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The Amazing Spider-Man Review: Don't Have the Courage Inside Me to Tell You "Please Let Me Be"

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | July 3, 2012 | Comments ()


amazing-spider-man-review.jpg

No one would ever have guessed that Tobey Maguire could cast such a long shadow. It's been ten years and two months since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man arrived in theaters, and only five years since the release of the final chapter in his trilogy of stories starring Maguire. Such a gap would be small at any moment in film history, but with the ubiquity of home video and cable repeats, it feels like Raimi's movies are still happening. There's a sense of "Didn't we just do all this?" that's impossible to shake as you watch Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man, and it doesn't get any better when, say, the villain's mental breakdown and clumsy inner monologue seem lifted in large part from Raimi's first film. So much of Webb's film feels perfunctory, as if he signed on not to make a movie but to provide Marvel and Columbia with a certain number of set pieces choreographed with a very familiar rhythm, all while doing his best to stay within the very narrow confines of an origin story we all saw play out on FX last Saturday afternoon. It's a testament to Webb's vision and commitment that he's able to carve out a few good moments in the film, largely tied to the relationship between Spider-Man/Peter Parker and his love interest, Gwen Stacy. Yet those moments feel trapped in a film that's surprisingly rote, from the laziest 3-D I've ever seen to some of the clumsiest exposition since, well, a few weeks ago. Parts of Webb's film show real promise, and it's those moments I hope he's able to return to in the inevitable sequel. Because that's what The Amazing Spider-Man is, more than anything: place-setting for a better, fresher, more exciting movie.

This Spider-Man gets its own origin story, thanks to credited screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves (with some occasional punch-up from Paul Feig.) This time around, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is left to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt Mae (Sally Field) when young Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) die in a plane crash after going on the lam for reasons unknown. Discovering an old photo that connects his father to scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a high-school-age Peter visits the man's lab one day and gets bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter's evolution as a superpowered human is a slow one, though, and while dealing with his newfound ability to walk up walls, he's also doing some classically awkward flirting with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a classmate and intern at Connors's lab. The first third of the film is the strongest because Webb gets to flex the relationship muscle he used on (500) Days of Summer. He's so good at it that Peter and Gwen's goofy attempts at romance don't come across as forced or inorganic; rather, they spring from who these people are. Stone and Garfield are naturals, too, alternately brave and insecure with each other. Webb makes these moments shine because they're the times when The Amazing Spider-Man stops feeling like a contractual obligation and starts feeling like a story about a boy and a girl overcoming fate together.

Soon enough, though, that sense of assembly-line filmmaking returns. Peter, as he must, finds himself negligently responsible for his uncle's death, and his quest for vengeance turns him into a citywide vigilante. Set against this is Connors's descent into villainy as his attempt to genetically regrow a lost arm using reptilian DNA turns him into a giant lizard. In love with his new powers, Connors hatches a plan to infect the rest of Manhattan with the same serum because, he reasons, people will be happier in a more advanced evolutionary state. His logic is pretty thin even for the villain in a summer blockbuster about a giant lizard, but his dive into madness feels even worse for having to hit the same beats -- right down to the half-whispered voice-over as he argues with himself -- as Willem Dafoe did in Raimi's 2002 film. It's as if Webb and his team of screenwriters simply copied and pasted characters, setting, and motivation from the earlier films into this one, making it less of a reboot and more of a parallel-universe imagining of the whole thing.

Adding to the sense of autopilot is the sporadic 3-D. There are moments when the effect works well enough and adds a sense of depth and dimensionality to wide compositions, including fight scenes and Spider-Man's web-slinging flights through the skyscrapers of New York. But there are also huge sections of the film where it's not used at all. When Peter meets Connors, the scene plays out in bright, normal-looking shots that work perfectly well without 3-D glasses: both actors are nicely framed and perfectly in focus. There isn't any doubling, and something out of focus merely looks to be outside the camera's depth of field. This happens often. 3-D as an exhibition gimmick is flawed in any number of ways, from the digital blur of fast pans or tracks to the overall dimness experienced by watching a movie through a pair of mild sunglasses. Yet at least movies in 3-D actually appear to be in 3-D. A substantial amount of The Amazing Spider-Man seems to either drop the 3-D altogether or else to render it so minutely that it might as well not be there.

