Posted on Monday, January 11th, 2010 by Russ Fischer
Easily the biggest news to hit in recent weeks was the word that Sony has scrapped production on Spider-Man 4 and will reboot the character with a new film (and, presumably, an ensuing series) featuring a new cast and creative team. A general 2012 date has been mentioned, but no specific date has yet been set; expect the studio to stake a claim in May, and for any other films in that region to shift accordingly. Will Sony battle Marvel, which has The Avengers penned in for early May? You bet.
With such big news hitting early in the week, outlets are already crawling around looking for tidbits of info, and there are a few useful things to know about Spider-Man v2.0 that we didn’t cover in our first report.
First up, while I thought the facts were implicit in Sony’s press release, let’s be explicit: the new script by James Vanderbilt has already been written.
Variety notes that Sony “has long had” Vanderbilt’s script ready as a contingency plan. In other words, when he was hired to write Spider-Man 5 and 6, which were mentioned as possible reboot fodder, what he was really doing was writing this fresh start on the character. Given that Sony doesn’t want to do anything that will potentially see Spider-Man go back to Marvel, the studio was smart. (See a note about being ‘smart’ at the end of this piece.)
According to EW, the idea was to have the reboot ready to go as soon as Spidey 4 was done. But when discussions about that film went nowhere, Vanderbilt’s new take was given priority. Now they’re ready to go with a script.
We don’t know much about what that script entails, other than it will feature a younger teenage Peter Parker. EW calls the script “gritty, contemporary” and references Batman Begins, seemingly not only in the sense that Christopher Nolan reinvented Batman on film, but in the sense of tone. Which would be a shame. Let’s have anything but a gritty Spider-Man, please. Anyone with a shred of understanding of the character knows that, while the stories can be heavy, ‘gritty’ isn’t what makes Spider-Man universally appealing.
There’s speculation already (as by Devin at CHUD) that this is a grab for some of the Twilight tween energy and fanbase. But I just see this as a cheaper, easier move. Sam Raimi directed three films, so is it easier to bring a new director into his world, or create a new world altogether? The latter, as Anne Thompson suggests, and I think she’s right. This will definitely be cheaper, as Sony has just shed a couple of names with big dollar signs attached. Spider-Man 3 cost almost $300m, and the fourth film could easily have gone that high. Now can the studio make this reboot for $200m or less? One would hope so.
Who directs this leaner, cheaper beast? More important, who has the right touch to follow Raimi, who is a director with both a real soul and a deep, practical background in making comic book-style movies? EW mentions a couple of names, saying that Marc Webb, director of (500) Days of Summer, has cropped up, but doesn’t say in what context. The mag also mentions Gary Ross, hired to write one of the last Spider-Man 4 drafts, and Michael Bay, who has expressed interest in the character. Those latter two seem unreasonable; I’d consider any of the three a surprise hire. (And, to echo Anne Thompson again, let’s hope it’s not McG.)
(Edited to add: One point I forgot is that Sam Raimi has indicated that he knows Spider-Man 3 wasn’t up to snuff. The primary reason I’ve seen to be interested in the scuttled fourth movie is that Raimi had a real creative incentive to make it a killer. Everyone wants to go out on a high note. If he’d been allowed to let that impluse free, we could have come out of this with two great films — 2 and 4. That Sony wasn’t interested implies — implies, mind you — volumes to me. No way of knowing; maybe Raimi’s ideas really weren’t good. But if they were, and Sony would rather go this route? Ouch.)
So: about being smart. From a couple of business perspectives, this is arguably a smart move. The film will be cheaper, and Sony can exert more control. Key talent will know that major names like Raimi and Tobey Maguire were let go, fostering the understanding that Sony’s take on the character is more valuable than anything else. That’s the bottom line. For Sony, that gets the movie made the way the studio wants.
But what made the first two films so much fun? What created the franchise momentum that allowed the relatively lousy third film to earn hundreds of millions? Not Sony’s keen business sense (OK, marketing the hell out of the series didn’t hurt) but Sam Raimi’s interest in and passion for the character. He knew what he wanted, and had good ideas about how to get it. He almost always kept the tone right. Raimi created scenes that will stand as indelible examples of the character. The subway sequence in Spider-Man 2 is a stone-cold classic. Spider-Man can thrive without Raimi and/or Maguire, but not if the approach is a calculating one. The character has always been about heart and impetuous, impulsive energy. Those are the things that Sony is poised to kill by making this into pure business.