Spider-Man Gets Rebooted *Updated*

Talk about the difference a few hours can make. As has been previously reported, Sony Pictures and director Sam Raimi have been at major loggerheads over how to proceed with the fourth film in the “Spider-Man” franchise. Now it seems that impasse has lead to a split, with Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announcing today plans to essentially reboot the franchise with a whole new production team.

The story will use the pre-existing script by James Vanderbilt that returns Parker to being a teenager grappling with both contemporary human problems and amazing super-human crises. “Peter Parker as an ordinary young adult grappling with extraordinary powers has always been the foundation that has made this character so timeless and compelling for generations of fans. we’re very excited about the creative possibilities that come from returning to Peter’s roots” says Sony chief Amy Pascal in an official press release.

As a result both Raimi and star Tobey Maguire are out, both releasing brief but congratulatory statements to Sony. Deadline Hollywood reports that Raimi essentially told the studio he creatively couldn’t have a film ready for Summer 2011 and the studio, rather than proceed without him, opted to go ahead with the reboot which they were planning to anyway after the fourth one.

The news renders all the previous “Spider-Man 4” rumors null and void, Kirsten Dunst ain’t coming back while all the talk of Vulture and Black Cat has been for naught. Producers Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin will remain attached in the same capacity while a Summer 2012 release date is being targeted for the new look “Spider-Man” which could potentially be shot in 3D.

The news has lead to a flurry of online discussion and debate over motives here. Despite “Spider-Man 3” getting poor reviews and costing a whopping $250 million, the film still pulled in $890 million worldwide. Sony does have to keep making the movies so the property doesn’t end up back under Marvel’s control, but aside from that why do it?

From a studio executive’s perspective it makes some sense – the costs can be considerably cut back for the next one, while they’ll essentially have full control of the property again and will likely hire a more complicit director. The return to teenage years rather than exploring the life of a 30-something married man holds more appeal to both a younger audience and the studio’s merchandising partners. Recasting Parker as more of a ‘hottie’ and a bigger emphasis on the romance will also likely pull in more of a female audience base and get the character more spoken about in the cultural ether in the way its biggest rival Batman is in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s two films.

Those trade-offs however come at a price – the potential alienation of the core fanbase. The first two films are critical darlings, all three are box-office behemoths, and a lot of people have loyalty to Raimi far more than they do the studio and in some cases the character itself. In less than a day a generally supportive in-built audience has suddenly become far more negative and cynical, damaging the brand’s value overnight. The move puts the pressure on Sony to deliver the goods – a fan-approved director and new star is a good start, but right now they face a very tough road ahead that won’t end until Summer 2012.