That's the issue plaguing the entire film: It feels not quite finished, not quite whole. It's more like a very well-made fan project than a movie with the heft and weight you'd want from something trying to sell you a new version of a story you just watched a couple years ago. The whole thing would wreck if it weren't for the sizable charisma of Garfield and Stone, who feel more human than Raimi's heroes ever did. Garfield's sarcastic, edged portrayal of Spider-Man is often wonderful: his banter with bad guys actually feels like taunting from a kid grown bigger than he'd ever dreamed of being. Stone is great, too, and she's more restrained here than usual. She and Garfield are endearingly sweet together, and their relationship is consistently the best part of the film. Ifans holds his own in a thankless role in which almost every word out of his mouth is a recap of what we've just seen or another explanation of his evil plans.

Every film, big or small, is a mix of art and commerce. The studio wants us to pay for the experience as a unit of entertainment, while the creative men and women on the other side of the table want to tell a good story. That's what we really buy into: the adventure, the romance, the feeling of going somewhere else for a while. Yet The Amazing Spider-Man is only occasionally able to work as a story. Too often, it feels like a blatant, ungainly request for more money from people who just gave us a very similar version of the film we're seeing now. Its status as product all but dwarfs its existence as a film. There's even the obligatory post-credit tag, where the next film(s) are set up with a quick, vague scene that does little except drive home the fact that this film isn't meant to stand on its own. Yes, there are some good moments in it, and Garfield is the best actor yet to don Spidey's tights. But so much of the film feels like a commercial for itself, rather than a narrative brought to light and life by storytellers with a mission. If only Webb and the rest had realized that with their great power comes great responsibility. I think I've heard that line somewhere before.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Annapurna

    Just went to a late night screening with the Mr and boy oh boy the movie is absolutely awesome!!!!! Andrew is a MUCH better Peter Parker than Tobey with all his flaws, immaturity, complexities and inferiority complex.

  • Joseph Crisp

    I actually much preferred the way this film handled the origin story, to the Rami ones, as Tobey Maguire was a bit too wooden, and didn't really pull of the image of being an insecure teenager who suddenly developed powers, the stages he goes through being 'Shocked face, then screaming "WHOOO"'. Andrew Garfield on the other hand really pulls of the sudden shock gradually receding into just a teenager trying to have some fun with these amazing new abilities he's developed, with the death of Uncle Ben acting as a sudden and brutal wake-up call.

    I really want to hate this movie due to the fact that the main motivation is to milk more money out of a franchise that I hold dear to me, but I can't help but like it as it's what I wish the original could've been. (although I do have to admit the Lizards motivation is laughable.)

  • Stella

    Just saw this over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought it was much better than the 'original'. Andrew Garfield was perfect in this - snarky, sarcastic, dweebish... we laughed a lot more with this movie, and the similarities between this film and Maguire's didn't detract from it at all.

  • blorft

    Bits of it felt familiar, but I basically loved it. To be fair, I really liked the first Raimi one, but Andrew Garfield made Peter Parker so much more fun and likable and offbeat sexy that it was worth seeing another origin story. Also, I would watch him and Emma Stone do pretty much anything together, because they are apparently made of sunshine and magic and unicorns.

    I... actually liked it better than The Avengers.

  • Jon

    I thought it was fantastic. FINALLY we get a wise-cracking wallcrawler and a Spider-Man who doesn't burst into tears at the drop of a hat. And a world where the Sandman is not Uncle Ben's killer. All of the relationship and family dynamic stuff was handled so much better and with more subtlety than the Raimi films. And the action sequences and fight choreography were really amazing.

  • Dave Dorris

    Really not sure what movie you watched.

    I saw it today. Huge Spidey fan from like the late 60's. My one and only tattoo is Spider-Man.

