If it seems like only a few years since we thrilled to director
” trilogy, well ... that's because it was. Raimi's films were released in 2002, 2004, and 2007. After a mere five years,
is starting all over again. The question is: Was it worth it?
The James Bond series — the official Broccoli/Saltzman line — produced 20 films over more than 40 years before it was finally “rebooted” with
in 2006. “
Returns” came 19 years after “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (which, in any case, no one saw). There was a gap of eight years after
essentially killed the Batman series with “Batman &
's “Batman Begins” made the characters fresh again in 2005.
Sure, “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) was also rebooted only five years after “The Hulk.” But that was because
's version had been a big disappointment, both commercially and critically. Similarly, back in the day,
released versions of “The Maltese Falcon” in 1931 and 1936, until
finally got in right in 1941. But these are unlike the other franchises above, all of which were had been huge hits first time around.
Raimi's films grossed more than a billion dollars, and the first two were critical hits as well. What director Marc Webb and screenwriter James Vanderbilt have come up with in “
” is a variant remake of the Raimi's “Spider-Man” (2002). (Given that Webb's one previous feature was the small-scale “
,” we can only guess he was hired for his surname.) It makes obvious financial sense to revive such a tentpole franchise. But is there really any inherent aesthetic justification?
Like the 2002 version, this is an “origins” story, incorporating a few changes. The biggest of these starts in the opening sequence, in which Peter Parker's parents (
) take a powder under mysterious cloak-and-dagger circumstances, leaving him in the care of Aunt May (
) and Uncle Ben (
Fifteen years later, Peter (
) finds hidden papers in Dad's old briefcase; his curiosity drives him to delve into his own backstory. He sneaks into the OsCorp labs (where Dad used to work) and gets bitten by a genetically mutated spider. He finds himself developing spider-ish powers, although, in a really questionable new take, he invents strap-on web shooters — pretty impressive for a teenager, even one who's presented as a science genius. (Longtime Spidey fans know that the mechanical web shooters were in the original comic, but Raimi wisely made them into another organic change to Parker’s body.)
At the lab, he also meets his father's former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (
, once again seeming like a younger
). In a Jekyll and Hyde development, Connors starts turning into the Lizard — the film's villain.
The action sequences seem overly familiar now, and the story changes less than monumental. The best element of the new film is the romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (
). No offense to
, who played the love interest in Raimi's films, but Stone radiates a more irresistible appeal. And Garfield's Peter takes the geeky shyness of
and cranks it up to 11. This Peter is not just awkward: His inability to connect with his peers — it's a big deal when he manages to make eye contact with Gwen — is so severe that his he seems to have a degree of
or Asperger's. The romantic chemistry ends up being more intense than Maguire and Dunst.
Is it worth the time? Certainly if you've never seen Raimi's films; maybe, if you have and you don't mind a bit of déjà vu. The whole affair is entertaining, but utterly superfluous.
One alert: In a bit of dirty pool, the most memorable element in the ads and trailers — the “Does he know who he really is?” bit — has no payoff. It's the last line in the film, a mid-credits teaser for the next “Spider-Man” film. Boo hiss.