I’m growing increasingly tired of the notion of the cinematic “reboot.” Why get excited about any version of a superhero when it can only be erased and restarted in a few years’ time? The studios are essentially saying that whatever money and enthusiasm you expended in a current feature film will be irrelevant in the face of the next feature film. The anarchist in me wants to make a parody reboot, wherein I restart the myth of something that was only in theaters recently. I want to undermine the canonical authority of The Avengers by making my own version, only Thor will be an Australian named Dingo McCarthy, Captain America will be able to fly, Iron Man will be a woman, and John Travolta is on the team, playing himself. Man, if I were rich enough, I’d spend my fortunes f*cking with the Hollywood establishment.
So I went into Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man with no small amount of trepidation. It had, after all, only been ten years since Sam Raimi made his dull (and bafflingly popular) Spider-Man. It had only been five years since Spider-Man 3. Why “reboot” the franchise? Well, money, obviously. But there seemed little other reason to retell this still-fresh story. Imagine my surprise then, when I found The Amazing Spider-Man to actually be a rather entertaining and well put-together little summer blockbuster. This may be the best Spider-Man feature film since Spider-Man 2 in 2004.
This is not to say the film is revolutionary. Indeed, many comic book purists may be upset at the relatively small scale of the production and the simplicity of the story; while there are a few new wrinkles to the well-known Spider-Man origin story (Peter Parker’s long-lost parents, you’ll now find, had something to do with the mutant spider that imbued him with his superpowers), the film proceeds the usual way along its familiar blockbuster conceits, including a predictably monstrous villain, a well-known third-act crisis, and the compulsory “discovery of superpowers” scenes. Many of the comic people seem to demand larger and larger events and, well, “reinventions” of their beloved comic avatars. The Amazing Spider-Man is indeed a reinvention, but feels more like a Broadway revival with a new cast than a self-important reboot. Well, until the post-credit stinger which introduces a mysterious new character and promises a sequel. Snore. If you’re looking for a superhero film with an enormous scale, or dramatic portent, then The Amazing Spider-Man may not be for you. That previous sentence is directed primarily at the circle of fanboys who gathered after my screening.
If, however, you want a perfectly entertaining and efficient movie, then The Amazing Spider-Man will prove to be actually rather fun. Webb takes the familiar bright lights and cartoonish look of the Raimi films, and transforms it into something a little more urban, making the action scenes look a bit more weighty and realistic. The love story between Peter and Gwen is kind of awkward and sweet. It helps that Emma Stone, as Gwen, is smart and plucky and actually has some character. Andrew Garfield, as Peter, is still, sadly, shouldered with the same problems that Peter had in the previous films: he vacillates so quickly from nerd, to hero, to confident, to angsty, to flip and sarcastic, that he actually doesn’t really emerge as much of an entity. The villain is a pretty typical mad scientist named Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans) who uses lizard DNA to grow back his own missing right arm, but accidentally turns himself into a dinosaur monster in the process. As a monster, he comes up with the plan to turn all of New York into lizard men. Typical Saturday morning stuff.
Again, nothing Earth-shattering, but The Amazing Spider-Man reminds us that superhero films don’t need to be earthshattering to be entertaining. I will liken it to Men in Black 3 from a few months ago. It was a sequel/reboot that no one really asked for, and few were looking forward to, but proves to be a well-written and serviceable summer film. Only The Amazing Spider-Man is the better film. I walked out having enjoyed myself in spite of my trepidation, and that can be a form of praise. By the time Spider-Man was swinging on his web-shooters (a mechanical device, like from the original comics), flinging himself bodily from one gigantic crane to the next, racing against a (rather literal) ticking clock, I was kind of cheering inside. It’s nice to be have a superhero film be simple fun.