    Not only did I enjoy it, I preferred it to the 1st and 3rd Raimi films, and it's neck-and-neck with the second. Stone makes an amazing Gwen, far better then Dunst's MJ. And Garfield, (although really too tall to be Peter) was a revelation to me. Together they're pretty incredible. They burn.

    And Connor's isn't a schemer. Lizard is, Conner isn't. He's an honorable man at every turn, except when he's on the serum.

    The scenes where Peter is learning his powers, the fight choreography, the web-slinging, all better than Raimi's films. And I LIKE the Raimi films.

    And Emma Stone? As much as I love the original story, I kind of hope they don't follow it to her tragic conclusion. I don't need MJ. Stone's that good.

    Seriously, not sure what you saw.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    That is a pretty great review. I am glad we went to see Saftey Not Guaranteed instead.

    Someone just mentioned that the other Spiderman movies were all released on the weekends of the 4th of July. I thought that was interesting, and also makes it seem a lot less original as well. I wouldn't have remembered that at all.

  • Mariazinha

    Well.. they're not getting my money this time around.

  • Lisa

    Clearly I'll be in the minority here, but I already like this movie better and I haven't even seen it. I never understood how ANYONE could buy Tobey Maguire as a superhero. Like someone else said, the guy constantly looks like he's about a half-second from bursting into tears. Also (maybe even more problematic for me), Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane? Kirsten Dunst might possibly be THE most busted-looking youngish actress in Hollywood. Her saggy boobs, hunched back, pock-marked skin and rotten-looking teeth are not hot, and that red wig they had to put her in only emphasized how unattractive she is.

    Emma Stone is ridiculously adorable (and an actual redhead--I so wish she could have had the Mary Jane role in this movie) and this new Garfield dude is quite cute. He got up on the SNL stage with Emma Stone this past weekend, and dude could get it, let me tell ya.

    So just based on the casting alone, I'm on Team Webb. I also took issue with parts of the story from Raimi's film and some of the costumes (why didn't anyone at the classy benefit run in horror as soon as Willem Dafoe's character jammed his invention into his own goddamn spinal column? Why did the Green Goblin costume look like a reject from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?)

  • Whatsyourbeef

    Emma Stone is actually a natural blonde... Not to nitpick or nothing.

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    How can you like this movie better when you haven't seen it yet?

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Sounds like she's got a serious hate-on for Dunst.

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    I'm with you on that. I'm not the biggest Dunst fan, but I don't hate her either. Maybe it's a woman thing that Lisa has going on. I thought that she hated Tobey Maguire enough, but then I saw the blistering venom she unleashed on Dunst.
    I personally don't like Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I don't have that much "hate" for her.
    Maybe Dunst stole her boyfriend... or, she's economically invested in this Amazing Spider-Man movie.

  • bbmcrae

    "I'm on Team Webb."

    Please stop that.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Are we talking about the same Kirsten Dunst? I'm not a big fan but there's no denying that she's a very pretty woman. I don't see anything wrong with either her skin or teeth in this photo and it's in glaring daylight. http://www.imdb.com/media/rm49... (hopefully that link works but it takes a matter of seconds to find other, similar photos that prove your statement incorrect.)

    Also, Emma Stone is not a natural redhead.

  • calliope1975

    Just got back from seeing this. I agree pretty completely with this review. During most of the first half, I kept thinking I'd just seen this and there was no reason to be rebooting this so soon. But Andrew and Emma won me over, and I was rooting for them at the end. They have a ton of chemistry.

    I had read that the Lizard was sympathetic and thought it was weird he never really questioned what he was doing.

    I thought since this was filmed in 3D it would be worth the extra price (I always avoid 3D,) but no, it was not. There was some cool web stuff but that was it.

    I'm a casual comic reader. Was I supposed to know who was speaking to Connors in jail during the tag?

  • bleujayone

    I was just thinking...is it really necessary to have completely rebooted Spider-Man again for the movies? I mean in the comic book when they changed artists and writers they didn't go back to the beginning, they just moved on from where the last one left off and then would put their own creative interpretations on the character. Starting off from square one with an origins story just wastes time. Just look at it as the same story just with new artists. I really don't think anyone would cry foul especially considering how recent the last few movies were and how fresh they are in our minds such as they may be.

