Ever since Sony announced a “reboot” of their uber-successful Spider-Man franchise, the general public has been dismissive. The last installment in Raimi’s string of Spidey movies is barely five-years-old – what’s the big hurry in restarting the series?
But let’s be honest here – comics do the same thing (and much more quickly,) and once we all accept that Sony would never – never – allow their most valuable property to go wasted, we can all accept that we’ll just keep getting Spider-Man movies, whether the original talent wants to come back or not. And if that’s the case, we should happily hope that the successors can achieve the same success that their progenitors did.
That’s the mindset I went into The Amazing Spider-Man with, and I think I was right to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. But over two hours later, I couldn’t help but be more curmudgeony about the decision to reboot than I had going in.
In the aftermath of The Dark Knight, this new take on one of comics’ biggest heroes is – of course – trying to take the gritty path. That could make for a lifeless reinterpretation. But lucky for us, that Spider-Man can’t exist with that kind of tone, and even if it could the film pulls back from ever going too dark.
But that still puts The Amazing Spider-Man in a very precarious position. The unfortunate truth is that Webb’s Spider-Man is following a trilogy of films that, if not uniform in quality, all have incredible moments that translate everything great about outdated Silver Age comic books into a 21st Century blockbuster. There are few superhero movies – or any action movies, really – that can match the tension and creature feature goodiness of Spider-Man 2. Even with its low points, Raimi’s films were at least able to channel a sort of goofy tone that was highly watchable.
If The Amazing Spider-Man is just going for a more restrained version of that, how can it hope to top something successful that is still fresh in our memories? It’s made worse by being a retelling of the Origins tale. That, along with a Peter Parker love story that hits similar beats from 2002’s Spider-Man – even if its with a different character and a different actress – makes at least half of Spider-Man 2012 more remake than re-imagining.
None of this would be a problem if The Amazing Spider-Man brought enough original content to make you forget about past adaptations, at least for a couple hours. But with a less effective Uncle Ben through-line, an under-developed orphanage side plot (I’m sorry, I meant “foreshadowing”), and a completely stock, route villain, Webb brings little to mark his film as being anything better than a secondary take.
The notable exception is the cast. Everyone here, with the exception of Rhys Ifans (as an overnight-evil Lizard that wanders the sewers whispering “Peeterr Parrkerrr. . ,” loudly) gives their own separate take take on characters already introduced to us. None of them – Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Emma Stone – are necessarily better or worse than the 00s casting, but they exist outside of that cast’s shadow.
Chief among them is Andrew Garfield in the title role, not even approaching Tobey Maguire’s golden boy version of Spidey. Instead playing a more frustrated teenager whose intelligence always feels natural.
But built around them is a poor compromise between fantasy and family drama. If The Amazing Spider-Man occupies the space between a springy and exciting The Avengers and what we can hope to be a tense and intimidating The Dark Knight Rises, what we have is a grey middleground that doesn’t justify itself and is lost in the shuffle. I love Burritos and Pepsi, but that doesn’t mean you can strike a good mix of the two.
And so, despite my best intentions not to, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question – what was the point? Haven’t I seen this before, and wasn’t it better the first time?