Ten years ago, Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire starring as the arachnid hero and Kristen Dunst as his love interest, Mary Jane, opened to rave reviews.
The first film in director Sam Raimi’s trilogy shattered box office reviews, earning an unheard of $114 million its first weekend alone.
Critics, naturally, thought it would be a hard act to follow.
“There is only one plot in all of fiction,” Peter Parker’s English teacher tells him near the end of Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man.’ These words make an all-too-fitting conclusion to a story that’s essentially recycled from a ten-year-old movie which was itself repurposed from a forty-year-old comic book. If you go to the theater regularly enough these days, you see a marquee filled with remakes and sequels and prequels and (as in the case of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’) reboots. It often does feel like there’s only one plot in movies.
And we’ve seen it already.
That singular plot, Peter’s informed, is “Who am I?” So who is ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’s’ Peter Parker? Other than the fact that he’s now played by ‘The Social Network’s’ Andrew Garfield and he perpetually carries around a skateboard, he’s basically the same Peter Parker Tobey Maguire played for Sam Raimi in three films over the last decade: dorky yet heroic, brave in the face of danger yet timid in the face of romance and a lonely brooder in his room yet a sarcastic wiseacre in his costume. Is there enough difference between the Maguire and Garfield Spider-Man, and between the Raimi and Webb ‘Spider-Man,’ to justify a full-scale reboot? Not really. The marketing has advertised this version as “The Untold Story” of Spider-Man’s origin. To me, it felt a lot more like the retold story.
Take the arc and motivations of Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the super-villain The Lizard. He is, beat for beat, the exact same character as Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the super-villain The Green Goblin, from ‘Spider-Man.’ Like Osborn, Connors is a brilliant but overly ambitious scientist. Like Osborn, Connors is struggling to meet a deadline on his latest project, a formula that would enhance human tissue. Like Osborn, Connors uses himself as a test subject after becoming a mentor to the fatherless Peter Parker. Like Osborn, Connors’ serum gives him super-powers. Like Osborn, they also drive him insane. Like Osborn, he forces Spider-Man to rescue civilians he leaves danging beneath a New York City bridge. That, we can all agree, is a lot of “Like Osborn…”s.
Or how about Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man? There are a few cosmetic differences — the spider that bites him comes courtesy of Connors and his lab’s stunningly lax security; professional wrestling plays a much smaller role — but they’re exactly that: cosmetic differences.