Well lookie here, the new trailer for director Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man has recently been released, and it has come with a flurry of debate! Back in early January, I wrote an article that speculated on its potential for great success when it eventually debuts during next year’s Fourth of July weekend. Seeing as this summer’s Comic-Con in San Diego is currently taking place, the recent movie trailer most likely arrives with a storm of new marketing and announcements during the convention (I’d love to report on the convention floor, but as it so happens, I’m on the other side of the country). What’s most interesting about the new Spider-Man trailer and all its accompanying reveals is how much it retains and departs from the ideas of Sam Raimi’s recent trilogy released within the last decade.
A number of familiar visuals stay put as Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is seen bitten by the radioactive spider once again, slowly discovering his newfound powers, and exploring the surrounding cityscape via crawling up walls and swooping between buildings. But the prominent difference between Webb’s new film and Raimi’s trilogy is the darker atmosphere most likely inspired by director Christopher Nolan’s success with his Batman reboot. The Amazing Spider-Man boasts a shadowy, glass-and-fluorescent aesthetic that characterizes Nolan’s own labyrinthine cinematography. With enough of that “edgier,” darker drive to appease any Christopher Nolan or David Fincher fan, Webb’s visuals zip along the new trailer with carefree abandon in terms of its aesthetic approach. It borrows heavily from the “grittier” atmosphere that modern audiences have taken up so passionately and even features an electronic soundtrack à la Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in Fincher’s The Social Network, a film that witnessed Andrew Garfield’s extraordinary acting ability.
Some might argue that the darker, more brazen approach to comic book adaptations is the case with filmmaking nowadays anyway, but I’m still a firm believer in Sam Raimi’s genius with his original Spider-Man trilogy. The director’s knack for handling both immediately exciting fight scenes over a CGI-rendered cityscape and Peter Parker’s mundane woes – paying the rent, wooing the girl next door, passing his classes, etc. – drives his three films with enough blockbuster intrigue while staying rooted firmly to the endearingly human underdog heroism of the original comic-book series. Raimi’s history with directing a string of well-known B-movies and campy cult features (The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, Darkman) fits perfectly to his Spider-Man adaptations as he stuffs his proceedings with effortless popcorn romp and genuinely comical moments necessary to predate politically-charged, less family-oriented comic adaptations like Watchmen and V for Vendetta. And despite all the campy fun of Raimi’s films, they’re never hackneyed and tasteless (arguably) to the point where his films should be relegated to the trash heap. Raimi’s underdog Spider-Man heroism still remains a fascinating spectacle as an alienated teenage hero takes center stage instead of the fantastic wonders of say, Batman or Iron Man, highlighting the mundane conflicts such as Peter Parker sneaking past his landlord or never getting the last hors d’oeuvres at a party.
Nevertheless, Marc Webb’s early trailer portrays its titular hero in a different light, foregrounding the angsty violence of Peter Parker and the more sinister elements of teenage life. As the protagonist grapples with keeping his secret identity in check, the movie seems to make the dark inner conflict reminiscent of Spider-Man 3 as its primary source of tension. The always elusive parents of Peter Parker make their way into the storyline to contribute a very Batman-esque struggle with dealing with past anxieties. In whispery narration, a voice asks “Do you have any idea what you really are?,” a question that I’m guessing lays at the heart of Marc Webb’s film. Inner tension and struggling with newfound powers amidst a high school setting could potentially be an interesting premise given Sam Raimi’s lack of exploration into the high school world (remember, Peter Parker moves out into the city and enrolls in college fairly quickly).
