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Everything Old Is New Again, Or Is It? Spider-Man Rebooted

As anyone who cares is likely to know by now, Sony has announced that its highly-profitable Spider-Man film series is to be completely rebooted, with a completely new Spider-Man movie unrelated to the previous Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy sheduled for release in 2012.  Thus far the film is directed by Marc Webb and stars Andrew Garfield, a British relative newcomer most recently seen in The Social Network about the founding of Facebook, and has been in a few movies like Boy A (for which he was critically-acclaimed), Lions for Lambs, Red Riding, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  Joining Garfield is another young face, Emma Stone, as his first girlfriend Gwen Stacy, Denis Leary as her father, Captain Stacy, Rhys Ifans as a villain, reportedly The Lizard, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

The road to the reboot was a twisty-turny one.  Originally, Sony intended to forge onward with Raimi, Tobey, and company for Round 4 despite Spider-Man 3 generally being considered a disappointment.  But due to reasons including Raimi’s clashes with the studio during making of Spider-Man 3 (he didn’t want to include Venom, but producer Avi Arad forced him to), Tobey’s salary requests, concerns that this team was running out of steam, and probably other reasons we’ll never know about, Sony eventually completely dropped Raimi, Maguire, and the Spider-Man series and decided to start all over again with another Spider-Man movie that, Batman Begins style, has nothing to do with those that came before.

Sony has cast its lot with the belief that a fresh start will rejuvenate the highly-profitable Spider-Man franchise.  Everything old is new again.

But is it really?

My snap reaction, like that of many (not all) nerds who heard this announcement was one of marked skepticism.  It’s one thing for Christopher Nolan to come swooping in with Batman Begins and pump new life into the Batman film series that had been left floundering in the wake of Joel Schumacher’s middling Batman Forever and his almost universally-despised Batman & Robin.  The Batman film series had well and truly run out of steam, and needed a reboot.  But Spider-Man was 2002’s third highest-grossing film, and Spider-Man 2 was the second highest-grossing film of 2004.  Even Spider-Man 3 which was considered by many (including myself) to have gone downhill from its predecessors, was Sony’s highest-grossing film to date.  Of course, a lot of Spider-Man 3‘s winnings at the box-office had to do with anticipation from the popularity of the first two, not the third film itself, but the point is, the Spider-Man series was not as clearly and unambiguously out of gas as Batman was.

Also, the fact that the little official information we have so far indicates that Garfield will be playing Peter as a college student, the inclusion of Uncle Ben, and casting calls for a child Peter Parker all seem to tell us that Sony is going with Spider-Man’s origin story.  Well, for the first installment of what I’m sure Sony hopes will be a new series, that’s the logical place to begin, but can we get another Spider-Man origin story that doesn’t feel redundant considering we just saw Peter become Spider-Man onscreen eight years ago?

Of course, some things are obviously going to be different.  While the Raimi series had Peter desperately pining for Mary Jane Watson since childhood, this one has cast Gwen Stacy as his initial primary love interest, which is actually more accurate to the comics.  While today MJ is considered the love of Peter Parker’s life, she didn’t become so until after Gwen Stacy was out of the picture, and in fact this film is leaving MJ out altogether, probably saving her for the sequel(s).  If it goes on to follow the comic storyline of Stacy’s tragic accidental death at Spider-Man’s hands, opening the door for Mary Jane to step into Peter’s life, that alone would be significantly darker than anything we saw in the previous film series.   Also, all sources claim Rhys Ifans is playing The Lizard, which is the right way to go, in my opinion.  Using villains we already saw in the last series, like Green Goblin or Doc Ock, at least right away, would only make the comparing and contrasting more unavoidable and make it seem more redundant.

Is starting with Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane, and throwing in a different villain enough to set this series apart?  I think in the end it will come down to the filmmakers’ take on the material.  The Spider-Man comics have been around since the 1960s, and over the decades different eras of comics have had lighter or darker tones.  Just look at Batman.  The Adam West series, Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s films, and Christopher Nolan’s, were all based on the same basic material, but they’re wildly different from each other, partly because they were done by different writers and directors and actors with different styles and different takes on the material, and partly because they were adapting from different eras of the comics.  For example, The Joker originated in 1939 as a largely humorless serial killer who murdered various people in his first outing.  Then in the 1960s he was softened into a prankster who committed goofy crimes and was largely a harmless nuisance.  Then in the 1980s and 1990s came graphic novels like The Killing Joke, where he shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon, photographs her nude, and kidnaps her father Commissioner Gordon and forces him to watch in an attempt to drive him insane.  Same character, different takes.  Spider-Man likewise started out fairly lighthearted in the 1960s (which is what Raimi mostly based his films’ tone on) and has been substantially darker and more serious in some later inceptions.

At the bottom line, I have doubts about this reboot, but I will go see it when it hits theaters in 2012 and write my review then.  Considering the Spider-Man comics have been around for 40 years, there’s no reason two separate film series shouldn’t be able to be adapted from it without being compared and contrasted to each other, but a certain level of that is inevitable.  I only hope Sony has gambled on as fresh a start as possible instead of trying to take advantage of audience affection for the previous films by being too reminiscient of them.  That would please neither those dissatisfied with Raimi and hoping for a fresh take, nor those who loved Raimi and would see it as doubly insulting to essentially remake his movies with different cast and crew.

In any case, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is going to swing again in 2012.  We’ll have to wait until then to see if he’s offering more of the same, or something different.

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