As you undoubtedly know by now, Spider-Man 4 is no more. It was killed at some point yesterday afternoon, roughly a day or so after John Malkovich was happily awaiting his final Vulture script. It was one of the weirdest turnarounds I've ever seen in the time I've hung around online moviedom, particularly since I continued to receive comments gleefully extolling the virtues of Vulture.
Of course, it isn't just that Spider-Man 4 isn't happening. Movies crumble all the time. It's that Sony has declared the end of one Spider-Man and the beginning of another. The corpse of one franchise isn't even cold in its grave before they've planned to reboot the entire thing. It makes Fox's plans to reboot Daredeviland the Fantastic Four seem the soul of patience and discretion. Even the most jaded critic, analyst, or fan has a pretty sour taste in their mouth right now. It isn't just a matter of what this franchise has come to, but what blockbuster filmmaking has become.
This is an ugly, ugly new world -- and it wasn't born yesterday. Sony had plans to reboot Spider-Man even before part four fell apart. When James Vanderbilt came aboard in August, it was already speculated that Sam Raimi wouldn't return for installments 5 and 6. Sony planned on turning those into some kind of franchise reboot in order to remake the series and keep it going with a new Peter Parker. At the time, fans were supportive of that idea. Will they be so now, after they've become invested in Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and all the John Malkovich and Anne Hathaway possibilities? I don't know. I'm curious to watch the ripple effect today and find out.
Frankly, it's the reboot angle that alarms me most. I've said time and time again here on the Geek Beat that I'm not a huge Spider-Man fan, but I certainly have enjoyed the movies, and I respect their place in pop culture history. Bryan Singer may have kicked off the trend with X-Men, but Spider-Man 1 and 2 really helped seal the deal with the public imagination. Superhero films became something more than tired Batman installments. They could be good movies that everyone could walk into and enjoy, and it wasn't just something for a select corner of geekdom. When Leslie Mann wails "But I like Spider-Man!" in Knocked Up, it wasn't just a wife desperate for a date night with the husband. She actually wanted to see the new Spider-Man. And everyone else did too. That's how we got to this point in summer hungriness.
So what does 2012 bring? Well, a return to 2000. It's very possible that we'll have reboots of Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man landing in theaters or looming on the horizon. While I was cool with The Incredible Hulk, a new Daredevil, and a remix of Fantastic Four, I find it alarming that we'll simply start all over again. I shouldn't. After all, I regularly read reboots, retcons and relaunches of comic books. I don't know how many Wolverine origin stories I've read. I find the alternate timelines, retellings, and universes pretty annoying. But I can shrug it off if it's on paper because we're not talking millions of dollars being wasted on telling the same damn story. We're not talking about a generation of young moviegoers who will see the same characters rehashed on the big screen not once, but twice. What does the adult moviegoer think when they go to the multiplex and the same movies they saw a decade ago are the only ones playing? How does that build a future for movies, marketing, or the industry in general?
But that's the negative stuff. I can grudgingly admit that an industry that allowed so many Batman movies has room for more Spider-Man. You could naturally go the Christopher Nolan route, and set him in a world that felt a little more real -- a world where he was the only superpowered being and villains had to step up their game to match him. But that immediately runs into the problem Nolan's universe has, and will force you to omit villains like the Lizard who would be really, really compelling on screen. Sure, Rhino's ultimately just a guy in a suit, but what's the point of stripping all the mutations and craziness out of these characters? It works with Batman, but the appeal of Spider-Man has always been that he's a stranger in an even stranger land. Remember, these movies are supposed to be fun. I can see cops fighting organized crime in a million variations. I can't see a guy who can spin spider-webs and fight men with metal octopus arms except in a Spider-Man movie. The heightened reality is the point.
Assuming they keep with that -- and who has managed to follow in Nolan's footsteps, anyway? -- there is plenty of stuff in Spider-Man's origin that has been left untapped. A new origin story could actually do the Gwen Stacy storyline. If there was one flaw the Raimi films have, it's that Peter Parker was never allowed to fail on such a spectacular level. The fact that he failed to save Stacy was bad enough, but he was half-responsible for her death. It was a shadow that has always haunted him, far more than the death of Uncle Ben. It was telling when House of M allowed Parker "the life he always wanted" and it was a future with Gwen Stacy. It's been the big "What if?" of his life and would make for fine watching. The only problem is that the tormented superhero is the staple of Wolverine, Batman, and even Iron Man. The joy of Raimi's films was that he dispensed with the demons (for a horror director, no less!) and allowed a zero to be a hero without a lot of angst.
Considering the way Morbius was tossed around as a potential Spider-Man 4 villain makes me wonder if angst is the way Sony will go, and you'll have a Twilight-style Spider-Man in 2012. You could have a hero brooding on his failures to save his girlfriend, and a villain who is lamenting his thirst for blood. Their final battle could be one of sad wills, each understanding some element of the other. Set the stage for Venom and Carnage (the villains Raimi loathed and refused), and you can have the sad Spider-Man battling the psychopathic Carnage and his / its allies. After the Joker, we all know that chaos reigns supreme with supervillains and Sony has no interest in classy villains such as Vulture or Lizard when you could have Shriek (an ex drug dealer), the hellfire of Demogoblin, and the living corpse, Carrion. You might forget it's 2012. It'll feel like 1994 and you're seeing The Crow (remember, that reboot is coming too) all over again.
I think that's the Gothy, gory, and "edgy" kind of Spider-Man movie Sony has in mind, and that Raimi rejected outright. Remember, this is a director who was willing to make concessions and include the Venom symbiote even when he didn't like or understand its place in Spider-Man continuity. He was willing to play the studio game. What does the studio want that he doesn't want to put his name on? What made him walk away for his sake and the fans? Consider that. Because that's probably going to be the Spider-Man reboot in 2012.