    It's happened in movies too. James Bond for the longest of time just kept going without ever needing to refer back on its history or start over from the beginning no matter who was in the Tux. There's even a little bit of a quirk that some fans of the movies hold that the name "James Bond" is in fact just an alias than many successive agents on MI-6 have held along with their operative number. It even fits with the current James Bond movies despite the "reboot" in that we were witnessing a new agent inherit the mantle of James Bond from his beginning rather from the entire series.

    Or if that's too much, I'd refer to the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series of Batman movies in that those four movies were the same continuity despite the Dark Knight being played by three different actors. Say what you might about the movies in and of themselves, but the constant shifting of the lead actor did not disrupt from the story. We know where Batman comes from, we touch on it for a few seconds...then we move on to new stories.

    The point is that we don't need to wear a hole through the floor going back and forth covering material we all know by heart already. We don't need to be retold where everyone comes from yet again, just move along and get into a new adventure instead of wasting the first 45 minutes putting your own original spin on things. I promise you nobody will feel left out if you skip to the present day.

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    I agree. Warner Bros. is already talking Batman reboot, but I hope they just continue on rather than resetting the table once again and showing moviegoers yet another take on Batman's origins. But I sense they're going to do just that.

  • Ty

    I decided not to see this when they didn't give The Lizard role to Dylan Baker from the first three. Anyone who's seen "Happiness" knows that he could nail any villain role.

  • Luke

    Just came back from it and I have to say " It’s more like a very well-made fan project than a movie" is totally wrong. A fan project would not have sh*t on the source material...seriously...wtf universe were they pulling from. As a fan of the comics I hated it...granted it was pretty and Martin Sheen owns Uncle Ben.
    Agree to all the Lizard (anyone else thing they got confused and put in Batman's Killer Croc in his place?). But surprise no one brought up Capt Stacy...why to make Denis Leary play himself...and not play ANY Capt Stacy from the comics...

  • protoformX

    Possible Spoiler Warning! God knows what I may say.

    First thing I read this morning was this review, and I knew I was still going to see it. I agree with the fact that there are aspects that you could look at it as saying "hey, wasn't it cool in that other first Spider-man movie when X happened? well here's our tribute to X." But I didn't see them that way. My only real gripe with this movie is in regard to the Lizard retaining his intelligence from the get go and while obviously going insane, that he had no moments of "I shouldn't be doing this," or "that wasn't what I wanted out of this." Instead its immediately from the first transformation, that Connors isn't freaked out what is happening to him. And only that initial violence on the bridge seems to have any semblance of a plan that Curt Connors tragic Spider-man character of the comics might have resorted to in the few doses of the serum he takes in the movie. And its because of these issues, that I don't buy the Connors saving Pete from falling moment. Aside from the fact he could have stuck to the side of the building or something. Maybe not, but the point is Spider-man is not his web-shooters or his spider strength, or even his ability to crawl on walls; it always comes back to Pete's character, his wits, and his determination to not let anyone down. Granted he has a few losses to come before we would get that kind of steely resolve, so relatively fresh out of the gate Peter Parker would probably be a lot like he is in this movie. I went into this expecting not to like him, because he doesn't fit my idea of Pete, but I was far more satisfied on that end than Tobey Maguire's Spider-man. Anyway if you are a Spider-man fan, you can't pass up this movie, its too good to say "another origin story, pass." Besides I thought the origin was pretty quick for the most part. And there was a lot more focus on characters in comparison to the quickly moving story of nothing in particular of the first two Spider-man movies.

    And just because its all I have thought about every time I spelled out Spider-man...

    Phoebe: "Why isn't it Spiderman? You know, like Goldman or Silverman."
    Chandler: "Because its not his last name."
    Phoebe: "It isn't?"
    Chandler: "No, its not like Phil Spiderman. He's a SPIDER...MAN!"

