Due Respect and the Spider-Man Reboot

As a rule, I’m not against the idea of remaking or rebooting movies, be they standalone titles or franchises; I think remakes are largely unnecessary, and frequently epitomize an absence of vision or creativity, but bad films can benefit from a good remake– and it’s not like people haven’t remade movies in the past. But no matter the picture (even the awful, close-to-irredeemable ones), I firmly believe that any mimetic cinematic endeavor must be carried out with a respect and passion for the original movie and an understanding of its place in and impact on film history. Without that base laid down, how can any director be expected to successfully translate a film of the past into something with a modern palatability?

That’s a question I’d like to aim at Marc Webb, the greenish director of the upcoming Spider-Man reboot and the man behind the sublimely derivative and unapologetically average (500) Days of Summer. The most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly honed in on Webb’s coming-in-2012 reboot of Sam Raimi’s popular and excellent (well, two thirds excellent anyhow) Spider-Man films from the mid-2000s, and specifically included a couple of choice quotes from the cast and the director himself about the intent behind the update– some of which made me raise an eyebrow in frustrated disbelief. Notably, straight from Webb’s own mouth, comes this particular gem:

“Ultimately what this movie is about is a kid who grows up looking for his father and finds himself. And that’s a Spider-Man story we haven’t seen before.”– Marc Webb


The article also includes unattributed quotations indicating the the new film intends to be “more contemporary”, “more gritty”, and “more character-driven”. (Take a stab at figuring out which of these bothers me the most, and read on to see if you got it right.)

Taken at face value there’s nothing inherently wrong with a director putting their own spin on source material they’re adapting or remaking for the screen. In fact, that should be encouraged heartily by audiences. Artistic vision should be supported and celebrated, and filmmakers should be willing to try to filter stories that have been told before through their own perspective in order to make that story feel “new” to modern audiences. I like to think that I have the capacity to be reasonable, soon behalf of that there’s a part of me that wants to take Webb at his word and refuses to read into his words more than strictly necessary. “Sure!”, that half says, “Make your own Spider-Man movie and put Parker on a journey to find his parents! Have at it!”

But then there’s that other half of me that’s jaded and cynical and isn’t feeling positive vibes from the EW article’s quotes whatsoever. Admittedly, I can understand the thought behind making the film grittier and darker even if tonally such an approach is completely incongruous with the spirit of the source material and the character– we all know that Nolan’s Dark Knight made several kajillion dollars across the span of the universe, and I’ve touched on the power of its influence on future comic book movies before (however briefly). Nolan wheeled out the bandwagon, and people are going to hop on board to either adapt to or cash in on the genre expectations his film set; it’s the nature of the beast, and since Webb surely won’t be the last person to do so I’m not really willing to hold that against him no matter how much a dour and grim Spider-Man film sounds “off” on paper.

I could throw that in the production’s face, mind– I’m of the opinion that adaptations should always, always, always respect the essence of their source material, and a brooding, emo Peter Parker (who looks like Andrew Garfield) doesn’t really jibe with the attitude of the beloved superhero. But in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, I’d argue that it’s just as important (if not more so) to show the very same deference to Raimi’s original films, something which Webb’s comments in EW lack.

Again, I get it. There’s a natural need to highlight what sets Webb’s take on the character apart from Raimi’s, so Webb’s really just acting logically by describing the intent behind his film. Be that as it may, reading his spiel on the rebooted franchise raises a few red flags and kind of makes me wonder whether he’s actually seen Raimi’s Spider-Man films. Here I liken Webb to Rod Lurie, who’s directing the Straw Dogs remake and doesn’t understand the film that he’s re-imagining; Webb thinks he’s telling a whole new Spider-Man story when really, he’s just telling the same story sans the subtext. Peter Parker seeks out father figures in the first two parts of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy*, finding surrogates in the form of Norman Osbourne and Otto Octavius, and that search constitutes a substantial part of his arc in both films. Ostensibly, what makes The Amazing Spider-Man different is that Parker’s actually looking for his real parents in this installment, but the end goal remains the same between the two different treatments.

