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ReThink Review: The Amazing Spider-Man -- Slightly Different, Hardly Amazing

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When an original film or series could use some modernization, a new interpretation, or occurred long enough ago that audiences either forgot about or never knew them, a studio may decide to "reboot" it, which is studio language for restarting a story, character, or concept as if the original had never happened. The Amazing Spider-Man is unique in the world of reboots because it doesn't meet any of the above criteria. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy started in 2002 (hardly in need of modernization), was beloved by audiences, and with the latest installment released just five years ago, was still fresh in the minds of moviegoers.

So why would Sony, which owns the rights to the Spider-Man character, feel that it was a good time to reboot the series with The Amazing Spider-Man? As you probably guessed, it has something to do with money, but in a way that feels more uncomfortably, brazenly mercenary than previous reboots. Watch my ReThink Review of The Amazing Spider-Man below (transcript following).

Transcript:

Ten years after the first Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movie and just five years after the last sequel, the Spider-Man franchise is being rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man. Now you might be wondering what's the point of restarting a super popular franchise that's still fresh in people's memories, and you should, because the reasons aren't very good ones and largely come down to money, as in not wanting to pay a boatload of it to Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire for two more sequels. There's also the money Sony stands to make from a new set of movies, as well as the money they'd lose by giving up the rights to the Spider-Man character, as they'd be contractually forced to do if they didn't put out enough Spider-Man movies in a given time period. So the question is, can The Amazing Spider-Man be more inspiring than the reasons for its existence?

With Andrew Garfield playing Peter Parker, the new film takes a much closer look at something that's essentially ignored in the Raimi films: that Parker is an orphan whose parents were killed. By making this the seminal event of Parker's life, we get a much darker, angrier character, an outsider by choice struggling with his identity, as opposed to the polite, shy, lovesick nerd of the Raimi films. Instead of Parker's childhood crush, Mary Jane Watson, we have Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone), who falls for Parker after seeing him stand up to a bully. And instead of the Green Goblin, we have Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors, a geneticist who worked with Parker's father and whose attempts to grow back his amputated arm using reptilian DNA turn him into a green lizard monster.

The thing with The Amazing Spider-Man is that there are some aspects of it that are similar to the original and some that are different, some for the better and some for the worse, depending on your tastes, but none to the extent that I felt like I was seeing something that was markedly superior or inferior to the original.

For example, this version is consistent with the comics in having Parker design and construct his web shooters. In Raimi's films, Parker's body generates the webs, which I thought made more sense than having Parker be a genius who invents something that could revolutionize weaponry and law enforcement. You might prefer one or the other, or you may not care. The look of the film is a bit grittier and more realistic, but not like comparing the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman movies with the Christopher Nolan ones. The special effects have improved, but the original's still hold up fairly well. Tortured, complicated, emotionally unavailable Peter Parker or a more relatable everyman chasing his childhood sweetheart? It just depends on what you like.

I personally missed the laughs J.K. Simmons brought as editor of the Daily Bugle J. Jonah Jameson, and I also liked the subplots with Parker and his friendship with Harry Osborn, who eventually becomes the second Green Goblin, but I assume that's coming in the already-planned sequels. Ifans gives a nicely restrained performance as the scientist whose previous work provides Parker with a link to his dad, but I also liked Willem Dafoe chewing the scenery as crazy Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin.

The biggest difference is that the new movie is considerably more serious than the original's funnier, more playful, more self-aware vibe, and it's a shame the new film doesn't have nearly enough fun with Parker discovering his powers, which was my favorite part of the original. And personally, I was satisfied with the whole random radioactive spider bite thing and don't feel like I need some long saga about Parker's dad and how his secretive research might've made that spider. In the end, I think I prefer the original more, but it's basically a wash, where the new film doesn't seem significantly better or worse to the point that anyone would feel strongly in either direction -- which again raises the uncomfortable question of why The Amazing Spider-Man exists at all. You may conclude that helping a mega-corporation retain intellectual property rights just isn't worth your consumer dollar.

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