Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Spider-Man ponders the re-reboot.

There was a mild disturbance in the Nerdisphere this week when images of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man emerged. As you may be aware, the latest webslinger picture is to be a reboot of the franchise launched so successfully by Sam …

Sat, Jan 15, 2011, 16:10


There was a mild disturbance in the Nerdisphere this week when images of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man emerged. As you may be aware, the latest webslinger picture is to be a reboot of the franchise launched so successfully by Sam Raimi nearly a decade ago.

If the chatter is to be credited, this will be a (God help us) “darker” version of the hurtling Marvel superhero. You know what that means. Rather than having Spider-Man quip his way from one shiny skyscraper to the next, the film will encourage the hero to stand miserably on bridges in the sodding rain while contemplating the awfulness of everything. It will, in other words, look like the vast majority of recent super-hero flicks. Surely, Raimi’s vision stood out because it wasn’t yet another cod-Freudian misery-fest. (Of course, the new film may be nothing like the punters anticipate, but a debate on the pointlessness of such speculation will have to wait for another day.)

What’s properly irritating about all this is the preposterous unavoidability of the whole reboot phenomenon. It’s difficult to pin down when this all began. But it started to become a craze following Christopher Nolan’s successful Batman Begins in 2005. In the world of comics, it has long been common to transplant a character to an alternative universe where different laws and habits apply. In such cases, the new Caterpillar-Man and the old version often continue to exist in parallel. Issues of Amazing Caterpillar-Man and Spectacular Caterpillar-Man sit beside one another in Forbidden Planet. In movies, the old version — the increasingly cheesy Joel Schumacher-era Batman, for example — is binned and the new, hipper (supposedly “darker”) incarnation takes over.

To be fair, it made sense with Batman, but Marvel do seem to be a bit ahead of themselves with Spider-Man. The series is less than 10 years old and includes only three chapters. All were financially successful and only the third — too busy, too many villains — disappointed the fans. Surely, we could get by with a fourth in the same sequence, even if it involved recasting the hero.

Perhaps that is exactly what’s happening. In recent years, the term has become so flexible as to be almost meaningless. I offer you The Incredible Hulk as an example. More than a few pundits argued that that the picture was, yes, a “reboot” of the one-episode franchise launched by Ang Lee a few years earlier. How so? When dealing with a superhero series, to justify the r-word, a film-maker must, surely, go back to the beginning and deal with the origin story. The Ed Norton version — though it featured an origin-tale over the title credits — was obviously a conventional sequel. It began exactly where the previous film left off. The tone was similar. Schumacher’s Batman Forever was as much a reboot as was The Incredible Hulk.

At any rate, it seems clear that the word is now being used (surprise, surprise) as a cynical marketing ploy. Any small tweaks in the aesthetic allow the promoters to claim reboot status. You can see why. A more abstract school of escapism is being sold to us. Wouldn’t the world be a happier place if we could press a button and restart our lives without debt, without stress, without grey hair and without Val Kilmer as Batman? The reboot is a kind of spiritual rebirth by proxy.

See how much “darker” this “blog” has just become? This post marks the rebooting of Screen-Writer.

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