Sunday 26 August 2012


New leads, new director... in that situation it makes sense to look back to the source. That's pretty much what happened in the comics all the time.

But does that really warrant a fomalised reboot?

Of course not! The whole retelling of the origin is completely redundant. Anybody in the audience will either know all that already or not be bothered. With every Tarzan film, did they keep going back to his origin? James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, both have had reams of films made about them over the years. Did either of them even have an origin? Did anyone ask for one? Did anyone look at Holmes and say “but how did he get the deerstalker and the enquiring mind?” And not “okay, master detective, enquiring Victorian mind, let's go.”

But you're probably better off just going with it. They do come up with a new take, with Peter finding out about his father now made the motor of everything. (Okay, new to Spider-Man, if a direct steal from Harry Potter.) The great weighting weakness of the first trilogy was their insistence each new adversary had to be tied into Uncle Ben's killings, with increasingly absurd and convoluted results. (Maybe the Sandman did him in, with a gun lent by the Green Goblin, but under the orders of Doctor Octopus, based on an original idea by Kraven the Hunter... no, no, NO!) Here the killer is exactly who he should be, a no-hope nobody who holds up dimestores. The whole Daily Bugle strand is also unceremonially cut out, and you find you don't miss it at all.

If you're after a proper review you could do worse than check out Roger Ebert, who correctly calls it - better than the initial instalment of the first series, not as good as the second. Which may be partly because they can use the first films as trial runs. If, for example, their predecessors got into awkward fixes with the all-over mask and audience identification, they can find good reasons for him to remove it. (Well, most of the time.)

But the scene where they show they actually get Spider-Man is the one in the basketball court. Superheroes, a genre all about wish fulfilment, right? Where you can suddenly get super-strong, act cool and out-bully the bullies? Except Spider-Man is all about a world where that doesn't work, where solving problems are not as linear or straightforward as throwing a punch. What if you got those coveted super-powers, and they just made the whole thing worse?

And while I'm no fan of romcoms, getting a director like Marc Webb in shows nous. Spider-Man is a teenage romance story which ups the ante on intruding teachers and interfering parents by bringing in raging super-villains, the teenage romance is still very much at it's heart.

Even the part of the film which doesn't quite work, the villain, still feels like a stab in the right direcion. Fittingly, the Lizard's bad deeds all stem from good intentions. But his character's simultaneously too undeveloped and, in it's schizo duality, too similar to what's already been done with the Green Goblin.

But then, right at the end, it has to bring in that line. Where the English teacher all-so-metafictionally tells us “we're told there's only ten stories in the world. But there's really only one. Who am I?”

And this is supposed to be an English teacher saying this? An English teacher who has either never heard of 'Jason and the Argonauts', 'Hound of the Baskervilles', 'Animal Farm', 'The Maltese Falcon' and so many others, or who imagines they can be reduced to that small-minded schema!

But of course it's not an English teacher. It's a Hollywood scriptwriter, fresh from reading all that noxious New Agey Christian Vogler claptrap. Dude, it's you who only knows one story! And just like you confuse the world with yourself, you're taking your myopia for insight.

And that's why superheroes now have to be constantly bound and re-bound to their origin stories. Because the world is now just some backdrop, some adventure game scenario for you to carry out your own personal ego mission. Because the idea of doing public good can only be made sense of if filtered through the prism of some self-discovering crusade.

It's the most telling line from any of the modern superhero films. In some ways its even appropriate that it comes from one of the better takes, because that marks all-the-clearer that this is the point they all reduce to.

Who are you?

I'm afraid I can't answer that question in polite company.

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