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Was making 'The Amazing Spider-Man' a good idea?

July 09, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Andrew Garfield in Sony Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Andrew Garfield in Sony Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man." (Sony Pictures )

After all the debate, the questions and the cage-rattling about whether Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man" was a good idea, audiences this holiday weekend spoke. People (a lot of people, $140 million worth of people) bought tickets to "The Amazing Spider-Man." And the great majority of them enjoyed it. Like, A- CinemaScore enjoyed it.

None of that will be enough to move most skeptics from their position that the Sony movie should never have been made in the first place. There are plenty of these skeptics, people for whom popularity was always -- understandably, to an extent -- beside the point.

To quote one of the more articulate objectors: The new "Spider-Man" "never quite overcomes the nagging sense that there's no reason for it to exist. ... The movie can't shake that ultimate pointlessness, that sense that we've not only seen all this before, we've seen it all recently." (From the usually on-point Will Leitch on Deadspin.)

It's rare that a movie made in Hollywood has to fight not only for acceptance but for its right to exist. Hollywood movies, you might remember, are the realm where giant robot-car-aliens fight each other as though in a junior-high-schooler's fever dream and nobody bats an eye.

It's even rarer that a movie that's this well-made and well-acted -- and many of even the skeptical "Spider-Man" reviews acknowledge as much -- has to fight for its right to exist.

Yes, on one level the objections make sense. This isn't a continuation of what was begun by Sam Raimi 10 years ago (and given how the last go-round turned out, thank God for that). Erasures get filmgoers annoyed, especially if those filmgoers feel protective about what's being erased.

But of course reboots and remakes lie on a spectrum, not in a binary code. Many beloved Hollywood movies tell stories we've seen before.  "The Hunger Games" borrowed generously from "Battle Royale" and "The Running Man." Avatar was "Dances With Wolves" in space. "Twilight," of course, is Romeo & Juliet with vampire teeth. The beg-and-borrow may strike us as a little more problematic here because these are touchstones not called by any other name. The murdered father figure is again Uncle Ben; the response of the main hero still takes the form of web-slinging.

But "The Amazing Spider-Man" is still a very different movie. Not just different because of Andrew Garfield and the lead actors, as some critics have (faintly) praised, but different because of different characters, different villains, different tones, a different love interest, different motivations. Different.

What is similar to a previous film is the wrapper it comes in. Indeed, in assailing the movie, many of the skeptics are inverting the usual summer-movie criticism, which is that Hollywood too often takes a familiar story and just dresses it up in new packaging. "Spider-Man" in fact does the opposite, taking a new story and draping it in familiar packaging. Given the choice between the two, I'd prefer the latter every time.

Sure, there's an argument to be raised, as some bloggers have, about the new movie's meandering pathways and unanswered questions. But after this weekend, it's clear not only that "The Amazing Spider-Man" has taken a known character and given him an intriguing new mythology and set of challenges, but that it's delighted millions of moviegoers in the process. That should at least put to rest any question about the movie's right to exist. I suspect, though, that it won't.


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