Spider-Man has had many incarnations over his 50 years of existence, from cartoons, to video-games, to an ill-fated Broadway musical with music by Bono and The Edge. Today has seen the worldwide release of the latest interpretation of the Marvel Comics superhero in the form of his fourth motion-picture, The Amazing Spider-Man. This is the fourth film featuring the character to be released in the space of 10 years, but it is not a sequel. It is a reboot. Reboot. A word which is not unheard of within the bizarre world of Hollywood, particularly within the realms of the comic-book movie. Batman did rather well from it. The Hulk made his way to The Avengers because of it. And Superman, well, it remains to be seen, but Spider-Man is a much more interesting case. Love it or loath it, Spider-Man 3 was the most successful of the original trilogy, and was by no means a disaster on the same level of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman & Robin. So, why the need to reboot? I certainly had faith that Raimi and Maguire could atone for the mistakes of the third movie with a bound-to-be-better fourth installment. But, due to a clash of visions between Raimi and Sony (one of the main reasons Spider-Man 3 became so muddled) Sony decided to pull the plug and start from scratch. Marc Webb (pun intended?) signed on to direct, Andrew Garfield was chosen to don the tights, and Emma Stone became the object of his affections, this time in the blonde-guise of my personal favourite Spidey-love interest, Gwen Stacy. With the film now out, and with me probably not being able to watch it for sometime due to being back in Alderney, I thought I’d write a retrospective feature, discussing how well the original Raimi trilogy has held up, and what this means for The Amazing Spider-Man. So, let’s travel back in time to the simpler times of 2002.
This is easily the movie of the previous three that most people will compare The Amazing Spider-Man to, as it is, indeed, the ‘original’ origins tale. Yet, it is also the movie that Webb’s Spider-Man has to remove itself from in order to justify its existence. The origins here take place rather quickly; we meet Peter Parker (the rather brilliantly cast Tobey Maguire) in High-School, living with his Aunt and Uncle, harboring a crush for the girl-next-door Mary-Jane Watson (the endearing Kirsten Dunst). Then, on a High School field trip, he is bitten by a Genetically enhanced super-spider, and sooner or later develops arachnid-type abilities. After the fateful murder of his beloved Uncle Ben, Peter devotes his life to fighting crime with his new-found abilities, as with great power, comes great responsibility. Re-watching this movie, I never quite realized, until now, how rushed the actually genesis of both Spider-Man and his nemesis The Green Goblin are, for the sake of getting to the action quicker. We do get some rather nice character beats, particularly between Maguire and Dunst, however the overall result is much more action focused, which is too its disadvantage, and the CGI of the Spidey character has not aged too well. From the sound of early reviews, Webb’s version seems to be much more character based, and endorses both the use of real stunt-work and CGI trickery to, supposedly, a much more impressive effect, perhaps displaying that it has improved upon the weaker elements of Sam Raimi’s original. However, Raimi’s energy as a director and fluid-ness of camerawork injects the film with an undeniable comic-book energy, style and charm that still impresses and entertains me as much today as it did when I was 9 years-old, craving to see my favourite superhero up on the big screen for the first time. That is where The Amazing Spider-Man is going to have its work cut out; can it be as fresh and as exciting as Spidey’s first-outing? Having made over $800 million in the worldwide box-office, there was no doubt Raimi had a franchise on his hands, so lets fast forward to 2004…
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Now that the origins were out-of-the-way, Raimi could really go for gold second time round, and that he did. Easily the best of the original trilogy, Spider-Man 2 takes what worked so well with the first movie, amplifies it and corrects its mistakes (namely by having a down-to-Earth, un-hammy villain in the form of Alfred Molina’s brilliantly written Doctor Octopus). It also features the franchises best action sequences; from the Evil Dead inspired awakening of Doc Ock, to the adrenalin pumping train face-off. But what is even more impressive about Spider-Man 2 is in its characterization of Parker and how he copes with his abilities. Raimi does the very bold move of presenting the life of a superhero as a far from idyllic lifestyle. He can’t have what he wants, he can’t achieve all the things he wants to achieve and he can’t devote his life to the people he cares about most due to the responsibility he believes he has towards the people of New York City. His powers, rather than expanding the possibilities of his life, restricts them. And Raimi allows the film to effectively display this, with Parker basically living in poverty, making his decision to leave his life of crime-fighting behind rather understandable. It should also be noted that out of all three of the movies, this is one that pays most respect to its comic-book origins, lifting direct narrative developments and shots from the ‘Spider-Man No-More’ story line from 1967 (I seriously suggest checking out the fantastic artwork from John Romita Snr. on that issue). This is the benchmark that The Amazing Spider-Man has to match up in terms of the best Spidey-movie to date. With a further $780 million at the box-office, Sony and Raimi moved on to develop what would turn into the final installment in their collaborative franchise…
What to say about Spider-Man 3? There is no denying that it is a big reason (perhaps THE reason) as to why Sony decided to reboot the franchise. But, as I stated earlier, this is not a disastrous movie, granted, it is the worst of the trilogy, but in my eyes it is still a solid three star movie. Yes, there are too many villains. Yes, these is too much eyebrow acting. And, yes, the black symbiote should have turned Peter into a malicious bad-ass, not a Jazz loving Emo prick. But, the action is still as inventive as ever, Raimi knows how to create a comic-book spirit, and the film certainly knows that it is being ridiculous when Peter goes all Emo and what not. Maguire clearly has fun playing a less timid, more spontaneous and edgy Parker, and not all the villains are lost in the mix. Thomas Haden Church impresses as Flint Marko a.k.a. Sandman, who is a well-rounded and sympathetically written villain. The one that does suffer is Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom. Grace was an interesting piece of casting, and I would have loved to have seen a film with him as the main antagonist. However, here, Venom, one of the greatest villains of Spider-Man’s 50 year history, is treated as a third act after-thought. What Raimi should have done was end the movie at a point in which Venom was born, paving the way for the fourth movie to be centered around the waging battle and feud between old web-head and Venom. It could have led to some dark and emotionally affecting developments in the franchise, particularly concerning its characters (killing off M.J. for one?). Yet, it wasn’t meant to be. This is where I have hope with the franchise being rebooted, perhaps now villains like Venom, and to a lesser extent The Green Goblin, can be portrayed in a more satisfying and respectful manner. In that respect, I hope Webb and Garfield are on to a winner.
At the time of writing, The Amazing Spider-Man stands at a 72% Certified Fresh Approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (compared to the first’s 89%, the second’s 93% and the third’s 63%, making it the third best, at least). I sincerely do hope that it is a movie that I will enjoy, as I do have a lot of love for the character and his origins. Perhaps it is too soon, perhaps it is a cash-in, but at the end of the day it is still a Spider-Man movie, and that’s good enough for me. Hopefully you can expect a review in the near future, sooner rather later (I hope) depending on when I can get away to see it. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective glance over the Raimi Run of the Spider-Man franchise, and be sure to check out the wall-crawler back at the cinema’s this weekend.
Courtesy of Your Friendly Neighborhood Gaudion.