  • Mr.West

    It was good, solid film. Don't believe the naysayers with regard to Garfield. He may come off as a ponce but onscreen he can carry Peter's pathos and Spidey's glib glee which I could not say about Maguire.

  • Aruna

    I have no idea where all this negativity in the comments is coming from, nor do I give a shit. I've seen this twice, and I loved every second of it.

  • Lbeees

    I'm going to have to jump back in conversation and say that, totally randomly, I stayed up until 3am last night watching "Never Let Me Go". That movie stars Andrew Garfield (who gets top billing somehow, despite the fact that Carey Mulligan is the main protagonist), who I have to say WAS PRETTY GOOD.

    Not saying he is or will be liked by Spiderman fans, but man, my impression of him went from "grrr" to "hmm".

  • Pookie

    First of all the guy’s head is too fucking big to play Spiderman, he looks like a young John Kerry with that fucking noggin of his. Secondly, this guy looks like he plays for the other team, I’m sorry but I want my Spiderman to like pussy. Thirdly, that outfit screams look at me. I’ve said it before that some comics aren’t cut out for the big screen, for whatever reason Spiderman just doesn’t hold up.

  • Jezzer

    It's still better than the third one, right?

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    If it is, that's not saying much.

  • wsapnin

    I can't buy it cuz his neck is too long with a little pin head on top. He's not MY Peter Parker.

  • Fredo

    Connors hatches a plan to infect the rest of Manhattan with the same
    serum because, he reasons, people will be happier with in a more
    advanced evolutionary state.

    Fuck the what??

    The Lizard is one of those tragic villains, someone who was desperate to fix something with him (in this case his missing arm) and botched it horribly. His villainy comes from a willingness to do whatever it takes to get back to what he was, including robbing banks, assaulting doctors and even threatening his own family. He isn't the type to go "I think EVERYONE would want this!"

    And isn't that plotline stolen outright from the first X-Men movie? The one where Magneto tries to turn the UN convention and all of Manhattan into mutants using Rogue??

  • BWeaves

    I am so sick of origin stories. Just jump in and tell a story like most of the comic books did. This movie might have worked better if they played it as a continuation of the previous movies (i.e. all new story lines) instead of rehashing the same origins story, only slightly differently.

  • space_oddity

    And with this hero in particular: who DOESN'T know the basic outlines of Spider-man's origin story. Maybe if you've been living under a rock since the 1960s... So yeah, I'd be much more inclined to see this if it just started in with the presumption: hey, here's Spider-man, what awful new threat is he going to have to deal with today?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Was anyone actually looking forward to this movie?

    Also: can I say how annoying I find it that they need to add backstory connections/coincidences like Peter's father knowing the scientist who leads to him being bitten by the spider? (maybe that's a comic backstory I just don't know) But can't it ever just be random? that's how most of life works - the universe doesn't have a giant conspiracy to create a mutant arachnoguy.

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    I wasn't looking forward to it. Then I watched the 25-minute "clip" of all the official promo videos edited together and I lost all interest. I wasn't impressed one little bit by what I saw. I'll just go and play my Raimi Spider-Man DVDs.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think the backstory they're going for is that Peter's parents were SHIELD agents, and that they somehow know Connors that way. It's also why they had to take off.
    Of course, since it's a different studio than the OTHER Marvel movies, they probably can't use the SHIELD connection explicitly.

  • space_oddity

    Superhero comics are like soap operas: they live in an interconnected, motivated universe; nothing is ever completely random. For example, isn't the spider that bites him in the Raimi iteration in an Oscorp lab (i.e. run by his soon-to-be arch-nemesis, Norman Osborn)? The stuff with his parents is lifted from some comicbook ret-con storyline, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

  • Lee

    The awesomest Spiderman ever committed to celluloid is...Italian Spiderman!!!
    http://vimeo.com/42254051

  • Anne Lucchesi

    Dang! Scroll first, then post! You have good taste, my friend.

  • gunnertec

    So, a franchise that grossed $1.1B on the first trilogy is primed for another run with basically the same movie, different cast? Pass. If you're going to re-boot a franchise then, by god, RE-BOOT the goddamn thing.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Can't be worse than the first Maguire movie.

