There has never been an unsuccessful Spider-Man movie.
While fans and critics may debate the finer points of Sam Raimi's film trilogy (now that it can definitively be called that), general audiences flocked to the web-slinging superhero's screen exploits with each installment, earning the character big money and impeccable cultural cache. If superheroes were the dominant trend at the box office over the past ten years (and they were), then Spider-Man was the biggest movie star in the world.
And all of these are things every executive at Sony Pictures and their creative and financial partners are acutely aware of today - the day after announcing that Raimi and series star Tobey Maguire will not return for a "Spider-Man 4." Instead, Sony is moving forward with a rebooted Spidey planned for 2012. New star. New director. New direction. (Complete with Raimi's press release blessing)
Beyond that, there aren't many certainties about the next Spider-Man movie available to the public. In fact, there are only three:
- It will place Peter Parker back in high school.
- Its story will (at least at the start) be drawn from a script by James Vanderbilt.
- It will not feature the Vulture.
Still, a closer look at the writing on the wall and the players involved hint towards much of what's in store for the next chapter in the Spider-Man screen saga. Read on as CBR analyzes tinseltown tea leaves to deduce what lies ahead in regards to the movie's creators, characters, stars and story. More than a fan wish list or an educated guess (though there's just a little bit of both below), what follows is a roadmap of the development keystones that will dominate the next year of web-slinging comic book Hollywood news.
THE CREATIVE PLAYERS
With Raimi and Maguire both out, nearly every specific creative decision about the next "Spider-Man" is up for grabs.
Certainly, longtime franchise executives Amy Pascal and Matt Tolmach at Sony & Columbia Pictures along with executive producers Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad will be steering the production, but last time around their most important creative decision was hiring Sam Raimi. Who they pick to replace him will be the most important moment for the new direction.
It's unlikely the next director will be asked to replicate the exact tone of the first three movies. It is a reboot after all. But seeing as Raimi's quirky action and horror sensibilities plastered across the backdrop of an ideal Americana Manhattan formed the cornerstone of the franchise's appeal, future installments likely won't stray too far from what audiences are used to. Expect the new tone to be a little shinier. A little younger. Just enough of a change to lure fans in for the familiar thrill of a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
One notable partner listed in Sony's press release was Marvel Studios. As of the first of this year, the formerly-independent studio is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, but don't let that drudge up speculation about Marvel somehow angling to get Spider-Man under Disney's production umbrella any time soon. Wild conspiracy theorizing aside, Marvel as a whole has a major interest in seeing this movie do well so they can license Spider-Man to appear on bed sheets and popsicles and Trapper Keepers and a million other products.
From a creative standpoint, the Marvel Studios' involvement may not include the company's famed "creative committee," organized by Studio head Kevin Feige and featuring Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and writer Brian Michael Bendis (more on him in a minute) amongst others. Bendis confirmed via Twitter that he and the committee had no connection with the new "Spider-Man" movie, but it would be a surprise for Sony not to take their general direction from the same playbook. As with the previous trilogy, the studio's expectation will be to balance the need for creating a mass appeal story while still pleasing target fans, from comic book collectors to the so-called Comic-Con crowd.
The biggest assumption after 24 hours of blogging, Tweeting and message boarding about the new film? It appears to be that "going back for a high school reboot" must mean "redoing Spider-Man's origin." But nothing out there suggests that Sony plans to refilm the origin tale. And why would they?
Almost universally praised by fans, critics and general audiences was Raimi's pitch-perfect treatment of Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man. Despite early grousing about the hero have organic webshooters thanks to the bite of a genetically altered (not radioactive) spider, the first hour of "Spider-Man" won nearly everyone over. Today, when most people think of "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility," they don't think of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They think of Tobey Maguire and Cliff Robertson.
That first film's iconic hitting of all the right origin notes primed a generation of moviegoers to come in and watch Spider-Man just be Spider-Man. If Sony wants to keep the franchise (and their option) going over many films to come, their best bet is to move the hero closer to the model of MGM's stalwart James Bond - recasting and realigning the character each new decade with as little fuss or explanation as possible. Origins aren't needed to achieve that. New stories are.
In terms of specifics, what happens in James Vanderbilt's story is a mystery. Sony has always been taken with the "Zodiac" writer's vision of the hero, holding onto his early draft of "Spider-Man 4" after Raimi hired his own people, and then paying Vanderbilt to develop a pair of additional Spider-Man sequels in line with his version. But rewrites on a tentpole movie like this are practically inevitable, so whatever teen direction got the ball rolling in Vanderbilt's pages will eventually be shaped by the executives and the director to try and exceed fan expectations.
