There’s a group of guys I go see a lot of the big summer popcorn movies with each year, and after checking out The Avengers a few weeks back, we gathered ’round to talk about what would be the next flick we’d meet up for. I was pushing for Prometheus, but the rest of this party seemed more interested in waiting for The Amazing Spider-Man. To which I replied, “Really?” And then added, for effect, “REALLY?!“
‘Cause that’s a movie I have no interest in. Zero. And it’s not because I’m in the “TRAMPLING ON RAIMI’S TURF IS SACRILEGE” camp. Truth be told, I only enjoy one of the three Spider-Man flicks Sam Raimi made — part 2, and I wouldn’t even place that one on a list of my top five superhero films. (For a larger discussion on my problems with Raimi’s Spidey movies, feel free to purchase an essay I wrote for Webslinger, Smart Pop’s anthology on the character. It’s only 99 cents!) But instead of correcting the problems with Raimi’s take on Marvel’s flagship character, Sony seems to only be making things worse. How? Let’s count the ways …
1. IT’S ANOTHER GODDAMN ORIGIN STORY. If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another version of Spider-Man’s origin. It’s a story I’ve already read twice (the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comic and Brian Michael Bendis’s totally bitchin’ Ultimate Spider-Man reboot) and seen once (Raimi’s first film). That’s not even counting however many times it’s shown up on TV in cartoon form. This is a story that is so well known that it can’t possibly surprise anyone anymore, thus sucking any potential drama from the narrative. Unless, that is, you alter Spidey’s origin … which is apparently EXACTLY what Sony has done. Except that’s not a good idea either because then you’re warping the history of a character who has worked for decades precisely because of his unique back story: Nerdy, unpopular, super-smart kid is randomly and accidentally given super powers. He misuses them at first, but then learns that with great power comes great responsibility. That’s the legend, man! You fuck with that it’s like pulling two Jenga pieces off the bottom row of the tower. The rest can’t hold. Sony would have been so much better off by just skipping the origin story and giving us a brand new Spider-Man tale that starts with Parker already comfortably being Spider-Man. It still could have been a soft reboot. I wouldn’t have cared had Parker been back in high school as the movie opened. It wouldn’t have mattered if he suddenly had mechanical web-shooters. But redoing the origin yet again and then changing it up on top of that is a huge mistake.
2. IT LOOKS TOO DARK AND MOODY. One of the things I did like about Raimi’s Spidey films was that the scenes were bright and colorful and mostly shot in the daytime and really popped. That’s how Spider-Man should look. The character and the universe is really almost the polar opposite of Batman, who works out of a cave and skulks around in the shadows as much as possible. Based on the trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man, it seems clear that Sony tried to “Batman” this franchise up. Go look at the new four-minute trailer and pay attention to how much of the action takes place at night or in the rain. Way too much.
To put it plainly, this is how a Spider-Man film should look:
This is not:
This is going to be even more of an issue if the characters are as gloomy as the scenery. The “emo Parker” jokes have been going around pretty much since Andrew Garfield was cast in the role, though Sony has released a few clips of Spidey utilizing some of his patented witty banter to ease those concerns. I’m not yet convinced.
3. SONY ONLY MADE THIS MOVIE TO HOLD ONTO THE RIGHTS. Here’s the thing: After the mind-blowing success of The Avengers, Marvel/Disney is king of the world. And flush with that success, I’m sure Kevin Feige and company would like nothing better than to bring all of their characters back home to play in the shared cinematic universe they’ve created. And I’m equally sure that Sony, who controls Spider-Man, and Fox, who controls X-Men and the Fantastic Four, will do everything in the power to make sure that doesn’t happen. One, because these franchises still can be milked for serious coin. And, two, because that would be conceding defeat and giving Marvel exactly what they want. Hollywood is far too petty a place for that. So Sony is going to keep on pumping out as many Spider-Man films as they need (at whatever cost they can justify) to retain the rights to the character. Unfortunately, that’s not a very good reason to put a movie in production. In fact, it’s a downright shitty one. Bringing a superhero to the screen who audiences have never seen before, like Marvel did with Iron Man, is a good reason. As is creating a different take on a character that respects the history while at the same time offering something new, like Christopher Nolan did with Batman.
Admittedly, it’s tough to blame director Marc Webb for much of this. If Sony asked me if I wanted to direct a new Spider-Man movie, I’d have my clothes packed and be headed for the set before they even finished the question. And I’m going to guess that Webb and Garfield have done the best they could to respect the character while also following whatever bullshit parameters were laid down by the studio. But sometimes that’s all it takes to sink a film: Bad decisions at the start by the suits. So far, I’ve yet to see anything that convinces me The Amazing Spider-Man was produced for any other reason but to capitalize on recent box-office trends (Spidey + Batman x Twilight = $$$$) and allow Sony to keep control of the character.
Who knows? Maybe Webb and Garfield will prove me wrong. Though if they do, I likely won’t find out until the film hits Netflix.