I considered writing a review for this film but one of our other writers had called “Dibs!” on it. I could have written an alternate or complimentary review – it is my site, after all – but that would’ve been pretty boring. Plus, I can save us all a lot of time and just tell you that I LOVED this film. I write this because there is just something strange surrounding this movie…
As I sat in the theater on July 4th, about to see a BRAND NEW SPIDER-MAN MOVIE, I found that I was not all that excited and I couldn’t figure out why? I’m the biggest fan of comic book movies I know. Hell, I might be the biggest you know and that’s in a world full of people who flock to the theater every time a hero in tights gets an adaptation. And this is one of the biggest of them all. Hell, he’s my all time favorite (Don’t worry, Batman, it’s a tie). So, what’s the deal?
The way I see it, this film had two very big hurdles to conquer out of the gates. First, it was sandwiched between arguably the two most anticipated comic book movies in film history. The first being the culmination of Marvel’s five year project to bring together the majority of their flagship characters in one gigantic team up of epic proportions and the second being the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The former ended up fulfilling every Fanboy’s dream and the latter, if it’s even a decent film, will cement Nolan’s work as one of the greatest film trilogies ever. It’s pretty hard to make ripples with that kind of splashing going on in the pond, if you know what I mean.
Now, compound that with the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man is the first of it’s kind in this new era of comic book films. That being a reboot of a successful recent franchise. Sure, Batman Begins was a reboot but we had had time to let things process. Sure, The Incredible Hulk was a reboot though it was actually a do-over. Mainly because everyone was indifferent to Ang Lee’s take on the character. No, this is different and it’s the beginning of a trend.
If this reboot had you dismayed just wait another year until the Batman franchise goes back into development and starts over from scratch. I am not waxing hypothetical either, people… it is going to happen. See, The Amazing Spider-Man is part of the next step in the comic book film making evolution. It’s fitting too because, while X-Men was the first film to be released in the comic book boom that began just over ten years ago (Apologies to Blade… you were just a guinea pig), 2002′s Spider-Man was the film that set the wheels in motion.
This brings me to the second hurdle this film had to overcome which is living in the shadow of a recent, established and much loved Spider-Man trilogy. Some may not like my use of the term “much loved” but I feel like it’s fitting. I think most people share pretty much the same opinion about Sam Raimi’s trilogy. The first one (which I loved) was liked for the most part, the second was respected as one of the best comic book movies made at the time (and still is, in my opinion) and the third… well… yeah. For the most part though, I think most of us have a certain respect and love for Raimi’s adaptations. In fact, so much so, that I think we would have all liked to see him get a shot at a fourth film to make up for the third. So, why didn’t it happen?
There’s two main reasons the studios chose to move on with fresh talent. All you movie know-it-alls can skip ahead a couple paragraphs but I’m including this part because I’ve had to explain it to at least five different people in the last week and it’s something not all of our readers may know.
First, you need to realize that studios don’t own these characters. It’s more of a lease with certain extenuating stipulations. The most important being that there is a time limit to how long the studios can go without actively developing and making films based on these characters. Should Sony/Columbia exceed that time limit, rights revert back to Disney/Marvel who is waiting anxiously to snatch all their properties back up. I guarantee you they’d love to throw the webslinger a cameo in an Avenger‘s sequel. So, essentially, the studios are on a time crunch to get these very complicated films developed, written and produced otherwise they lose their cash cow.
Second, you need to realize that studios are smart but not brilliant. When Sony set out to make Spider-Man in 2002, they no doubt signed the principals (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Raimi) to three picture deals. This allows them to pay them a wage similar to what they were worth (with a slight pay bump for each film) before these films made gazillions of dollars and made them all household names. Sure, they got a pretty paycheck but it was really pennies in the grand scheme of things. However, after the third film was released, it was back to negotiating contracts. Now you have the three people I mentioned above who are probably entitled to a collective 50 million dollars if they sign on for a fourth film, based on what we all know that film could make with them attached. That’s 50 million before production even starts. Factor creative differences between the studio and director into that and a reboot just makes sense. On a side-note, Marvel has taken note of this flaw signing many of it’s principals at lower pay scales and signing them to seven, even ten, picture deals.
I look at everything I just wrote and wonder, what am I getting at? I look at the title of this post and think, what am I defending? If it’s the studio, then a Junior College Film Studies Professor would’ve given me an “A” for this post but who wants to defend the studio? I feel it’s necessary to defend why this film happened but what I’m really defending, if you can believe it, is the little superhero movie that could.
I don’t want people to go in like I did with an overwhelming sense of ambivalence because this is a damn good film. Don’t get me wrong, it has it’s issues. It may be a smidgen too long and it feels a bit slow in parts. Oddly, it’s structured very similar to Batman Begins, however, Bruce Wayne’s origin is a bit more compelling and can hold an audience a bit longer. There were times in this film where I was ready for a dose of action or ready to get back to the guy in the suit. I also felt like Emma Stone is a heaping lump of talent and was drastically underused. The biggest bummer though had to be how downplayed the “With great power comes great responsibility” was.
I do understand it though because Raimi did kind of beat it into the ground. Still, it is the cornerstone of everything that character is made of and should be treated as such. Yet, this is one of the few moments where Marc Webb and the screenwriters stray from the origin and the films that preceded them and manage to miss. Take for instance how Spider-Man comes to don his suit and why he fights crime. The iconic moment featuring a wrestling match and a robber who kills Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. Now, Raimi, in his version, spent ten to twenty minutes of the film depicting these events in great, accurate detail. In this version of the film, the scene is reimagined as a liquor store heist gone wrong. The scene lasts three minutes, if that.
Now, comic book purists would typically be outraged over this. Yet, I have to admit, I kind of like it. Webb finds a different way to depict this origin while still maintaining the theme of this tent pole moment in Peter Parker’s life. Then, they pay homage to the wrestling stuff in a brief moment for all the fans. The reason I love it even more is because it would’ve been SO BORING to see the exact same scene told on film again. In a way, Webb and company knew they had to breathe fresh life into a story that Raimi had his fingerprints all over.
At the same time, they managed to grab ahold of all the little gems that Raimi had passed on. For instance, Spider-Man’s playful sarcasm is in full effect here and he does some awesome fighting in this film with his web shooters in the action scenes. Which was even more awesome because they were actually web shooters. Not just some sort of milky substance that Spider-Man jizzes out of his wrist vaginas. That being an example of a similar creative choice that Raimi had to make which I thought actually made more sense for the character. Still, pure is pure and it was fun as hell watching Peter build those things in his bedroom.
I could go on but, in the end, I guess all I’m saying is that I don’t need to defend this film. You all know why studios do reboots and you all know they’re inevitable. Hell, anybody that reads comics religiously is used to them and has seen their favorite character’s origin told by twenty different writer/artist combos. Still, when someone gets it right, with all that baggage on top of it, it deserves it’s props. This is a good film that is being completely overlooked this year and it deserves better. I’m not ready to say it’s better than the original but, I’ll be honest, I’m very tempted.