With countless rumors of script delays, script issues, and a tug-of-war between the movie that Sam Raimi wanted to make and the movie that Sony wanted, the Spider-Man franchise as we know it is no more. Deciding that he'd rather make no Spider-Man film than make a bad one, Sam Raimi has walked off the project and Toby Maguire has followed him. Sony will now reboot the entire franchise, for a whole-new Part One set for summer, 2012. I'm sure we'll learn more about what went down in the coming weeks, but the general consensus was that Raimi was not happy with the screenplay, with the director and the suits fighting over the choice of villains. Among other issues of contention, Raimi allegedly wanted the Lizard, while Sony wanted someone with a human face. All of this squabbling threatened the all-important release date, so Sony made the decision to let Raimi walk and start from scratch. God forbid that the director who made you zillions of dollars be allowed to keep making you zillions unmolested.
Considering that the only reason another film was being made was A) money being offered to the participants and B) Sony's attempt to keep the franchise rights from going to Disney, it was frankly surprising that Sam Raimi stuck around this long. He already took a bullet from the third film, when he was forced to include Venom over his objections and then was trashed by critics and audiences over the handling of said 'black suit' storyline. This situation is a moral victory for Raimi and Maguire, and pretty much a triumph for the forces of darkness everywhere else. Sony now gets what it wants, a completely new Spider-Man franchise that it can control from the get-go. Frankly, if this works box-office wise, expect every studio that holds Marvel characters to start their precious franchises over from scratch, in order to avoid losing the rights to the Mouse House. As feared, the new pitch is a 'younger, grittier Peter Parker, dealing with the issues of the day'. Great, so we'll get Spider-Man vs. the Afterschool Special of Doom?
As someone who rather loved Spider-Man, wasn't crazy about Spider-Man 2 (lots of great moments, but Peter spent the whole film whining over a girl that he dumped in the first place) and kinda liked the kitchen-sink explosion that is Spider-Man 3, this is a darn shame. Even at the campiest moments of Spider-Man 3, the franchise was absolutely a series rooted in character development above admittedly top-notch spectacle. Short of hiring Brian Michael Bendis to pen the screenplay for this new Spidey incarnation (which isn't going to happen), Sony is going to have to do some major PR work to get the fans of the previous films back on board. This isn't just about winning back the comic geeks, this is about assuaging the millions of normal moviegoers who liked Spider-Man, saw Spider-Man 2 because they liked Spider-Man, and saw Spider-Man 3 because they liked Spider-Man 2. The original Spider-Man grossed as much as it did because it was good, because it lucked into being the first uniquely American/patriotic franchise to open after 9/11, and because fans and general audiences had been waiting for a Spider-Man movie for twenty-years. Just tossing out a brand-new Spider-Man movie with new people isn't going to have nearly the same impact. I sincerely hope that Sony is aware that spending Spider-Man 3 money ($250-300 million) isn't going to get them Spider-Man 3 grosses ($890 million) for this 'Amazing Spider-Man' reboot.
What's striking about this move is how similar it is to the reboot that occurred in the Spider-Man comics just a few years ago. Ask any Spidey fan about 'Brand New Day' and they'll probably stab you in the ear with the closest utensil. Once again, years of continuity and fan loyalty has been tossed out the window on a whim. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, but I cannot see how this is anything other than a boneheaded corporate power-play. And the idea that you can just reboot any old franchise to settle any dispute between suits and artists is a scary and disturbing one. I wouldn't be surprised if Disney is planning the same gimmick for Pirates of the Caribbean: At Stranger Tides, making a fourth film where Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow exists in a parallel universe where the events of the first three films never occurred. Can you imagine the precedent this could set? If Warner Bros were so inclined, they could spend the next decade 'rebooting' the Lethal Weapon series, the Matrix series, the Harry Potter franchise, and the Lord of the Rings pictures.
Even for those who had issues with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, anyone who thinks that this will lead to a more artistically worthwhile Spider-Man picture is deluding themselves. If Sony won't let Raimi have his way after making them $2.4 billion in global box office, then there is no way they will let whatever director they hire have any creative freedom whatsoever. This is going to be a corporate project every step of the way. The only silver-lining is that renewed interest in a younger Peter Parker may convince the powers that be to renew the wonderfully character-driven Spectacular Spider-Man animated series that has run since 2007. Hey that was just under three years ago, wasn't there a Spider-Man film released just under three years ago? Oh... right.