The other major warning sign lies in the talk of making a Spider-Man film that’s character-driven, or more character-driven. At this point my understanding falters and Webb, to me, comes off as passive aggressive. Whatever your opinion on Raimi’s Spider-Man movies may be– and you’re more than welcome to express dislike for them!– anyone mounting the argument that the famed and revered B-movie maestro didn’t put his characters first in those pictures faces a Herculean task. “Character” represents the focal point of Spider-Man 1 and 2 and drives every major aspect of both films, from the relationships between the leads (Maguire, Dunst, and Franco), down to the sweeping and acrobatic action sequences. What do you call the climactic showdown between Peter and Octavius at the end of the second film, if not character-driven? Raimi took great care to ensure that his films came down to character above all else, and his approach to the material elevated his pictures to the status they enjoy today, so Webb’s comments come across as disrespectful at best regardless of his intentions.

At the end of the day I’m willing to step back and realize I’m both criticizing a director whose film won’t appear in theaters for another year and also wringing my hands in consternation over a comic book movie; if The Amazing Spider-Man does turn out to be the “Spider-Man for the Twilight set” production I anticipate it to be, the world will continue turning and Raimi’s films will still be available for viewing through Netflix and such. But even accepting the reality here, Webb’s comments frustrate me, and maybe they do so not just on their own merits but in a broader context. It’s a given that re-interpretations and cash-ins– in the form of prequels, remakes, and reboots– are popular and have been for a long, long time** in cinema, and at this point I hardly think it’s worth shaking our fists in anger over how many projects fall into either of the three aforementioned categories “these days”. That does not mean we shouldn’t demand a modicum of respect for the movies that do become subject to remaking. When a filmmaker tries their hand at envisioning beloved, iconic, or classic films of the past, there’s no room in the new version for disrespect toward the original.

*Because we here at A Constant Visual Feast treat the third film as something of a flukish abomination epitomizing the effect of studio interference on quality franchises.

**When Fellini’s I Vitelloni proved to be a hit, studio suits wanted him to make a spin-off about (I believe) Moraldo Rubini, one of the little lambs of the title, to capitalize on the film’s commercial success. Really.

16 thoughts on “Due Respect and the Spider-Man Reboot

  1. It’s still too soon although I have to say I like the direction, like that we’ll finally get The Lizard and although I don’t get Garfield for the role I’m quite taken to how this is shaping up. Although a new Peter I can understand but do we have to do the whole new Ben and May? That’s just not jiving with me.

    Like you say, we’re a year out and we may get more input as we get closer although this may just be like Tron Legacy; a lot of build up to something flashy and high profile without the substance behind it helping drive the story. You’re right, we know the story so why remake it? At the end of the day Peter Parker is one man forever tasked/cursed with doing the job of two people. While he’s constantly spread too thin, its how he deals with things that builds his character. It’s impossible to fully know how Webb’s intentions will play out (from his statements and one trailer) and if it will give us anything deeper with this Batman Begins style origin story. Part of me doesn’t want this to fail but the other part kind of does…

  2. *Because we here at A Constant Visual Feast treat the third film as something of a flukish abomination epitomizing the effect of studio interference on quality franchises.


    Thats funny.

    Great piece. Once again you show a flair for provoking thought.

    Let’s start here, here’s my (in progress) rules for remakes:

    1) Foreign films are completely fair game under any circumstances. No one is obligated to watch movies outside of their own national industry, especially films not in their native language. Yes, I’m willing to create this rule even though it would subject my beloved “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” to American Remakes.

    2) Source material needs no respect. It’s not a contract. Films SHOULD respect their source material IF they want to appeal to the fans of said material, obviously, but slavish faithfullness can be counter-productive. (A great example of this is Watchmen, which Ipodman just skewered. I love that flick, but I recognize that if Snyder had been less slavishly faithful, he might have been able to have made a better flick…)

    3) The timing of reboots/remakes/reimaginings depends on a complex function of time and pop culture relevance. The Godfather should never be remade no matter how old it gets. It has a solid place in the pop culture memory. Same with Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders, etc etc. The reason I’m uncomfortable with this reboot most of all is… the Spider Man duology is both recent AND revered. Those were excellent movies. They should be excluded from rebooting by this rule for at least 10 more years.

    Whether or not he makes a good film out of this, I don’t know. As you acknowledge, he’s probably just saying all the shit he needed to say. I skipped this panel at the Con (line burnout) But from what I’ve heard, Spidey comes across as wise assed as ever. I’m sure the panel is out there on You Tube (I may check it out soon myself), it would probably be enlightening even if you dont get to see the footage.

    Peace for now, another excellent essay Andrew.

