Man vs. Boy

Separating the Two Spideys

by Bill Gibron

4 July 2012

The core concepts may be the same, but this update on the character is not a remake of Raimi's original. It's its own unique vision, one apparently unable to be seen by some.

You’re going to be hearing this a lot over the next few days, a statement as specious as the pundit giving it voice. Apparently, in the minds of many, Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man is nothing more than a cash grab carbon copy, an unnecessary remake of Sam Raimi’s seminal superhero film. For the, the Summer 2012 entry is a retread unnecessary and an experience pegged as “been there, done that, don’t care.” Because it deals with the origin story (again), since it deals with Peter Parker’s abandonment issues (the loss of his parents, the death of Uncle Ben) and his eventual rise to a complicated people’s vigilante, there are those who would have you believe that this take on the material is not worth your time.

Now, opinions can differ over quality and value. Everyone is entitled to be moved or bored in their own unique and often explainable manner. But to reduce a film down to a flawed pronouncement, to argue that it’s one thing when it’s wholly and utterly another, is illegitimate laziness. Again, this is not some radical reinterpretation of the Spider-man character. We aren’t watching some Godfather like opera set inside the real world of immoral mob crime. Instead, we are treated to Stan Lee’s vision of a teenage champion, an icon for the kids who used to make comics their primary guide and reading material.
The truth is, the differences are so radical as to be obvious. Raimi never explained what happened to Peter Parker’s parents, nor did he link them to the experiments which would eventual result in our hero’s transformation. Norman Osborne, who eventually became the Green Goblin in the 2002 film, is nowhere to be seen here. He’s now just a name, a shadowy persona pulling the strings inside his multibillion dollar skyscraper lab. There’s no Harry Osborne with James Franco doing his best Tiger Beat James Dean. There’s no Mary Jane Watson, her character having been dumped for Spidey’s first true love, the glorious Gwen Stacey. And perhaps, most importantly, there’s no Daily Bugle, no J. Jonah Jameson, and definitely no outsized humor subtext.

Don’t get it wrong - there is nothing inherently bad about Raimi’s efforts. In fact, for many, his Spider-man 2 sequel remains one of the genre’s very best. But when you consider Marvel then vs. now, when you consider how far the company has come at protecting its properties and preparing them for future fame, Sam the Man’s version had to go. As Spider-man 3 proved, the character as originally created for the big screen had run its course. The concept of multiple villains and the desire to give all in the cast a bigger, beefier context led to confusion…and most importantly, customer dissatisfaction. When Marvel took back control of its characters, it wanted to make sure that every installment in their cinematic universe had power - and potential. Heck, the Hulk had to be rebooted three times before they got the giant green lug right.

So these aren’t the same movies. Not by a long shot and the compare and contrast doesn’t stop there. The newest Spider-man focuses on Peter Parker becoming just that…a man. It’s about maturing and learning the tougher lessons in life. It also concentrates on first love and the fatal instincts that follow. And it’s also about setting up a massive story arc that can last across several installments, leading our crusader and his cause through several vital elements and individuals within the Spidey world. The previous Raimi movies had very little of this. They were all more or less self-contained ala the Batman movies of Tim Burton et. al. Bad guys were not allowed to survive or set-up stories for future reference. Unknowns were always answered, or at the very least paid a lip service explanation, and relationships were opened and shut.

But in Webb’s version of the character, Peter is an explorer. He’s looking for answers and using his outsized intellect to solve them. There’s no organic webslinging here. Peter builds the wrist shooters he uses to cast sticky strands across the Manhattan skyline. Also, the bite doesn’t turn him super buff or overly strong.  Peter learns to use his skills, and accept his limitations. Similarly, the chief bad guy, the Lizard, is given a moralistic foundation for his action. He’s an amputee looking to regenerate his arm. He’s a scientist stuck serving an apparently diabolical despot. Yes, the results of his experiments go straight to his head, turning him angry and aggressive, but he’s not all bad. As a matter of fact, the film makes him far more sympathetic than you’d imagine.

With Raimi, the real thrust was to introduce the character, give him some familial issues, turn Norman Osborne into the Green Goblin, and let the flashy film fireworks begin…and no one is better at the latter than Mr. Evil Dead. But with Webb’s take on the material, we get a John Hughes like rendering of teen angst. The scenes between Peter and his Aunt and Uncle, the awkward interactions with Gwen and his classmates argues for a more mature and yet more vulnerable lead. This Spider-man gets hurts more than his predecessor, both internally and externally. Better still, his goals remain unfulfilled. As the credits role, we still don’t know who the man with the star on his wrist is, if he will ever be brought to justice, and what will happen to the city now that Captain Stacey is no longer in charge.

Yes, there are similarities here and there - minor ones at best. If anything, this is more like the Dark Knight universe created by Christopher Nolan: locked in a sense of reality and showing such superhero histrionics as just that. The Amazing Spider-man is more in tune with recent efforts like Chronicle and Kick-Ass than it is some splashy, specialized tentpole. It’s as if someone decided to make a movie about a lost young man and his quest for an identity - and a comic book extravaganza broke out. The core concepts may be the same, but this update on the character is not a remake of Raimi’s original. It’s its own unique vision, one apparently unable to be seen by some.

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