artist Gina Carano as a special-ops agent seeking revenge for a betrayal). Even the glitzy, star-studded ‘‘Ocean’s 11,’’ one of Soderbergh’s most pleasingly escapist films, takes its time laying out every detail of its ambitious Las Vegas casino heist. Now he’s directed ‘‘Magic Mike,’’ about the cheesy world of male stripping in the cheesy setting of Tampa, Fla. Yes, the dance numbers themselves exude masculine, muscular heat — how could they not with guys like Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer and Joe Manganiello strutting on stage in barely-there costumes? — but Soderbergh and writer Reid Carolin take us behind the scenes and linger over the mundane minutiae of the performers’ daily lives. They go thong shopping. They rehearse their routines. They lift weights backstage. And they count their dollar bills when their work is done. Even the after-hours hook-ups with liquored-up ladies from the audience seem like one more obligatory step, like brushing your teeth before going to bed. It all seems glamorous and thrilling at first, though, for Pettyfer’s character, Adam, who becomes known as The Kid. A neophyte in this neon-colored world, he serves as our guide once the more established Mike (Tatum) recruits him to be a dancer at the Club Xquisite male revue. R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use. 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.Continued...