Entertainment news outlets are currently buzzing with the stunning – if not exactly surprising – news that Sony are intending to re-boot their prized Spider-Man franchise in 2012. In the last few weeks, there have been many rumours of a major spat between the franchise’s director Sam Raimi and the studio over the direction the fouth film would take – essentially, he wanted the classic villain The Vulture, the studio weren’t keen – but it would appear that Sony have spat the dummy in a major way. So, Raimi, stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst et al are out and in is whole new enterprise which, given that it will be set in Peter Parker’s high-school years, appears to be taking its cue from Brian Michael Bendis’ highly enjoyable ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN comic book (which itself is anchored on a present day reboot of Spider Man canon).
Certainly, the whole concept of re-booting a franchise is not unusual these days – Batman and Star Trek the prime examples – but what makes this particularly intriguing is that the Spidey franchise is hardly moribund. Indeed, it’s not even a decade old…!! While most agree that the third film was a cluttered mess – and reducing a villian like Venom to an extended cameo was a dire mistake – it still had considerable strengths (Thomas Haden Church’s tortured Sandman for one) and, most importantly, delivered suitably massive grosses at the international box-office. Most fans assumed that Maguire had two films left in him before the role would be recast, Bond-style – and the thought of John Malkovich as The Vulture, which he was in talks to play, was a delicious one, an ideal choice.
It’s genuinely sad to see the Raimi-led franchise bow out. Raimi was an ideal director for the franchise and his respect for the material was palpable. More than anything, it provided the beloved Marvel character – previously fiendishly difficult to translate to the screen – with a truly spectacular and worthy big-screen debut in 2002 that enthralled fans with its fealty to the tone of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s seminal 60’s comics run. Moreover, the 2005 sequel is an almost perfect piece of comic-book cinema – one of the true, unalloyed great superhero movies.
Now that Sony has won the stand-off with Raimi and is ploughing ahead with its own plans, it’s hard not to be somewhat afraid of what’s coming. Obviously, Sony didn’t like a director who had ideas and opinions, so don’t be surprised to see a an easily-controlled director handed the (very short) reins. And Peter Parker being a teenager again? Well, that’s basically Sony lustily eyeing up the cash of Twilightfanbase, so expect ol’ Pete to look a lotless geeky-looking, too. It’s somewhat depressing that Sony have such an apparent distaste for Spidey’s classic Rogues Gallery – one of Comicdom’s best – and that they royally screwed up Venom in Spider-Man 3. Has there actually beena memorable villian in Spider-Man comics since Venom?
However, let’s not succumb to the geek equivalent of The Fear just yet. It’s still very early days. That said, the fact of the matter is that these kinds of films work so much better when there’s a strong director at the helm. Superman TheMovie, for example, shone because of Richard Donner’s dogged pursuit of versimilitude, even in the face of considerable studio interference. And while Christopher Nolan probably had a far easier ride with Batman Begins – remember, after the apocalyptically dire Batman & Robin eight years prior, the only way was up! – the resulting film’s success was anchored far more on his realist vision of The Dark Knight than it was market-tested studio wrangling.
It’ll be fascinating to see where this goes – but, unfortunately, there is a high chance that this still-vital franchise is being forcibly relieved of its creative spark. It took so long for Spidey to swing across our screens – it’d be a damned shame for Sony to screw it up just because of rapacious desire to snatch the tween dollar.