But perhaps it’s foolish to expect The Amazing Spider-Man to work as a character study regarding the inward, borderline existential conflict of the main protagonist given Spider-Man’s inherently campy setup. The whole tone of the series has always been built around an easily accessible, everyday teenage hero with an atmosphere that feels more like Matthew Vaughn’s underdog comic film Kick-Ass rather than the darker vibes of Nolan’s Batman Begins. Raimi tackles his trilogy with a personal and down-to-earth touch while wrestling with an impressive blockbuster budget in order to balance both high-speed action and charming story. Yet The Amazing Spider-Man feels overly assertive in its handling of themes rather than grounding its narrative in focusing on Peter Parker. Rhys Ifans stars as Dr. Curt Connors (AKA The Lizard), and I anticipate the potential for a debate into the ethics of science to transpire throughout the film. There’s even this line “Ready to play God?” as if attesting to the revival of the scientific catastrophe premise (see: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Contagion, Splice).
Emma Stone as the blond Gwen Stacey pops up in the trailer as well and surprisingly makes her character her own instead of instantly recalling any of her memorable performances in Easy A or Superbad. And the lead protagonist Andrew Garfield appears competent enough to play the role of Peter Parker, especially after revealing his acting talents in 2010’s The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. Hopefully the chemistry between the two young leads will work here, and I definitely have high hopes that it will because of Stone’s easygoing demeanor and ’s ease in portraying a character to sympathize with.
One of the most contentious aspects of the upcoming film is the proximity in which it is being released from Raimi’s origin story in his trilogy. His movies faithfully follow the original origin story and actually execute the scenes well, injecting a sense of poignancy because of Peter Parker’s continual guilt and remorse. And it seems that Marc Webb wants to revamp the origin story once again, depicting that oh-so infamous radioactive spider and that oh-so infamous “experimenting with powers for the first time” sequence once again in his own film. The moments that recall Raimi’s origin story feel imperfect and familiar, but also irrevocably interesting once again. If Webb plays out his origin story with his own directorial inventiveness, it could actually work well. And to those cynics who scorn the reboot’s close proximity to the original as a flaw that will ultimately doom the movie, I’d like to point out a number of movie reboots that have worked so well even with shorter gaps between release dates: X-Men: First Class, Let Me In (an adaptation of the Swedish Let the Right One In), The Incredible Hulk, and even upcoming films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Man of Steel, The Bourne Legacy, Oldboy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and so on.
Of course, the final seconds of the newly released trailer have come with its fair share of criticism, namely its gaudy usage of CGI effects and first person point-of-view. The irony of course is The Amazing Spider-Man’s impressive production value since the film is being shot in 3D at 5K resolution with the RED Epic camera (also being used for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit), but the final moments of the trailer is a clumsy show-off of the technology. All the people who I’ve shown the trailer to remark that it looks and feels more like a videogame than a cinematic production, and I have to admit that the first person freerunning setup recalls the game Mirror’s Edge. Nothing within these last few minutes yields Raimi’s immediately involving action climaxes and set pieces in his trilogy which boasts impressive camera swoops and impulsive camera cuts through a digitally-rendered skyline. And regardless of how kitschy the CGI effects may feel today, the action sequences of Raimi’s films have the exhilaration and adrenaline rush that easily matches any other big budget blockbuster spectacle. I doubt that the trailer’s final action scene will be included into the movie since its whole purpose in the clip is merely to build suspense for the final reveal – a mirrored reflection of Spider-Man in his suit – and hopefully Marc Webb has other sources of directorial creativity given his endless technological resources at his disposal.
So despite the contention that has arisen because of director Marc Webb’s new trailer for 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, I will concede that it’s a revelation to see that old red and blue spidey suit out and about once again instead of gathering dust in the shelves of discarded Hollywood. Next summer’s race for blockbuster glory will undoubtedly become a cutthroat battle given the three major comic book titles looking to be released – The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers – but the critical and commercial success of other comic book adaptations in 2011 attest to the profitability and accessibility of the genre. Just look to the triumphs of X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger for any evidence. But if The Amazing Spider-Man wants to rise above the multitudes of summer films next year, it will have to learn from the example of 2011’s biggest blockbuster failure, Green Lantern, in order to set itself as a surefire contender for major critical and commercial success.