Everyone who cares will already be painfully aware of the uphill struggle Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man reboot will be facing in a couple of weeks. While the rest of the summer blockbuster season is littered with reboots, remakes and sequels, this particular release has been plagued with fan ill-will and indifference ever since it was announced. What makes Spidey different? Well Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was only released five years ago, and it seems a nasty case of ‘origin story fatigue’ has gripped the fan community.
With The Avengers finally hitting last month, I suddenly realised that it had taken four franchises to get there, and it was nice to finally be able to watch a complete, unhindered movie that didn’t have to bother with setting up its characters or creating new heroes. It is, sadly, a rare experience right now, and the days of simply replacing actors and soldiering on are far behind us. Batman Forever, for example, simply carried on where Returns had left off, replacing the titular character with Val Kilmer and hoping no one would notice. Remembering how much better X2 and, even, Spider-Man 2 were makes me long for the prospect of Raimi’s planned fourth instalment.
The Amazing Spider-Man, much to the chagrin of any fan above the age of 15 who doesn’t own a DVD player, is going right back to the beginning again, wiping the slate clean for a whole new set of movies. Why? We’re not entirely sure yet, as before anyone sees the finished project we can’t properly judge whether the rewind was a result of artistic or commercial reasoning. If we, for now, assume that the film will emerge as a half-way decent interpretation of the character, it makes the debate a little more interesting. What will the reaction be?
I don’t know about you, but any news on the film has passed me by fairly smoothly, and it’s not a film many have cited as a must-see in the coming months. Will it be greeted with a collective shrug from an audience already resigned to the fact that Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been prematurely greenlit? Of course, should the film bomb (which is still unlikely), those sequel plans will most likely be stalled, but plans for a franchise just increase the feeling of ‘been there, done that’ among cinemagoers. Too often, the modern origin story can feel like a cynically rendered trailer for the rest of the series, an issue that plagued different parts of The Avengers set-up.
But there’s another side of the argument demonstrated beautifully by Spidey’s main competition this summer, The Dark Knight Rises. Not many people complained when, after being subjected to Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin disaster, Christopher Nolan turned around and rebooted the character. The Bruce Wayne presented to us by Burton had now become unrecognisable, and Nolan wanted to tell his own set of stories with his own version of the character. For this franchise, the conception of Batman and his past have proven vital to relating to the character, and couldn’t have been achieved had they simply recast George Clooney (shudder).
But Nolan’s Batman has created many of the glaring issues with today’s comic book movies, with endless ‘gritty’ reboots attempting to mimic the success he had with Batman Begins. The changes he brought about possibly allowed last year’s excellent X-Men: First Class to get made, but the franchise already had the stories and characters there. A glaring example of its influence can be found with Superman, who, when Superman Returns didn’t work out, was re-imagined for a dark, pant-less reboot and – you guessed it – fresh origin story.
Which camp will Amazing Spider-Man fall into? There’s a new girlfriend in Gwen Stacey, a new villain in Rhys Ifans’ Lizard and, by the looks of the trailers and footage released, a new Peter Parker. This Spider-Man is dark and tortured; a high-schooler whose searching for the truth about his parents, rather than the much more light-hearted Tobey Maguire version. The question isn’t why the film has been made (we can’t do anything about that one), but if it actually has anything new to say. The slogan: “The Untold Story” plastered all over the promo material suggests that it does, and comic books are richer with untold stories than any other adaptable source.
In fact, our brazen weariness over the very existence of Amazing Spider-Man may have blinded us from its various plus points. The cast is first rate, for example, with almost no one objecting to the uber-talented Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans stepping into the leading roles. Many fans of the comic books complained about Raimi’s inclusion of Mary-Jane Watson as Parker’s girlfriend, but now they’re being treated to his canonical ‘first love,’ Gwen, and a mysterious backstory for Peter’s mother and father. Besides, comics reboot their heroes all the time, why can’t their filmic counterparts?
Whether the film can take the crown from Raimi’s trilogy, or whether it can fight its way out of the shuffle this summer, are harder questions to answer. In the UK, Spider-Man is being released a week before the potentially huge Ice Age 4, and followed within two weeks by The Dark Knight Rises. Having Avengers out of the way early certainly helps, but there’s still a lot of summer sci-fi to compete against. Everything, not just Spider-Man, might as well give up during the opening weekend (and long after) for Nolan’s threequel, so are two weeks long enough to make its mark?
Spider-Man is still a beloved character, and anger at Hollywood’s greedy rebooting surely won’t keep anyone from the cinema come July 3rd. If it works, people might be prepared when Batman All Over Again is greenlit five years from now, but if it’s terrible, the industry might think twice before attempting it again.