THE SOURCE MATERIAL
In the same Tweet-streak where he noted his lack of specific involvement in the new movie, writer Brian Michael Bendis also joked "If this spidey movie reboot sounds intriguing you should REALLY be reading ultimate spider-man." It's a bit of self-promotion at face value, but the writer must know his comparison's not too far off the mark for many fans.
Sony has already expressly stated plans to move Spider-Man back into his teen years, and they've practically confirmed their hope to keep the villains more modern with their championing of Venom's inclusion in "Spider-Man 3" and subsequent differences with Raimi over using older bad guys in the future. With the two goals of "young" and "modern" in mind, is there anything anyone connected with Marvel will point producers towards for inspiration besides "Ultimate Spider-Man?"
Since its debut in late 2000, Bendis' new reader and old fanboy-friendly take on the hero has extolled the virtues of a teen Spider-Man, both in theory and in practice. The title has only played up those elements more since its recent "Ultimate Comics" relaunch, making for 139 issues and counting of high school Peter Parker to pull from (Lee and Ditko's "Amazing Spider-Man" saw Parker graduate 28 issues in).
Ever since Tim Burton took to buttering the fan press with praise for Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" in anticipation of his "Batman," paying lip service to the vision of most popular and acclaimed creator on a superhero has been the standard marketing line. That Sony will point to Bendis along the way is a given. Whether they'll actually draw any specifics on their new take from his stories remains to be seen.
Though, odds are they could name the movie "Ultimate Spider-Man" and people wouldn't bat an eye.
THE LEADING MAN
As crucial as finding a director and story direction that sets the next phase of Spider-Man apart from the original films is, finding the superhero himself may be the most important step in a successful future. And the hardest one, too.
For a generation of fans, actor Tobey Maguire (who, like Raimi, released a statement signing off on the new direction) is Spider-Man. From his unstoppably nerdy Peter Parker to his angsty wall-crawler, Maguire embodies his spandex alter ego like no actor since Christopher Reeve took on the mantle of Superman. Again, the future of the franchise relies on making the audience trust that another actor can make the role their own, much like James Bond and Batman have become characters for whom people show up to simply to see what "this version" is like.
Hollywood has proven of late, from the fresh-faced, would-be stars of the aborted "Justice League" movie to the recent placement of "Gossip Girl" starlet Blake Lively in "Green Lantern," that in comic book movies, casting young is the way to go. Yes, lesser known characters have booked big name actors too (think Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man), but with Spider-Man brand awareness as high as it is, Sony could easily snap up an unknown to carry future films with less expectation and a lower pay rate.
Of course, this deserves more space to fully ruminate on, so check back with CBR later today for our own Spidey reboot casting call.
The sticking point between Raimi and Sony that eventually kept the director from moving forward with "Spider-Man 4," the villain (or villains) of the next Spider-Man movie will almost certainly be picked from on high with the intent of attracting the most people to theaters. Raimi's hope that John Malkovitch would play The Vulture is most certainly D.O.A., with execs who feel that the elderly thief was too little known. But if any superhero has a strong enough rogue's gallery to justify an open candidate field, it's Spidey.
From the man-turned-monster appeal of The Lizard to the crazed and tragic figure that is Kraven the Hunter, there are plenty of "classic" villains who are still marquee names. On the other hand, Venom's appearance in the last film and rumors of someone like Anne Hathaway currying favor as the Black Cat is proof that the executives are just as keen to mine more current corners of Spidey lore. Either way, simply re-creating a villain like the Green Goblin which has been done already is unlikely so soon after the initial trilogy (a similar case can be seen by looking at Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul's inclusion in "Batman Begins").
And, come to think of it, with a rebooting and recasting process locked in, the rest of Spider-Man's supporting cast can easily be moved around as well. Fans should prepare for the idea that Mary Jane and Harry Osborn could be replaced in the halls of Peter's high school by the likes of Gwen Stacey and Liz Allan. It would certainly help draw a line between old and new.
Ultimately, there is no question that another Spider-Man movie will be made. The question is whether people will want to see it, and whether they will pay to see it.
While moviegoers turned out in record numbers to see Raimi and Maguire's take on the superhero again and again, a clean slate in a new decade bring with it many challenges...and many possibilities. Sony has carved out a two-year window to rebuild their "Spider-Man" franchise into something audiences will stick with for another ten years and beyond. As the director, story and cast are fleshed in the coming months, running to that summer 2012 opening, everyone will wonder and worry whether fans of the first movies will a accept a new version.
And there's only one way to find out.