You’d be forgiven for thinking, while soaking up the surfeit of superhero shenanigans on show in The Amazing Spider-Man, that for poor ol’ Spidey perhaps all this exertion wasn’t worth it. The running and jumping and flipping and climbing and goon whacking. The long hours spent catching robbers, plucking kids from burning cars and fighting horrible human mutant animal things perpetually deprived of breakfast and keen to express their discontent. The mournful moments of relationship reflection during which the hero asks: is it right for me to continue dating when my partner will probably end up stomach lining or bits of food stuck between a monster’s teeth?
It’s been a mere five years since the last Spider-Man movie — Sam Raimi’s head-hurting spectacle Spider-Man 3 — and before that there was one in 2004 and another in 2002. Certainly too many, and too recent, to warrant wiping the slate clean and starting again, as director Marc Webb does with stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. And yet, here we are.
Is this what we’ve arrived at in the evolution of cinema superhero stories? Waiting a handful of years then lining up to see a slightly different version of the same character, as if the other movies never happened? Are we expected to pretend we never felt tingles of cheesy pleasure when Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst, Peter Parker and Mary Jane respectively, invented the upside down pash?
Hollywood’s habit of kicking around reboots is no secret; nor is its addiction to bleeding popular franchises dry. But if you thought those were the reasons the iconic web slinger is back foiling criminals and shooting gunk from his wrists, you’d be wrong. Or at least not exactly right.
Sony Pictures currently owns the rights to Spider-Man movies, which they bought from Marvel in the 90’s when print outs of the company’s business model resembled a Jackson Pollock painting. If Sony don’t make a new movie within a certain amount of time the rights revert back to the comic book publisher, and the message the top brass are undoubtably sharing around the meeting table, bits of lemon chicken and beef and black bean strewn around their tablet PCs, is that this simply cannot happen. Sony opted out of Spider-Man 4 with Sam Raimi because a) that pesky Raimi fellow considers himself something of an “artiste” who wanted to get back — gasp! — the creative control he reportedly lost in the third instalment, to a chorus of jeers and barbs, and b) Tobey Maguire is now, incomprehensibly, 37-years-old.
In other words, The Amazing Spider-Man is as much a contract as it is a movie, filled out, signed and delivered in front of our eyes. Webb and his screenwriters are acutely aware of Raimi’s three pictures and don’t want to replicate them, but are caught in a grim conundrum: they must suffer through an extensive list of plot checkpoints that have already been covered off, often in better and brighter ways.
The result is a movie that longs to be original but doesn’t have the gumption to deliver anything new or different. The changes to the story it does make are trite and meaningless. Peter Parker’s love interest, for example, is now Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) even though she’s the same character as Mary Jane, and the scene in which Parker gets bitten by a mutant spider takes place during an after hours excursion, rather than during school. In a strange twist, Parker stands up to bullies before he obtains super powers, which means his transformation into Spider-Man is almost entirely of a physical nature, and that’s poor form for a genesis story. The villain — a one-armed scientist who morphs into an evil giant lizard — was selected only because he didn’t appear in any of Raimi’s instalments.
Webb handles his action pieces competently, with handsome albeit sparse splashes of first person perspective thrown in, though they’re nothing to rave about. And, given The Amazing Spider-Man’s risk-averse story is so achingly familiar, a 136 minute running time seems obscene. It requires a lot of effort from all and sundry. A lot of time. A lot of exertion. A lot of sweat, toil and blood spilt on the well-worn altar of altruistic vigilante stories. All in service of a giant, moving, talking, walloping contract.
The Amazing Spider-Man’s Australian theatrical release date: July 5, 2012.