  • Pete

    The real spiderman is black http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • Anne Lucchesi

    The real Spiderman is Italian.

    http://youtu.be/UhHhXukovMU

  • So...it's pretty much exactly what every Pajiban predicted it would be the moment it was announced. That's good to know.

  • POINGjam

    Wait, really? Curt Connors is a deliberate cheeseball bad guy in this? His most compelling trait is that he's a man who got in over his head, not a scheming heartless mastermind. There are plenty of deliberate cheeseball bad guys in Spider-Man they never used, why not go for one of them? The Vulture, Electro, Carnage, Hobgoblin, Mysterio, the Chameleon. And don't say they needed someone A-List, the Lizard has no more prestige than fucking Rhino.

  • Socraz6

    Exactly! Connors is supposed to be a tragic figure, not a malicious one. in fact, if I remember correctly, he actually becomes an ally eventually (who still occasionally flips out and goes all hulk and needs to be put in his place).

  • Paul

    #donald4forspiderman

  • Blake Shrapnel

    They can't stop the signal! GO DONALD!

  • RyanH

    Saw it in IMAX 3D at Jordan's in Natick- midnight show. Great way to see a film normally, but I agree the 3D added nothing to the overall experience. Stan Lee had his requisite cameo (I laughed), it hit all the expected notes, covered the origin (again), and the fight scenes were more fluid and energetic than anything from the original trilogy. Also, Emma Stone is gorgeous stacked on top of whimsical wonder. I walked out with my brother after sitting through the post-credits scene, and we both agreed- they definitely set it up for a solid, solid sequel.

  • InternetMagpie

    Dude, I worked there for ten years! Holler!

  • I could be convince to this movie pretty much only for Stone and Garfield. Those two are adorable and charming.

  • Lbeees

    This seems about what I was expecting.

    I will not be at all surprised if this movie bombs--at the least I'm expecting significant underperformance. As Daniel writes, the critical issue is that the reboot comes just *too soon* after Raimi's trilogy concluded. And Andrew Garfield didn't hook me during any of the previews I saw. He seemed miscast.

    Anyone planning on seeing this? I certainly won't waste my time or money--not with so many better tentpoles coming out this summer (I'm looking at you, Batman).

  • Neil

    it's going to be far from a bomb. it's broken records already for a tuesday opening and it has a relatively small budget for super hero films. it's profit margin will end up excellent, mark my words.

  • Lbeees

    Breaking the 'Tuesday opening' record is like winning Most Improved. Besides, let us not forget they are pricing up the opening numbers by putting it out in 3D.

    I am prepared to eat my words, but let's wait and see what the movie's staying power looks like week-to-week.

  • Fredo

    And it's not as if we haven't gotten 1 great comic book movie this summer (The Avengers) or aren't getting another massively expected comic book movie in a few weeks (The Dark Knight Rises).

    This Spidey is going to get the Ghost Rider treatment from people.

  • Lbeees

    LOL. Ghost Rider'd. So true.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I was never a Toby McGuire fan and I like this guy even less. I don't even like looking at him in still shots. The rest of the cast sounds great but I can't get past my irrational dislike for him.

  • Melody Be

    Dude, Toby sounds like he's chewing on his face and looks like he is about to burst into tears at any given moment. There is no way Garfield is worse.

  • Zuffle

    That's a negatory, good buddy. I have plenty of reasons not to see it, but the biggest is illustrated by the header pic... it's clear from previews that Spidey spends much of the film with his mask off so we can see how much hair product Garfield carries round in his web shooters. It was my biggest issue with the Raimi films for the most part, too. I don't give a fuck about who is playing him, or how many times they're contractually obliged to show his face.

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    I am glad I am not the only one who had a problem with that. Why the hell even have a "secret" identity if you are going to pull your mask off every frigging chance you get. I know it is nitpicking a little, but I hated it about the first 3 Spiderman movies, and I am sure I will hate it about this one when I eventually see it on Netflix.

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