The Amazing Spider-Man: How to Make a Reboot Work by Jerry W. Vandal
Reboots are a commonality in today’s comic book industry. They’re often met by sighs from traditional comic book fans, though they do tend to show an increase in sales whether it be from collector’s or readers looking to pick up a book at the start of a story. In some cases they serve as way to take a floundering character, repackage them with new artist and writer and leave behind the stigmas of mundane characterization, lack luster stories and the avoidance of the last incarnation. Moon Knight is a very obvious example. Charlie Huston and David Finch took a crack at the character followed by Gregg Hurwitz and Jerome Opena and most recently by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. All were failed attempts, but each attempted to find a way to get the character to reach an audience and become an important member of the Marvel Universe. In a different twist to rebooting a series following Schism, Marvel opted to restart the long running Uncanny X-Men with a new #1 that stayed in line with its regular shipping schedule. Sales were down in 2011, from 2010, around 10,000 units so the decision to go back to an issue one, while publicized as being to keep the book seem more important than the other X-books following Schism can be assumed to be about moving books as well. And of course the line wide reboot of the entire DC Universe that was highly publicized last September. So there should be little doubt that when dealing with comic book franchise, Hollywood would take a similar course.
In 2003 Universal Studios Hulk, directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Broke Back Mountain) and starring Eric Bana (Munich, Funny People), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Nick Nolte (Warrior—where you can also check out Tom Hardy showing why he was an easy cast as Bane) hit theaters to mixed reviews. It’s opening week it pulled in $60 million and ended up being a profitable endeavor totaling $245 million off of a $137 million dollar budget and when coupled with merchandise sales left confidence that there was money to be made in a sequel. However, the mixed reviews called for the studio to reexamine the direction the next movie should take. While the movie made a profit, it was not as dominate at the box office as the character depiction. The studio needed to find a way to resonant with more movie goers. The answer—a reboot. Albeit, The Incredible Hulk takes up where the post credits of Hulk left off and in terms of story is very much a sequel. It’s classified as a reboot though because the entire production was started over with a new director and actor’s in hopes of smothering the uninspired feelings many may have left with leaving the theater. With a $137 million dollar budget, the studio needed more than an indifference from the audience. While the reboot performed better and received generally better reviews, confidence in the franchise may have weened as Marvel is not expecting a release on a new Hulk until 2015. One of the faults of both movies may have been, pointed out by Stan Lee in Time Magazine was that (unlike in the Avengers) the Hulk seemed entirely too big. There was no threat that seemed believable. The movie may have even suffered from the stigmas that still hanged over the character from the last Hulk.
In 2007, following two very successful Spider-Man movies, Sony watched Spider-Man 3 earn $890 million, breaking many records and easily proving to be the most financially successful film in the franchise at the time. Critically though the movie garnered mixed reviews. Many rumors had surfaced following the film, including that director Sam Raimi was finished with Spider-Man, frustrated with Sony’s demand that Venom had to be utilized. It was also understood that Kristen Dunst who played Mary Jane and Toby McGuire who played the lead of Peter Parker would also not be returning. The direction of the franchise was in jeopardy despite developing a movie that broke many records and made the people involved a lot of money.
Enter Marc Webb, (500 Days of Summer) known mostly (or not known without a Google search) for directing videos for Green Day, 3 Doors Down, Evanescence, P. Diddy and Miley Cyrus among others was tapped to direct the reboot and relative newcomer, Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) to take the leading role of Peter Parker and Emma Stone ( Zombieland, Crazy, Stupid, Love) stepping in as fan beloved Gwen Stacy.
The original trilogy set a high standard for what is undoubtedly one of comicdom’s most cherished characters both monetarily and for its ability to pull an audience into its world. The Amazing Spider-Man, while not as big as financial success as it’s predecessors is presently the fifth highest grossing movie of the year worldwide with $667 million. And more importantly, at least to those outside of the movie studio, creates its own world while resonating with both the original trilogy and the characters from the comic books that fans have come to love.
Part of making a reboot successful is tapping into what made the original accessible and keeping intact the heart of the story while attempting to fix its downfalls. In this case, the heart of the story has to be and is Peter Parker. He is a character audience should instantly understand. He’s not Robert Downey Jr.’s rich playboy Tony Stark. He’s not Chris Evans Steve Rodgers who has to adapt to the new ways of the world. He’s not Chris Hemsworth’s boastful Thor waiting to be king. He’s a young kid whose lost his parents and is trying to figure out where he fits in the world. And young kids need guidance. That’s where Uncle Ben and Aunt May come in and that’s something audiences understand. Even as the years pass and we watch these stories, a lot of people vaguely remembering trying to weed their way through their adolescence with some sense of lose or that something is missing. For Peter Parker, being bit by a spider is not the defining moment in his life the way Tony becomes Iron Man and realizes what he’s doing to the world, or the way Rodgers becomes Captain America because he needs to prove himself or the way Thor simply grows up and does the things gods do. Peter isn’t changed by becoming something more than human. His life changes when his uncle dies. And it’s a very delicate and pivotal moment that needed to be established if the reboot was going to do its job and introduce Peter Parker to the audience that wasn’t around for the first go around of Spidey flicks.
