A year or two ago, I saw the first trailer (out of what would eventually be about three million) for Sony’s now-released The Amazing Spider-Man. And along with the rest of America, I had three initial thoughts: a) Not really feeling that hyphen, b) already!? and c) I have no real burning desire to see this same movie I saw ten years ago, but I have no doubt I’ll end up seeing it anyway.
That’s the world we live in now, where entertainment for the sake of the water-cooler (as a child of the internet age, a black-and-white image of I Love Lucy devotees double-fisting Dasani comes to mind any time I hear that phrase) has been replaced by entertainment for the inevitability of Just Because.
Despite what you’ve been told, there aren’t necessarily less good movies today, just more bad ones. There’s more everything, really: so when something good — nay, discussed — manages to rise above the oversaturated stink (The Newsroom and 50 Shades of Grey come to mind as recent examples), it’s hard not be caught in the vortex. Especially when it’s 8 PM on July 4th, you’ve already had too much burger and maybe-not-enough beer, and an 845 showing of a probably-not-too-bad movie doesn’t sound all that bad.
So yeah, big surprise: I saw The Amazing Spider-Man. Over the course of its no holds-barred marketing campaign, I’d been bludgeoned into submission: trailers, late-night interviews, trailers inexplicably crossed with Coors Light ads, more trailers, trailers juxtaposing superhuman LeBron with superhero Spidey. (In the movie, Peter Parker mangles a backboard and a football goalpost. But then again, LeBron was also a multi-sport athlete; it remains to be seen who would win in a game of pickup. ) As I scrolled through movie listings, I feigned forestalling destiny, trying to talk myself into finally seeing Men in Black III or venturing into the Big Apple to catch the critically-lauded Beasts of the Southern Wild. But I knew it all along — I’d eventually end up with 3D glasses on, staring at Andrew Garfield’s mug, watching the same goddamned prequel sequel reboot remake I saw at David Faust’s birthday party in elementary school. And I did. On its second night in theaters. Prophecy, fulfilled; Marketing dollars, validated.
In all seriousness: if you were afraid that The Amazing Spider-Man is too-soon or too-similar to 2002’s excellent Spiderman, be very afraid. It’s about ten times worse than you imagine.
It’s still all too familiar, and the quick turnaround from the last set of movies is only part of the problem. Christopher Nolan’s criminally underrated Batman Begins came just eight years after the last movie in the previous canon. Yet that movie attempted something wholly original and new, a pitch-perfect shift in tone that hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t been duplicated since. It’s still probably my favorite superhero flick in the recent glut of them — maybe even more so than The Dark Knight, if only because everything felt so fresh. Risky, even.
The Amazing Spider-Man feels anything but. Swapping out actors and villains is not akin to creating something new, just as darkening the color palette isn’t akin to creating something dark. By and large, that’s pretty much all director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer, which I haven’t seen) and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodaic, which I have, and is one of my favorite movies of the last decade) have done here.
Yes, the new leads are quite good. Tobey Maguire’s bug eyes are gone, replaced by Andrew Garfield’s tear-filled ones, and it’s a welcome respite. Ditto for Emma Stone, a tenfold improvement over Kirsten Dunst. (May she rest in peace. Dunst has made only two major studio movies since the original trilogy wrapped: 2010’s All Good Things and 2008’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Haven’t seen or heard of either? Check your local 7-11’s bargain bin.) And yes, this new version does the good ol’ origin story some justice, perhaps even more so than its decade-old counterpart.
But whatever this movie does well – and there’s plenty – it doesn’t do well enough, or different enough. Rhys Ifran is quite good as a high-ranking Oscorp official/father figure to Peter Parker who becomes consumed by a technological breakthrough and promptly proceeds to ravage New York City at the behest of the voice in his head. Then again, so was Willem Dafoe, starring in the exact same role a decade ago.
Then again, don’t we all. Maybe that’s why Hollywood gets away with passing off their recycled trash as treasure. Sony’s motivations here aren’t exactly the Sunset Strip’s best kept secret: reportedly, they rebooted the franchise in order to keep the film rights from reverting back to Marvel. We’re all wise to the game. But somehow, we all still manage to be played like saps, enjoying our willful ignorance while Spidey swings his way to the bank.
Jesse Golomb is the Editor-in-Chief of TheFanManifesto.com and a contributor to AthlonSports and Digital Refrain, among others. On twitter, he is @TheFanManifesto.