The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man (Part 1)

Just last week, the latest trailer for the Marc Webb-directed, Sony Pictures-produced Spider-Man reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man” was released to generally positive reception. Since the film’s outset, I’ve been following production with a critical eye, watching as one of my favorite superheroes of all time was visibly warped into something far beyond his roots. Yes, I can honestly say that I am anything but excited for the new movie being released this July.

Before getting to the trailer itself, I’ll just preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of the first two Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films and, like many, was devastated when the developing fourth film was cancelled in favor of a reboot. I’m already working on another post detailing everything that went down in that debacle for those who don’t already know, but suffice to say, there was still plenty of life left in Raimi’s Spider-Man universe. Those films were hugely popular and spawned an entire generation of fans that grew up with them and became heavily invested in their characters, visual style, and drama.

Sony doesn’t seem to be at all concerned with regaining that audience, as evidenced by this new direction. And let there be no mistake about it – quality is taking a backseat to the rushed timetable this film is on, a result of a deal between Marvel Studios and Sony dictating that Sony will lose the Spider-Man movie rights to Marvel if they don’t put out a new movie after a certain number of years.

But for now, let’s take a look at why the new movie seems to be missing quite a few marks already. Here’s the trailer for those who haven’t seen it yet:

BACKGROUND

The creative problems that Sony and Sam Raimi clashed over on Spider-Man 3 and the unproduced fourth film are well-documented. Sony, obviously wanting more control over future Spidey films and already planning on Raimi’s eventual departure, had a backup plan in place – James Vanderbilt, writer of Zodiac, would write scripts for Spider-Man 5 and 6 to follow up what would’ve been Raimi’s last Spidey outing. When talks broke down on the fourth film, Vanderbilt’s scripts were dusted off and rewritten to reflect the new, rebooted direction of the series.

Raimi, who fought for his vision and the integrity of the fourth film until the very end, had become a headache for the studio. It became clear that Sony wanted someone who wouldn’t stand in their way and put further productions in jeopardy. They settled on (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb (pictured below) to tackle the new movie. The choice made perfect sense – not only does Webb have experience handling realistic onscreen relationships, a critical aspect of the Spidey mythology, but because Webb was still a largely unknown, unestablished director, he would be more inclined to take whatever studio mandates Sony would send his way.

The chips were down, but what hand would the studio be playing?

APPROACH

In the wake of massive successes like The Dark Knight and Twilight, Sony was looking to take the franchise in a new creative direction. Their aim was to make Spider-Man more commercial and more in-tune with audience tastes.

As evidenced by the new trailer, the tone of the new movie already seems a stark contrast to Raimi’s films, giving us that “more gritty, contemporary redo of the series” as expected. It’s obvious Sony is gunning for the Dark Knight crowd by bringing a new level of heightened realism to the series. Just a few seconds into the trailer, we get a look at some darkened color tones and generally somber atmosphere that give us a sense of the film’s uncharacteristically serious, gloomy direction.

We also get a glimpse of Peter Parker back in high school, naturally a result of Sony’s desire to capture the Twilight crowd with teen angst and sappy teenage-relationship drama. Thisbest sums up my feelings towards that.

In all seriousness, the trailer does well to prove everyone’s initial suspicious that the movie is geared more towards tween viewers than a mass audience. That logic is of course flawed for a number of reasons – Spider-Man is already inherently a property that all audiences can watch and enjoy, why push it towards one particular demographic?

Not to mention, “dark” and “realistic” are words that should absolutely never come up when discussing Spider-Man. Sure, in the comics, a lot of Spider-Man’s actions have stuck the character in some dark places, but the overall tone of the mythology isn’t one of moodiness or angst, it’s more about the balance between serious human drama and a light-hearted, fun sense of wonder.

The trailer also showcases a Spider-Man seemingly at constant conflict with the authorities, fighting off police officers when they pull off his mask. To that, I just have to shake my head…what has Spider-Man come to? While it’s true that vigilantes would be frowned upon and actively pursued by authorities in the real world, the fact remains that Spider-Man is NOT a representation of the real world.

Really, the villain of the film is a scientist who turns into a giant Lizard. Not exactly something that lends itself to realism, so why limit the entire approach to being so grounded in the first place? There’s no getting around it – trying to shoehorn this mythology into a dark, serious, more “realistic” mold completely goes against what this mythology is all about.

Raimi understood that this material is inherently goofy. Let’s face it, Spider-Man is such an absurd, unrealistic concept…trying to pass it off as a serious drama about teen angst is just ridiculous. Raimi embraced the cheesy, pulpy nature of the source material, had fun with it, and made the best movie he possibly could with it. Far be it from me to suggest that Raimi’s films were perfect, but he demonstrated a genuine understanding of this material when other directors at the time (ahem, James Cameron) did not. He accomplished a lot in that respect alone.

By embracing the absurdity of this particular material for all its eccentricities, you’re already practically guaranteed a product for mainstream audiences. Spider-Man is a highly relatable character that viewers of all ages can enjoy and appreciate. There’s romance for the ladies, superheroics and action for the guys, enough comedy to keep everyone entertained, and even a few lessons in superhero ethics for the thinking adults. Why the hell would Sony even think of trying to limit that demographic by making that material darker, more serious, and more geared towards a tween audience?

Turning back to the trailer, there’s a very techno, almost “punk” sensibility to the staging, especially in bits featuring what appears to be Dr. Curt Connors’ laboratory. A lot of that overall appearance stems from Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man series, of which this film has taken inspiration from. I loved that series, but to me, it looks like they’re borrowing from it in all the wrong ways. It’s almost as if Sony is trying to make the mythology “cool”, instead of, again, embracing what makes this universe so endearing to begin with. Director Marc Webb has discussed how he approached the character of Peter Parker with a “punk rock” sensibility…could he misunderstand this character any more? Peter Parker is anything but a  “punk rock” character, he’s a fucking science nerd. Sounds like they’re trying to turn the character into some kind of hipster douchebag for, again, tween audiences.

Probably most apparent is that there’s nothing in this trailer that really showcases anything that Sam Raimi didn’t already do, and do better. So what else has Sony done to change things up? Well apparently, a lot of their creative decisions stemmed from implementing trivial criticisms of the first three movies from a lot of whiny internet fanboys who’ve hopped on the recently-trending Sam Raimi hate bandwagon. “Why no mechanical web-shooters?” Well, here they are. “Why no cracking jokes while fighting bad guys?” Now there’s that, too. Glad we got that all straightened out, because obviously Raimi’s films were significantly held back by such vitally important details. Yes, those are the things that really determine whether a movie is well-made or not.

And in another lazy bit of creative decision-making, Sony is ditching the entire J Jonah Jameson, Daily Bugle aspect of Peter’s lifefor the new movie. Hell, maybe that’s a good thing…JK Simmons’ performance will take a lot to top, and with this movie’s cast, maybe we should be thankful Sony isn’t doing anything to tarnish at least one part of the mythos. For now, anyway.

But it’s not just Sony’s approach that grinds my gears. What about the film itself? What kind of movie is this really going to be? Or perhaps, what kind of movie does Sony want people to think this is? Tune in next week for Part 2, where we get to casting, visuals, and marketing.

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