by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Because there's no better way to ring in the release of The Dark Knight Rises than by talking about a competing superhero franchise from a competing motion picture studio...

I was just about to publish some thoughts on Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man last week, starring Andrew Garfield as everyone's favorite web-slinging superhero, when I happened across my friend Drew McWeeny's (second) write-up over at, which pretty much rendered anything I had to say on the subject moot. If you don't mind a spoiler-filled discussion on the plot's more "intricate" twists and turns, then you should really give that a shot, or at least check out Drew's initial review of the movie itself, as it sums up basically everything diehard fans find so frustrating about Spidey's big-screen reboot. (What follows is a slightly modified version of my original piece.)

There's a separate group of people, though, who firmly believe in the direction Sony and director Marc Webb ([500] Days Of Summer) have taken the character, and it's hard to fault them for that. One of the points Drew makes again and again is that comic books get rebooted and restructured all the time, so the Spider-Man of his youth may differ from the Spider-Man of yours, and vice versa. There is no "right" version of the character, only different iterations of same, and if TASM happens to define (or re-define) the mythology for you, then so be it. We'll agree to disagree.

My biggest beef with the new movie is a logistical one: Its producers went ahead and made another Spider-Man because they had to, not because of some deep-seated need to please fans. You see, when Marvel Comics started shopping their characters around Hollywood in the early-'80s, most were bought by competing movie studios. Rights to the X- Men and Fantastic Four, for example, were optioned by Twentieth Century Fox, while Spider-Man became the property of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of The Avengers, meanwhile, are controlled 100% by Marvel.) Sony's contract stipulates that all rights to Spider-Man will revert back to Marvel should they fail to produce a new movie every certain number of years, so rather than allow the franchise to flounder, executives at Columbia/Tri-Star decided to reboot the series instead.

Strictly from a box office perspective, I guess this makes sense. My question is: Exactly what is the point of remaking/rebooting something that was fairly well-respected to begin with? Were the previous Spider-Mans so terrible they cried out for a makeover? Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man, you will recall, opened to favorable reviews and a record-breaking $114 million opening weekend. Minor quibbles aside (Organic web-shooters? The horror!), it seemed to please die-hard fans and casual viewers alike, and was the highest-grossing U.S. release of that year. Spider-Man 2 followed two years later, grossing $784 million worldwide, and is widely considered a classic of the Comic Book genre. And while 2007's Spider-Man 3 dropped the ball creatively, it still managed to rake in close to $1 billion in global ticket sales.

So why the sudden need to reboot? Every franchise has its ups and downs; the point is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and come back (ahem) swinging. If your stars and director wind up too old, or too demanding (negotiations with Raimi and Tobey Maguire reportedly came to a standstill), why not simply re-cast, and continue on with the formula you'd already established? Or perhaps you consider Marvel's shining example for a moment. Yes, I understand that Ang Lee's Hulk rubbed many people the wrong way. And yes, I get they had to reboot the character for their box office-busting Avengers. But at least Marvel had the good sense to treat 2008's The Incredible Hulk as a stand-alone adventure, rather than rehash the same basic story we'd already seen before. Just a quick two-minute recap at the beginning, then then off we went. And on that level, at least, the reboot felt justified.

If anything, the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man took the Batman Begins approach, in which the hero's journey, ignored during previous iterations of the character, is finally given its due. Only... Raimi's version already did that. In fact, it plays like a checklist from Amazing Fantasy #15, with scenes lifted directly from the comic: Peter Parker as high school uber-nerd? Check. Establishing sequences with Peter's kindly Uncle Ben and Aunt May? Check. Class trip to science exhibit? Check. Bite on hand from genetically-altered spider? Check. Peter's newfound ability to scale walls and ceilings? Check. (At this point, let me say that I've never bought into the idea of a teenager able to concoct his own super-powered webbing. And don't tell me his spider-sense taught him how to do that, because then he'd be able to shoot cobwebs out of his butt.) Bout with pro-wrestling champion for cash reward? Check. Robbery attempt which inadvertently leads to Uncle Ben's death? Check. "With great power comes great responsibility"? Check and check.