    • I think the problem I have with point #2 is that you’re making no distinction between “respect the source material” and “slavish faithfulness”. I agree that sticking too close to the source can be bad for the adaptation– what works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on the screen. Game of Thrones, using the most recent example in my mind (which I’ve probably brought out a few times before), is a great example of how a screenwriter can remain faithful to the source without just making a line-by-line reproduction. Weiss and Benioff know how to identify what works in a TV show and what doesn’t, and cherry pick the best elements of the novel to compliment the narrative they’re telling. Adaptation isn’t about regurgitating the words of a novel onto celluloid, not by far, but it is about respecting that novel and keeping its spirit intact in the process of adapting.

      The other point is that without the source material, adaptations would never get made, so the people making those adaptations are sort of indebted to the creators of the work they’re reinterpreting. If that’s not enough reason to demand respect be accorded to source material, I don’t know what is.

      I agree that foreign movies are fair game, but like American films, there’s still no reason to remake a classic, well-made foreign film, not even to make it palatable for more audiences. I’m sorry, if you can’t be bothered to expand your boundaries and watch foreign films for whatever reason, then I don’t really think anyone should be going out of their way to translate that experience for you. If the must-see foreign releases don’t make it to theaters near you, wait for DVD.

      And I also agree with the third point, but I imagine that that proximity to the old trilogy of films is impetus enough to get them remade because they’re ostensibly fresh enough in pop culture consciousness to make cashing in that much easier.

      Thanks for posting your thoughts, Fog. I’ll be sure to check out your SDCC updates when I get a chance. I did hear that the Spider-Man panel allayed many of the concerns people have had about the trailer (while introducing some new ones), so I might check it out when it’s up on YouTube. (Or if.)

      • The quickest retort is on the foreign movies… Obviously I CAN be bothered to expand my horizons… Most hardcore film fans do. But so many citizens of whatever country (I’m sure this isnt just a uniquely American problem) CAN’T be, that there’s a huge audience out there for the film.

        As to source material… well, that would be a debate I guess. Let me just recognize your point that without the source material, what’s the point? Make something original. And the source material has to have SOME element of quality that should be adhered to, otherwise it wouldnt have gotten optioned.

        Its just a personal peeve of mine when I hear people say “In the book” or “In the comics” or whatever. And I say it too sometimes. I just think there’s such a thing as faithful to a fault, and thus my theory is complete liberty for their own creative choices for the film maker. If they deviate from the source, and its a sucky choice, well thats a problem, but its their gamble to make. Same is true for the opposite. There’s nothing set in stone about adhering to the source, so if they do it and it works, they deserve a degree of credit.

        • I don’t think you and I are disagreeing at all, here. I believe that adaptations should adhere to the source as closely as possible, but I find the “well, in the books, X was different” line of thinking to be irksome. If that “X” didn’t work on film or didn’t matter in the long run of telling the story, then it’s fair game to be cut. Not everything has to be taken from the story and transplanted into the film. In some cases, doing so doesn’t make sense (the infamous Tom Bombadil argument comes to mind here).

          As to the second point– well, yeah, exactly. If you’re not going to honor the book/comic you’re adapting by being faithful to its narrative, make your own damn movie instead of biting someone else’s work.

          And for the first, if there’s an audience comprised of people who physically can’t make it to a theater showing the buzzed-about foreign films of the day (most likely scenario is that no such theater exists near them), then I hope they’d care enough to watch that film when it hits DVD. I don’t think the solution is an American remake.

  3. I still can’t get behind this film. Admittedly I don’t go crazy for comic adaptations, but I love the entire SPIDERMAN trilogy (including the third) and I’m just wary of what exactly Webb is going to bring to it that needs telling.

    • Just so that I don’t appear totally prejudiced against Webb’s film, I’m willing to give him a chance to wow me with a different take on the character. That said I just don’t have a lot of faith that he can make this project sing, though the Comic Con panel appears to have changed a lot of minds about what Webb’s doing with his movie.

  4. Big fan of Garfield, he really does (career-wise) remind me of Maguire who could’ve become one of the greats but seems to have disappeared altogether. I think that Garfield and Stone have great chemistry, and if that’s conveyed on screen, it will be a hit. I don’t really see the point though, there doesn’t seem to be any dramatic twist or new point of view..

    With Batman there was a clear distinction from what happened before, and that’s one of the reasons it worked. Here I don’t see it.

    I guess the producers are seeing dollar signs.

