Monday Morning Critic – The Amazing Spider-Man, Sam Raimi and the Superhero as Commodity

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

This week’s big cinematic release is the reboot of Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in the lead, dubbed The Amazing Spider-Man, and the buildup to the reboot fascinates me much more than the film does itself. We all know how this is going to go; it’s another shot at building a Spider-Man franchise by starting with Peter at the beginning. I’ve written about where I’d like to see the franchise start ad nausea but I can see why they started out at the beginning.

Young Peter Parker allows you to connect stronger to the youth audience.

Parker as a teenager allows you to have all sorts of teenage angst moments, etc, that the adult version couldn’t have. Spider-Man also can’t do brooding because he’s kind of the comic relief of super-heroes; Peter Parker as a Bruce Wayne type character wouldn’t work because Spider-Man isn’t a dark character. Batman is the nightmare that wakes up criminals in a cold sweat; Peter Parker will entertain you with wisecracks before kicking your ass and throwing you into jail. He may come from a place of darkness but Spider-Man shines in the light instead of finding the shadows to go into.

The one thing that intrigues me about this week’s release of The Amazing Spider-Man is in how it came to be rebooted as opposed to extended. And considering the trailer to this film in comparison to Spider-Man there isn’t a huge amount of difference in things like tone, etc. We just have new actors coming in to reboot a franchise with fairly similar parameters. And it wasn’t because the character demands it: it’s because Sony doesn’t view Spider-Man as a long term story-telling franchise.

Spider-Man has to be the Peter Pan of the comic book world in an odd way; always young, always full of teenage angst and always trying to be an adult when he’s still a child for the most part. Anything else and he becomes like every other movie version of a super hero character and that eliminate any sort of uniqueness he has outside of the costume.

It’s easy to see why Sony would rather reboot Spider-Man than go for a fourth film; they wanted more of the same perhaps and he wanted to do something creative. It’s why his killing of Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 3 was such an interesting twist; Raimi didn’t want this becoming a Bond like franchise where everything always stays the same.

Sam Raimi became easy to replace because they never viewed him as an auteur of the mythos of Peter Parker. He was a director for hire, there to put Peter Parker’s story on the screen.

They viewed him as an easily replaceable cog in the Spider-Man machine they could reboot at any time from the start with brand new actors, etc. It’s why they chose to change things up so radically despite no real need to. This wasn’t a situation like Batman where it had gotten so bad that a fresh take was required ala Batman Begins rebooting the series after Batman & Robin. Spider-Man 3 hasn’t aged well but it’s still competent work that made a ton of money and got fairly strong reviews at the time.

It’s why we’re starting from the beginning, again, with Peter Parker being played by Andrew Garfield and directed by Marc Webb instead of another installment from the guy behind Evil Dead and Tobey Maguire. Spider-Man is never going to be allowed to get old, get interesting or go in any other direction other than as popcorn style superhero with Sony ever. You can tell in their treatment of Raimi that this is so. Look at their trailers, for starters:

Not a huge difference in tone and character, just different people and perhaps a slightly different take from a new director.

Considering Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were insanely successfully, and the third film in similar fashion, it was a huge shock that Raimi had the film cancelled and Sony opted to reboot the franchise entirely with everything new. It was odd in many ways; Raimi had grossed an insane amount of cash with the franchise and the fact that he went through more hoops with each successive film than Christopher Nolan ever did. You’d think that someone who’d been so remarkably successful with the franchise would get more respect than get tossed out as quickly as he did. There wasn’t a protracted debate or even a shutdown in the first couple days of production like The Lone Ranger had happen to it.

Sony looks at Raimi as someone who didn’t have a major hit before them and needed the character of Spider-Man to have a wildly successful film. All Raimi did from Sony’s perspective is take an easy to follow origin story and two follow –ups following a character known by everyone and make a hit out of it.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Raimi was a gun for hire to them and when all his ideas ended up being things they didn’t like it was merely a cost-benefit analysis away from just chucking it all out to start fresh. And when you sack a director after three films to reboot it everyone else has to go as well; you can find younger versions of Maguire, James Franco and Kirsten Dunst on the cheap in Hollywood. Cast a number of character actors and former headliners looking for small parts in hits, for which you can pay them less than full asking price for a full role, and you have a rebooted franchise waiting to happen.

It’ll happen to Marc Webb, too, as well as Andrew Garfield and gang if Sony follows the pattern. Hell, they’re probably waiting to see if the little kid from Little Fockers turns leading man handsome in the next 10 years or so to have their next Peter Parker on the cheap.

Spider-Man is oddly a perfect franchise to keep rebooting every 10 years with a new, young actor you can get on the cheap. His story is one every generation knows and can identify with and there’s such a gallery of high profile villains that you could probably get to nine films without needing to recycle one. I’m no comic geek but every high profile hero always has like a dozen top shelf villains you can use without a problem; if a putz like me can think like that you know for sure someone at Sony has probably said something along those lines during a pitch meeting about Spider-Man.

The Amazing Spider-Man may be more of what we’ve already seen and we’ll probably never see anything daring with the franchise, story wise, either. It’s the ultimate commodity of the comic book hero on the silver screen.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The comeback of Robert Downey Jr. finished when Iron Man became a massive hit. But a curious thing happened in between a handful of hits and another Oscar nomination: he found time to get in another franchise that didn’t involve comic books. Thus comes Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sequel to Sherlock Holmes, and it’s more of the same this time around.

This time around Holmes is taking on his biggest rival, Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is trying to get Europe into a world war for his own nefarious purposes. It’s up to Holmes (Downey) and his faithful companion Watson (Jude Law) to save the day some more. Accompanied by a gypsy (Noomi Rapace), the trio wanders through Europe putting the pieces together to the scheme in order to prevent it.

Game of Shadows is a cleaned up version of the first film, for the most part. It’s not brilliant but it’s a solid waste of a couple hours.

Recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Amazing Spider-Man – Andrew Garfield dons the tights of the webslinger.

See It – Webb did (500) Days of Summer and doesn’t have enough of a cinematic resume to make me think the film will be great or horrible. What I do know is that so far everything looks good. I’ll give him that benefit of the doubt.

Katy Perry: Part of Me – The latest biopic on a popular musician/concert film.

Skip It – Biopics about musicians who are still alive and successful are boring. We need a drug problem and another divorce out of the former Mrs. Russell Brand before her story will be anything more than “she can sing songs that other people write to be hits.”

Savages – Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson are drug dealers who share Blake Lively. Selma Hayek (not in a cayak) abducts her to get them to sell her drugs or something. Violence ensues.

See It – Oliver Stone directing an action film, much less a film marketed like a blockbuster? That’s something to see.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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