The re-imagining of uncle Ben’s death in Amazing Spider-Man was an interesting turn that separated itself from the comic book while maintaining the most pivotal moment in Peter Parker’s life and helped to make The Amazing Spider-Man not just a redo of the first Spider-Man but adds to the story in significant and believable way. Dumping the wrestler plot for a run in at a convenience store is not only more believable but is more relateable. It’s far more likely that some store clerk had been rude to us and that we’ve wished ill or allowed ill to happen to the them then it is that a cheapskate promoter wouldn’t pay us our money after wrestling the late Macho Man Randy Savage…err…Bonesaw. Part of the difficulty in rebooting a series from scratch is redoing scenes that many have already seen. Another difficulty is finding a cast that bring something new to the story.
Andrew Garfield was a breath of fresh air to Peter…a much needed one and he exudes an emotion from Peter that is memorable. Garfield’s Parker was like able and despite the grieving did not feel depressing but lively, a stark contrast from Toby McGuire. He felt more like a confused emotional kid trying to come to grips with death and his responsibility to the world. The casting of an unknown Peter Parker was a smart move in terms of a reboot as well. If you brought in Peter Jackson and Daniel Radcliffe there are suddenly expectations about the movie before a single frame has been shot. By bringing in a relatively unknown director and actor the studio allowed the movie to be built up by the trailers and leaks. In that, Garfield, though he had much to live up to, didn’t necessarily have to deal with high expectations. He was able to step into the shoes of Peter Parker instead of trying to get out from underneath McGuire’s shadow.Not that it mattered because he delivered the Peter Parker on screen that is more in tune with today’s audience.
Emma stone has become an actress I look forward to seeing. She has a very charismatic presence and a down to earth look that really helps her on screen. She’s not just another attractive face but actually feel approachable. Whereas in the original franchise I never really got why Peter Parker would be attracted to MJ I completely get Gwen Stacy. And it’s another fix in the reboot. As I sat in he theater watching a pre-screening of Spider-Man 3 a round of applause and cheers (and a “about damn time”) broke out when Harry smacked Mary Jane. She had become so annoying that a theater filled with people had no problem with her being hit. They might not have even cared if he had pumpkin bombed her right there. Part of the reaction, outside of the annoyance may have been because the audience knows they’re supposed to like her, they know they should want Peter and Mary Jane to be together. But they didn’t care. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone however, as the movie climaxes, I found myself wanting their relationship to continue.
Every comic book movie needs its villain. Dr. Curt Conners had been showed around a bit in Raimi’s work and was likely going to be an upcoming villain. Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Death Hollows Part 1) picked up the duties of the Lizard. Getting back to basics we have a single villain. Much of Spider-Man 3’s problem stemmed from too many villains. Sandman, Venom and whatever James Franco was supposed to be before becoming a good guy in the end. The reboot got back to basics and allowed the story to focus on Peter.
Dennis Leary’s casting as Captain Stacy proved to be an excellent fit. He felt like a police officer and a captain, and a protective father who didn’t care for costumed vigilante’s. He also helped keep alive the notion that not everyone wants vigilante’s around without having to jump right back into J. Jonah Jameson which served as a great way to provide another antagonist for Peter to deal with that added to his character instead of overshadowing him.
Was the reboot needed? Well if you compare the movie to other franchises, the quality of films begins to deteriorate after time (an uneducated estimate would be after or including the third film) and the success of the film pretty much relies on familiarity as opposed to its own merit. The Saw franchise remained profitable because they were cheap to make and became a household name not because they added to the genre with each new installment. The original Batman franchise comprised of five movies the last two of which was the crime fighter’s theatrical Knightfall.
So perhaps 3 is where a franchise ends. That’s typically close to ten years which one could argue is time for a new audience. The Dark Knight is already being discussed as a trilogy and being considered in line for a reboot. Although in the case of the Dark Knight franchise it seems as much effort as possible was made to end it or at least as much as you can for a movie based around characters who have barely aged since their creation. When a comic book switches creative team it’s acceptable. You expect some changes with art style and story style so a franchise could pick up. And in some cases you get the reboot title. Spider-Man 3 left plenty to be explored going forward. There were plenty of other Spidey tales that could have been told if that was the direction they wanted to take. But giving Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield their own frame to work in proved to be for the best. The Amazing Spider-Man, while taking some steps back in the story get a chance to tell their own story. And it was a pretty good one. By utilizing unknown talent that developed a chemistry on screen, streamlining the story and getting the focus back to the main character and retelling a story with just enough tweaks so that it was different ant the same “The Amazing Spider-Man,” worked reboot or not. Ultimately though, the best way to make a reboot work is just to tell a good story and make the best movie you can.