Op/Ed - SPIDER-MAN's Movie Future Caught in a Tangled Web

Screen Bites: Spider-Man 4 in May 2011?

Why?

That’s the biggest question surrounding Monday’s stunning announcement that Sony Pictures had pulled the plug on “Spider-Man 4” and launched plans to reboot the film series. Of course, if you follow movie news on the Web, then you know the principle reason ‘why’ is creative differences.

Sony and director Sam Raimi couldn’t agree on which member of Spidey’s Rogues Gallery to use in the fourth film. Most accounts indicate Raimi wanted to use that geriatric aviator the Vulture as his main baddie. Sony wanted other choices. When the two sides couldn’t agree in time to meet the already-announced Summer 2011 release, the studio decided to part ways with Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who together lit the fuse on a $2.4 billion franchise.

Why?

You can offer your opinion on the reboot in <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/film/spider-man-movie-reboot-poll.html>Newsarama’s poll</a>. I’ll go ahead and offer mine right here. It’s a bad idea. Not bad meaning good, not even bad meaning Bad Blake. Bad meaning BAD.

This has nothing to do with what others are speculating, that Sony’s decision is about taking their biggest moneymaker and making him more relatable to the same group of teen fans that have made “Twilight” a massive hit. I actually think the most fertile ground for telling Peter Parker stories is back in high school. That’s not why I think this is a bad idea.

Why rush to go back to the beginning, when there seemed to be several stories still waiting to be told in this iteration of our Friendly Neighborhood web slinger? My goodness, we’ve had the plot thread for the Lizard being slowly developed across the last two films!

Did Sony want a younger, sexier bad guy than Adrian Toomes? Perhaps. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, except that in “Spider-Man 2,” the highlight of the franchise and one of the top 2 or 3 comic book-based films , pudgy Alfred Molina tore it up as Doc Ock. Thomas Haden Church, who’s not exactly Teen Beat material either, was the best of the trio of villains in “Spider-Man 3.”

Why didn’t the studio trust a director with a clear passion for and understanding of the character, his history and the surrounding universe, to get it right? If anyone could make Spider-Man’s second oldest enemy dangerously cool, Sam Raimi could. Besides that, he had something to prove.

Raimi has publicly stated how badly he wanted to get “Spider-Man” back on track after the disappointment of the third film, widely viewed as the least of the three. The desire to right the ship, along with what undoubtedly would have been a huge paycheck, led to his agreeing to do another “Spider-Man 4.”

Why?

Couldn’t Sony have waited a bit longer, pushing back the release date from Summer 2011, to allow for more time to work out the script issues? Given that they chose to not replace Raimi on this particular project, studio executives obviously don’t believe he’s the problem. So why not allow for a bit more time? If they were worried about lacking a tent pole summer release for 2011, this doesn’t exactly solve the problem (the rebooted “Spider-Man” film is due out in 2012).

In the same press release where they announced the reboot, Sony added that the next Spider-film would be based on a script by Jamie Vanderbilt. So it appears that this reboot plan has been in place for some time, for reasons that remain for now, unclear. Did they plan/hope for Raimi and his crew to do a fourth and fifth film, and then pass the torch? Or was this a backup plan in the event that Raimi and/or Maguire dropped out?

Here’s what is clear. Sony showed its hand too soon. And by doing so it left some potentially fascinating films, not to mention lot of money, on the table.

Like a trick play in football, the success of a reboot is all about the timing. Boise State coach Chris Peterson has a well-earned reputation for pulling out gadget plays at just the right moment in a game. You only get one chance to catch your opponent off guard, so you don’t want to waste it.

It’s not much different when it comes to rebooting a popular film franchise. The timing has to be right. Warner Bros. waited for the stench of “Batman & Robin” to finally dissipate before reviving the Caped Crusader by handing the keys to the Batcave to Chris Nolan and Christian Bale. That’s worked out pretty well so far, hasn’t it?

Other attempts haven’t fared nearly as well. “Superman Returns” had timing on its side, but Bryan Singer’s nostalgia for the original “Superman” movie got in the way. Now the Man of Steel is stuck in cinematic limbo.

The Punisher has been rebooted , with each movie worse than the previous one. Does anyone really think Hollywood will give Frank Castle another chance? Is there anyone out there who even cares?

The Hulk was rebooted just five years after Ang Lee’s whiny take on the Jade Giant. And while “The Incredible Hulk” finally made ‘Hulk Smash’, not enough time had passed between the films to whet the appetite of the fans. Now it appears the Hulk’s onscreen future may lie as a guest-star in the “Avengers” movie.

But a fourth film based on Marvel’s flagship character? That’s a bona-fide event, whether it was released in 2011 or 2012. It doesn’t matter if the bad guy was the Vulture, the Lizard, Mysterio or the Hypno-Hustler, Spidey’s money in the bank. Or he would have been, if given the chance. Why refill the gas tank when it’s still 3/4 full?

This is not about being anti-reboot. I love “Ultimate Spider-Man.” And I’m the guy who defended <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/080816-BrandNewDayII.html>Brand New Day</a> because I thought it was an effective way to release Spider-Man from the strangling grasp of 40+ years of continuity. But a reboot in comics is different. There are half-dozen titles with twice as many storylines running through them. Going back to basics makes more sense in that medium, if for no other reason that it makes it easier to attract new readers.

Who can honestly say that the Spider-Man film franchise is being weighed down by its own mythology? The fact that the third film was the biggest earner of the series should dispel notions that it was losing steam with the fans.

A reboot, by definition, is to start a process all over again. In Hollywood terms, it has come to define how studios give a film property with unfulfilled potential the chance to live up to those lofty expectations. You want to reboot Daredevil or the Fantastic Four, be my guest. Those movies were awful. But don’t waste the reboot card on the most successful comic book movie franchise of all time, before you have to. It’s all about timing, and this timing feels all wrong. And there’s also the risk involved. If this newly revamped Spider-Man fails to recapture lightning in a bottle, it could cripple the character’s big-screen future. Nobody asked me, but Sony is taking an unnecessary gamble.

Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, et all were part of a phenomenon that helped usher in an era of filmmaking anyone who ever read a Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four issue, or a Byrne/Claremont Uncanny X-Men, used to dream of. Seeing their four-color heroes come alive onscreen in a manner that celebrated and respected everything that made those characters so beloved.

Hopefully, the rebooted Spider-Man will do the same. The fact that the new movie will take Peter Parker back to high school is encouraging, because there are so many fascinating stories to tell from that era of his life.

I just wonder why I won’t get a chance to see what else Sam Raimi had in store for the web head.

Why?

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