I was dismayed to recently find out that the Spiderman film franchise is being ‘rebooted’. The first new installment is due in cinemas next month. You can see the trailer below however - spoiler alert – it looks terrible.
Lazy remakes are nothing new. Take for example the almost instantaneous remake of Ang Lee’s Hulk with the even worse version starring Edward Norton, or the endless recycling of classic 70’s horror films (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing, Dawn of the Dead etc) for a new generation of adolescents. But when it comes to a hugely expensive film franchise that was a big commercial success only five years ago, why revisit it so soon?
There is the obvious answer: that the Hollywood blockbuster revenue model is becoming ever more unsustainable in the face of a media landscape transformed by digital distribution, piracy and staggering advances in video game technology and design. Couple that with an ongoing creative renaissance in premium television and the motive for quickly revisiting and milking past successes becomes apparent. But that doesn’t explain why it is commercially sound to revisit something so recent and expect that cinema-goers will pay to see it all over again. At a glance, it smacks of desperation, especially as the new film purports to cover the same events (how Peter Parker became Spiderman to begin with).
The fact is that the rise of digital media isn’t just changing revenue models. It’s now fundamentally changing how we consume media and therefore how we understand popular culture. The sheer volume of entertainment media available at the touch of a button means that different eras, styles and tastes in music, fashion and film can now mix and cohabit more freely than ever in an endlessly curated feedback loop. Rediscovery of pop culture is no longer a generational thing and indeed, the very notion of rediscovery seems moot when so much is instantly available. Unsurprisingly, cultural trends are appearing and subsiding faster than ever but don’t seem to ‘die’ or go out of style as dramatically as before. All this is good news if you’re the producers of Spiderman. Now is a particularly good time for Hollywood to lazily pimp pop culture’s recent past for a quick buck and get away with it.
The comic book medium has always been stunningly cinematic and post-modern. The camera angles, the expressionistic use of shadow, the violence and titillation that comics convey so effectively are the essence of cinema.
Even so, one could argue that there is a legitimate creative reason for a movie studio to revisit the world of comic book heroes whenever they damn well please and that is the uniqueness of source material. The comic book medium has always been stunningly cinematic and post-modern. The camera angles, the expressionistic use of shadow, the violence and titillation that comics convey so effectively are the essence of cinema. It’s not surprising that the Watchmen film adaptation for example, mirrored the graphic novel almost frame by frame or that Hitchcock planned his films in storyboards that were in effect, comic books.
Then there are the stories and characters themselves. Since they are allegories with universal appeal, the basic narratives (in this case, nerdy teen gains superpowers thanks to radioactive spider bite and battles evil) can be endlessly repurposed, reimagined, restructured and redacted without losing a familiar and appealing essence. There is no expectation that the resulting body of work should have narrative coherence and more importantly for Hollywood, no expectation that any particular version of a story is final and definitive.
So comic books are in effect, folk tales told in a cinematic medium. I wouldn’t go so far as to call their protagonists like Spiderman and Batman ‘folk heroes’ but perhaps in a society where folk traditions are practically extinct, they behave as such. Unfortunately then, this Spiderman ‘reboot’ isn’t quite as moronic and shallow as it first seems. It is still a shame however, that given the rich possibilities of the source material this new version doesn’t appear to aspire to more than dialing up the teen angst a la the Twilight films. But what’s originality when you’re filling a gaping existential void? And even as I rage at this lack of originality, I’m left to bemoan a quieter loss - that of watching yet another cherished childhood character get ‘rebooted’ for an audience that is most certainly not me.
(For those that are interested, the Amazing Spiderman is released on July 4th.)
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