Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jonathan Goes To the Movies: The (Less-Than) Amazing Spider-Man

When a movie series goes stale, or when the filmmakers royally fuck said series up, it is the universal signal that the series has nothing left to give and the studio is going to let it go off into the sunset. Now, in recent years, movie studios have opted to inject life into a fledgling franchise by offering up a re-telling of the origins of our favorite protagonist(s); most notably, director, co-writer and producer Christopher Nolan's re-imagining of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego, Batman with the Dark Knight trilogy, beginning in 2005 with Batman Begins. This version went down darker avenues than the previous installments and really dove into the psyche of the tormented vigilante. More impressively, the world of Gotham City took on a more noir-type feel, where crime and corruption rot away at a city that's dying from the inside. In short: Nolan breathed life into a franchise that all-but makes up for Batman and Robin.

Another example of a series returning to relevance is Ian Flemming's 007 series. After Pierce Brosnan swung out with The World Is Not Enough in 1999 and ended his Bond run with the equally dismal Die Another Day in 2002, Brosnan walked away from the gig in 2004, leaving speculation as to whom would take the mantle of the MI6 agent who's known for stopping the villain of the week, the wacky inventions Q makes for him, the Aston Martin/BMW he drives, and for fucking anything with a vagina. It wasn't until Universal's success with the Jason Bourne movies, The Bourne Identity in 2002 and The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and Nolan's reboot of the Batman series in 2005 that made distributors Metro-Golden-Mayor and Sony Pictures scrapped what the audience loved about 007 and took it's cues from Bourne and the new Batman. The end result was actor Daniel Crag winning the gig, hiring Martin Campbell to direct Bond 21 (who previously directed the thrilling Goldeneye in 1995) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash) to write the screenplay. Titled Casino Royale (the first Bond movie to follow Flemming's novels since On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969), the 2006 reboot eliminated the gadgets, the sex, even Bond's drink of choice, in lieu of a more grittier, tougher and vunurable 007 who's just been given a licensed to kill. Critics, audiences and fanboys applauded the job the filmmakers did, and many have hailed Craig as the best Bond since Sean Connery. 

From Batman and Bond, to Marvel Studio's The Incredible Hulk and J.J. Abrams re-telling of James Kirk and his crew aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, reboots now serve the purpose of re-telling a story in new, fresh, and exciting ways, and they prove that taking beloved characters into new realms can make audiences forgive the flaws of past installments. I'm assuming that was the thinking behind Sony and Marvel Entertainment re-booting the Spider-Man franchise after Sam Rami fucked it up with 2007's bloated Spider-Man 3, in which audiences and fanboys revolted in horror and rage on how Rami could screw up Venom and turn Peter Parker from loveable, puppy-eyed superhero to a whiny, pretentious, uncaring douchebag/dork who looks like he should ditch the hero business and go on tour with that equally pretentious douchebag Gerald Way of My Chemical Romance. 

Gone are Maguire, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, and Rami's stylistic and colorful vision of the Webslinger, and in it's place is Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker, Emma Stone (The Help) as Gwen Stacy and Marc Webb, who previously directed the indie-romcom hit (500) Days of Summer taking on the reboot. Right from the beginning, this version goes down darker avenues. In Rami's version, we learn fuck-all about Peter's parents. In the opening scene, we see Parker's mother and father leaving him with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) with Peter watching them leave in the rain-soaked night. In Garfield's hands, he brings a more emotionally scarred Parker to the table, and his alter ego is more of an arrogant dick than the goody two-shoes attitude we got with Maguire's Spider-Man. Unlike in Rami's version, the audience sees the battle scars on Parker as he becomes the less-than friendly neighborhood arachnid youth crime fighter, and he looks like hell through most of it. It's almost like Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent (who penned the last two Spider-Man movies) and Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves took the edginess of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and transferred it into this film. Even the villain, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Isfan) is plagued with dark secrets of his own, as it ties to the disappearance of Parker's mother and father.

Having said all this, there is one key ingredient to any re-boot of a franchise: you have to give the audience something new; a unique and engaging vision of where you're taking the series. As stated before, Nolan transformed Gotham City into something that came out of a film noir, and with Batman, a deeply conflicted man caught up in his "monster" alter-ego and dealing with the death of his parents, to which he still feels responsible for after all these years. Abrams, with Star Trek, gave us the origin story of James Kirk, not as captain of the Enterprise, but as this arrogant cadet yearning to prove himself, and Spock; not as second in command of the vessel or as Kirk's trusted friend and confidant, but as his rival, as someone who dislikes his leap without looking philosophy. With The Amazing Spider-Man, the movie plays, almost note for note, Rami's 2002 version of Spider-Man:

Peter is the high school outcast.
He's head over heels for a girl who barely notices him. 
He gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which mutates his DNA and gives him superhuman-like abilities, around the same time when the antagonist has an accident of his own trying to reach the peak of the human physical condition.
Tragedy strikes and Peter loses Uncle Ben, thus vowing vengeance on the man responsible, then comes to an epiphany and begins to use his powers to thwart crime.
Blah, blah, blah.

The tone and feel of The Amazing Spider-Man may be different, but the story is waaaaaay too familiar and it was done better the first time.

** stars out of ****

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