The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, plays like an alternate-takes version of the same damn movie. Peter Parker is still just as bookish, only now he's taken up pro skateboarding. He gets the same perfunctory character backstory every modern- day hero requires (much of it left on the cutting room floor), in which a Secret From His Past Holds The Key To His Future. He still harbors a secret crush for the girl next door, only this time spunky red-headed Mary Jane Watson has been swapped out for spunky blonde Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). She just happens to work at the same high-security laboratory where Peter goes to discover his father's dirty little secrets, which of course grants him free reign to roam the premises and wander inexplicably into the genetically-tampered spider room. He's bitten on the neck instead of his hand, said bite not only turns Peter superhuman but also super-disrespectful to his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), which leads to an argument, which leads to Ben's fateful encounter with the business end of a gun, and so on and so forth. There's no life to the movie, no ebb and flow; events unspool in such an obligatory, paint-by-numbers fashion you have to wonder whether the filmmakers bothered trying at all.

Screenwriting credit goes to James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Spider- Man 2) and Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys, all but one of Warner Bros.' Harry Potter adaptations), which is odd, since so much of TASM feels anonymous and lazy. Even James Horner's wannabe-blockbuster music score sounds remarkably similar to Danny Elfman's, and there's a scene at the end, when virtually half of Manhattan comes to Spidey's rescue, that's shamelessly stolen from the 2002 film.

It's Garfield and Stone, by the way, who elevate the movie to the level of something it's not. They share a scene on a penthouse terrace, in which he attempts to reveal his secret spider life to her. "I've been bitten," he starts, and she responds, all gooey-eyed, "So have I." You can tell that she means it (it helps that they fell in love off- screen as well), but the credit must go to the actors - the screenplay fails to provide a single scene to explain why these two belong together, aside from the fact that it's been preordained by the comics. (I also liked Gwen's sudden ability to produce a crucial antidote during the movie's third act. "I do that for Dr. Connors all the time," she says, helpfully. Well, that was easy!)

So do the filmmakers add anything new to the mythos? A bit: True to the comics, Peter's parents are (possibly) spies who die in a plane crash; Ms. Stacy is actually Peter's first love (Mary Jane was his second), and her police captain father, played here by the great Denis Leary, plays a more proactive role than the same character did in SM3; we finally get to see where our hero gets his trademark red-and-blue costume (he buys it online!); and of course, homemade web shooters! This is all well and good, I suppose, but does it really justify a $220 million redo? I think not.

Look, there are two schools of thought here. Either you find Raimi's films lacking, or you don't. I find them goofy and colorful and bright, yes, with cheesy computer-generated FX to boot, but they're pretty much everything I expect from a Spider-Man movie, and there's no changing that. Should you prefer your superhero movies a little more grounded, well, this new Spider-Man will no doubt float your boat.

I just don't see the logic in it. Are we so desperate to see our childhood icons treated so slavishly that we'll sit through version after version until they finally get it "right"? What is "right," anyway? Where does it end?


  1. I agree with most of this. I haven't read the HitFix review so I can't say whether or not I agree with it, but if it's similar to what you're saying here, maybe I should give it a read.

    The review I saw that I agreed most with basically said that they enjoyed it thoroughly, but were concerned that with repeated viewings that it would only lose its luster. I find myself in that boat, only it hasn't taken actual repeated viewings—it's just required a few steps back and some critical reevaluation and I'm realizing that this really was a few years (or a dozen years) premature.

    That being said, I thought Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield did outstanding. Andrew's "version" of Peter Parker was one that I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than Tobey Maguire's. Emma Stone didn't really fit the mold of Gwen Stacy going in, but she and Andrew really delivered during scenes that, with the wrong actors in costume, could have been really terrible.

    A lot of folks in the comic industry, I think, have taken snipes at this film that I think are unfair. That being said, most of the feedback is valid. In the end, they could release a new version of Spider-Man every three years and I'd find myself completely unable to prevent myself from paying $15 for a ticket. I'll go to every reboot until the end of time (or until they somehow end up being rated NC-17, which will hopefully not happen ever or until after I die). I enjoyed this version a lot in the theaters, but I'm worried that the more I watch it, the less I'll appreciate it. I give the director a lot of credit for picking some really strong actors, but unfortunately, the only acting awards that this movie will earn by next year will probably come from Teens' Choice.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that Garfield and Stone make the movie watchable. Just imagine, though, what they could have done with better-than-average material.