However much we might approve or object, the reboot has quickly become Hollywood’s tool-of-choice for the revival of successful franchises that have lost their lustre. For the creators, it’s a handy shortcut: by re-jigging the essential elements, they don’t have to do as much heavy-lifting as they might in creating a concept from scratch. And by linking in a new backstory, they have options to explore for future films.
There are limits to this technique, however. Sam Raimi’s highly-successful Spider-Man was released only a decade ago, and then followed by a sequel that some critics called the best superhero movie ever. When Spider-Man 3 faltered and failed to meet expectations, a decision to reboot was made, and now we have The Amazing Spider-Man. But while it’s largely entertaining, the memory of the older films is still too fresh for this new version to be fully engrossing.
The film is based mostly on the comic book of the same title, itself a sort of reboot, which presents a younger Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) dealing with the pressures of battling super-villainry while still in high school. Garfield is excellent in the role – perhaps still not quite the “Woody Allen of superheroes” that Spider-Man creator Stan Lee envisioned, but certainly closer, and more energetic, youthful, and awkward than Tobey Maguire’s.
But there’s another commonly-used plot device in the movie that dampens the spirit at the outset: a mysterious conspiracy theory underlying the character’s origin. Perhaps modern storytellers feel that audiences were less sophisticated in an earlier age, too easily satisfied that a man could simply be bitten by a radioactive spider and become a web-swinging hero. Here, we get a complicated subplot about Peter’s father (Campbell Scott), a scientist dabbling in cross-species genetics, who actually bred the super-arachnids before leaving his son in the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen, Sally Field) and then disappearing. It’s always been easy for us to imagine we could enjoy Spider-Man’s powers, but for a lack of plutonium and an eight-legged friend – this darker version makes for a compelling story, but it takes away most of the fantasy.
After the bite, we get the usual scenes of Peter’s transformation, and the events that inevitably transform him into your friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler. Director Marc Webb does his best to make these sequences fresh, and there are some genuinely original and comic moments, but overall it’s hard not to fold your arms and sigh as you wait for the movie to get on with things. Unfortunately, the new plot isn’t really all that new, concerning Parker Sr.’s old research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), experimenting with a serum that eventually turns him into The Lizard. It’s hardly different, in concept or execution, from Willem Dafoe as The Green Goblin. The romantic plot, with Emma Stone as Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and Denis Leary as her NYPD Captain father, is better, but I doubt most people watch superhero movies for the romance.
Don’t get me wrong: as a big-budget summer blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man delivers thrills, laughs, and eye-popping visual effects, well-performed by top-notch actors. But rather than leave the theatre with the joy of having seen something new, you’ll feel more like you’ve just done your homework for watching the next sequel.
Tags: movie review