    • I have a feeling that this will be a hit anyways, given that people seem to love Spider-Man whether they’re comic fans or not– and since people also seem to be falling head over heels for Stone. Seeing her with a guy like Garfield should be enough reason for most to buy tickets, but take my perspective on the matter well-salted. (Though I would agree that this is almost certainly a dollars-driven endeavor.)

  5. This will be one interesting experiment – reboots are usually to bring back series that suffered creative or financial setbacks. While much can be said that “Spider-Man 3” suffered the former, it still received fairly decent reviews and was only a slight decline from its predecessor’s box office total. And it held the highest opening weekend record at least for a year.

    That being said, this reboot is kind of like getting the iPhone 4 when your iPhone 3G is still working fine. Will people buy into it just for novelty or because of some new, exciting features? Or will people just stick to the original series? For me, the Raimi-Maguire “Spider-Man” is what I grew up with, and I see no reason to wipe their legacy clean. The original, 2002 “Spider-Man” opened up so many doors for comic book movies; can’t that landmark just stand? Or should we dishonor it buy ushering a half-wit reboot through that door?

    • Yeah, I’m with you all the way here. Reboots and remakes and the like are totally acceptable and should be encouraged when the targeted film is one that didn’t measure up creatively. In the case of Spider-Man 3, the series is 2 for 3 and I don’t think that that track record really calls for a rebooting, but I’m fairly certain Webb’s movie is entirely driven by money.

      The second point I wholeheartedly support, and I like that comparison. People always want the newest and latest thing, even when the current thing still works. Time takes the fancy sheen off of the objects we’re so unabashedly attracted to, and maybe that explains why movies have been getting reinterpreted in one way or another for decades. Will Webb’s movies erase Raimi’s? Maybe for some but I think in over-arching cinematic canon, the originals will prevail– whatever the quality of Webb’s Spider-Man, he’s coming into the cinematic genre long after Raimi’s movies helped to reshape the entire archetype almost single-handedly. Webb doesn’t have that opportunity, I think.

      I guess that the only dishonor that I see here comes from the highlighted comments about the nature of Webb’s movie versus Raimi’s, which I think are extremely insulting and ignorant on a number of levels. I don’t think an unnecessary remake tarnishes the original– Let the Right One In is still head and shoulders above Let Me In and retains its status– but the way that the team behind that remake approaches the material certainly can disrespect it.

  6. Pingback: (Again REALLY Belated) Weekend Update – July 31, 2011 « Marshall and the Movies

  7. Most – if not all – of this is because SONY couldn’t afford to let the franchise sit idle. The minute they relinquished the time to make a sequel Disney would have snapped it up. It’s not the best motivation, but it is a motivation.

    That said, I’m glad they went with Webb, Garfield and Stone. The cast has me intrigued even if the trailer doesn’t.

    • Can’t really argue with plain old fact. I don’t know much of a choice Sony really had here, like you say. That said, I am happy with the casting even if Webb doesn’t inspire me at all (full disclosure: I really don’t like 500 Days of Summer at all and even barring that I don’t see Webb being the kind of guy to handle Spider-Man)– and word from Comic Con is that the trailer short-changes the actual movie. So I’ll wait and see even if I don’t feel great about the project at present.

  8. I deplore Sony’s attitude that since Sam Raimi left and took the cast with him, that they need to start the series over again by making Peter Parker a high school student once more and retelling the same origin that we just saw a few years ago. Do they really think that in today’s age of DVD and Netflix that audiences are that short of memory?

    You are right to point out that Raimi’s film have been character-driven. In fact, that’s what set Spider-man apart from other superhero movies in the first place. Raimi took criticism for having Peter remove the Spidey mask in the second film, but the purpose was to see the person under the costume, rather than the costume itself. Spider-man 3 was also character-driven, even if that film handled it poorly. Everyone hates the emo-Peter bit, but that was part of his evolution as a character. That film suffered from too much going on so that it felt like the characters were lost in the shuffle, but there was still an attempt to be made to further Peter and MJ’s journey together.

    • People have short attention spans. Even the Internet can’t really trump that. Or maybe people don’t have attention spans all that short and it’s just assumed that they do; maybe that’s just the studios playing it safe. But it does seem ludicrous, for sure.

      It’s really the attitude that chaffs me here. If a reboot must be had, fine, I can’t stop that from happening, but show some respect to Raimi and his cast and crew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s