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When Reboots Don't Exactly Start From Scratch

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire July 3, 2012 at 3:59PM

Can you really call a film like "The Amazing Spider-Man" a "reboot" if some of the same people worked on the original?
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A panel from the original Spider-Man comic.
A panel from the original Spider-Man comic.

In a piece for the Huffington Post today, Mike Ryan interviewed Michael Papajohn, the only person not named Stan Lee to get screen time in both "The Amazing Spider-Man" and Sam Raimi’s first webslinger film from a decade ago.

You may remember him initially as Dennis Carradine, the frosted-tip thief/carjacker who escapes through the elevator and eventually murders Uncle Ben (or is an accomplice, if you acknowledge that "Spider-Man 3" is part of the Spidey canon).

Papajohn has worked fairly regularly in the 10 years since Raimi's "Spider-Man" and will hit megaplex screens again when "The Dark Knight Rises" opens. Even if he’s not listed on the marquee, Papajohn has earned his right to some recognition.

Here’s an excerpt from Ryan's interview:

"When you were hired for "The Amazing Spider-Man," did they realize that you were also in "Spider-Man"? I assumed they didn't want any overlap.

You know, I don't know. I look different; I was clean shaven. It was never really brought up when I read for the part. And I don't know what stayed in the movie, I just know that I played one of the bad guy's limo drivers."

Having not seen the newest version, it’s difficult to say how distracting Papajohn’s presence is in that particular scene, if he’s even in it at all. Had I not read this interview, I might not have pegged him as the Uncle-Ben-killing sleazeball. But a casting agency probably would/should, right?

From a critical standpoint, if "Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" are to be taken as two separate entities, does the behind-the-scenes staff of a "reboot" like this have a responsibility to avoid as many possible parallels to the original? Even though the movie that hits theaters this month was born from the ashes of an unrealized "Spider-Man 4," there should be some sense of "wiping the hard drive" if it hopes to be evaluated on its own merit.

Yes, it’s a different origin story and there were different actors at the Comic-Con panel and the press junket. But aside from Papajohn’s involvement in the original trilogy, Alvin Sargent’s name is still on both as a screenwriter, J. Michael Riva’s back as the production designer and Leslie A. Pope is still in charge of costumes. It’s awfully difficult for one director’s vision or the freshness of a particular story to overcome all that carryover to create something truly of its own.

As a result, it seems foolish to ask critics to consider "The Amazing Spider-Man" as anything other than an extension or retooling of what has recently come before it. It’s not just the five-year window between installments, but the idea that any passage of time would allow for a different set of brains -- whether they're in front or behind the camera -- to bring new perspectives to the material. (At The Wrap, Lucas Shaw points out that while a lot of critics have praised the new movie, a lot of them also lash out at Sony for producing it in the first place.) 

Then again, maybe Papajohn’s character here is also Dennis Carradine (despite being listed as "Alfie") and this is a subtle attempt by the filmmakers to really subvert the original. In this version, he turns his back on one type of underground crime, only to get sucked into another, adding unprecedented backstory to a character who might only be in a few frames. If that turns out to be the case, then people responsible for "The Amazing Spider-Man" are simply brilliant.

This article is related to: The Amazing Spider-Man, Reboots


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