'Amazing Spider-Man' tries a quick franchise reboot

6:19 AM, Jul 3, 2012   |    comments
Andrew Garfield in scene from movie "Spider-Man"
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LOS ANGELES, CA (USA TODAY) - You remember Spider-Man. Short guy, red unitard, did about $1.1 billion in ticket sales.

He's back. A little taller, a little better with a skateboard and the girls, but with the same goal he had when he last descended on theaters five years ago: to employ those sticky fingers at the box office.

Whether the web-slinger remains a commercial superhero gets tested Tuesday when The Amazing Spider-Man, one of the fastest franchise reboots on record, opens on more than 4,000 screens, including 3-D and IMAX.

Along with Battleship, the movie marks one of the industry's riskier summer wagers. The $200 million film, starring a relative newcomer in Andrew Garfield, comes on the not-so-distant heels of Spider-Man 3, which snatched $337 million in 2007.

Few analysts expect the latest incarnation to match any entry in the Sam Raimi trilogy, which starred Tobey Maguire as the title character and averaged $371 million per film.

But for new director Marc Webb and distributor Sony Pictures, this Spidey doesn't need to reach the stratosphere. A reboot doesn't have to produce huge numbers, just enough dough to get a franchise aloft with new stars and filmmakers. Oh, and don't tick off the fanboys, who can be brutal on reboots.

"I have great respect for what Sam did," says Webb, whose only other feature was the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. "But there are 50 years of (Spider-Man) comic books. There are a lot of story elements we haven't seen."

Reboots can be tricky, particularly for comic-book heroes. For every success like Batman, which got a makeover eight years after the 1997 debacle Batman & Robin, there's a Hulk, who tried to launch himself to franchise status twice, in 2003 and 2008. Still, Hulk flop.

While analysts don't track reboot speeds, five years "is unusually fast," says Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com. "But honestly, if it's a good movie, the audience really doesn't care what you call it."

And for the record, producers say, they didn't want a reboot. They wanted a sequel.

"We tried really hard to make a fourth movie with Sam (Raimi)," says producer Matt Tolmach. "In his elegant way, he put up his hand and said, 'I'm done. I've told my story. Go tell your story.' There's no one time period or generation that owns iconic characters. They're timeless. There are other Spider-Man stories to be told."

This version hews a little closer to its literary roots: namely, the disappearance of Peter Parker's parents, a plot twist in the comic books that went unexplored in Raimi's films.

"We felt we had a story that didn't fit into the first trilogy," says Avi Arad, who produced the original Spider-Man movies and this restart.

Arad says he doesn't get the fuss over the quick turnaround.

"Look at James Bond- virtually every movie is a reboot," he says. "That's not a bad thing if you have a fundamentally good story. You can have two chefs make cheesecake. They're going to taste different, but they can still be delicious."

One of Webb's priorities: to make his hero look different, particularly in flight. Most of the film's early stunts, he says, were done with harnesses and wires instead of computers. Webb took footage of Garfield soaring on cables to "capture the laws of physics acting on the human body." He superimposed the clips on computer-generated backgrounds.

"I wanted the action to be more realistic" than in the earlier films, he says. "Something I told the studio from the beginning was, I wanted this story to have gravity - physically and emotionally."

Webb, who as a kid worshiped at the comic-book store three blocks from his Madison, Wis., home, was so determined to find a physically gifted star that he asked auditioning actors to run sprints, just to see how fast and smoothly they moved.

"We're in an era where you can accomplish anything with a computer," he says. "I wanted to put a limitation on that. Audiences recognize that tone. It makes the action more realistic."

So far, audiences favor the makeover. Early reviews are strong, and the movie did a healthy $50.2 million in 13 countries this weekend.

"This thing is going to be a beast overseas," says Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "But Hollywood will be watching it closely here to see how quickly you can reboot a franchise."

Webb concedes that Spidey needs to maintain his swoop to win over fanboys and extend the superhero's cinematic life expectancy. The key, he says: connecting the audience with the hero through "emotion that's more grounded" than in the original films.

But don't take Spidey's mood swings personally, Webb says to Raimi supporters.

"I've always been a Spider-Man fan and had specific opinions about Peter Parker," Webb says. "I always envisioned him with a slightly different inflection. I always saw Peter Parker as an orphan, even with a father figure like Uncle Ben. Anyone left behind by their parents is going to face severe emotional consequences. I wanted to explore that."

Webb and the filmmakers know that the brisk redo will invite comparisons to the first three movies, which remain the second-highest-grossing superhero franchise of all time, behind only Batman's $1.45 billion - and that's over six films.

"It's human nature to compare this movie" with its predecessors, Arad says. "That's fine, as long as people give it a chance to see it's a story we've told in a completely different way."

Scott Bowles, USA TODAY, LOS ANGELES

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