Sony Shoots Self In Foot, Rebooting SPIDER-MAN Without Raimi

After weeks of rumored contentious back and forth over the direction of the franchise, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios have released a statement saying that the Spider-Man franchise is set to be revamped–without Sam Raimi at the helm. The release of the film has been further pushed back to 2012 to accommodate the new director, the new script and new cast.

This is the press release, as it appeared on Deadline-Hollywood:

Culver City, CA (January 11, 2010) — Peter Parker is going back to high school when the next Spider-Man hits theaters in the summer of 2012. Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios announced today they are moving forward with a film based on a script by James Vanderbilt that focuses on a teenager grappling with both contemporary human problems and amazing super-human crises.

The new chapter in the Spider-Man franchise produced by Columbia, Marvel Studios and Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin, will have a new cast and filmmaking team. Spider-Man 4 was to have been released in 2011, but had not yet gone into production.

“A decade ago we set out on this journey with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and together we made three Spider-Man films that set a new bar for the genre. When we began, no one ever imagined that we would make history at the box-office and now we havea rare opportunity to make history once again with this franchise. 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 and we look forward to working once again with Marvel Studios, Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin on this new beginning,” said Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“Working on the Spider-Man movies was the experience of a lifetime for me. While we were looking forward to doing a fourth one together, the studio and Marvel have a unique opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction, and I know they will do a terrific job,” said Sam Raimi.

“We have had a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration and friendship with Sam and Tobey and they have given us their best for the better part of the last decade.This is a bittersweet moment for us because while it is hard to imagine Spider-Man in anyone else’s hands, I know that this was a day that was inevitable,” said Matt Tolmach, president of Columbia Pictures, who has served as the studio’s chief production executive since the beginning of the franchise. “Now everything begins anew, and that’s got us all tremendously excited about what comes next. Under the continuing supervision of Avi and Laura, we have a clear vision for the future of Spider-Man and can’t wait to share this exciting new direction with audiences in 2012.”

“Spider-Man will always be an important franchise for Sony Pictures and a fresh start like this is a responsibility that we all take very seriously,” said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures. “We have always believed that story comes first and story guides the direction of these films and as we move onto the next chapter, we will stay true to that principle and will do so with the highest respect for the source material and the fans and moviegoers who deserve nothing but the best when it comes to bringing these stories and characters to life on the big screen.”

The studio will have more news about Spider-Man in 2012 in the coming weeks as it prepares for production of the film.

Rebooting a superhero franchise from square one is a long standing practice in the realm of comic books and is quickly becoming a habit for the cinematic superheroes as well. The Hulk and Punisher franchises were revamped after disappointing film debuts, and there are revamps planned for the Daredevil and Fantastic Four franchises as well. But their are certain qualities that makes the Spider-Man reboot a problematic one.

First off, the franchises mentioned above were either critical or commercial failures (and in some occasions, both). Spider-Man 3 received the worse reviews of the trilogy, but still broke many box office records. The franchise under Raimi seemed to have a license to print money and there was really no indication that it was going to change.

Second, while The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: War Zone were closer thematically to the comic books that inspired them, they weren’t viewed as being all that successful financially. The former, when you include worldwide grosses, made its money back and then some–and even out grossed the Ang Lee-helmed original.  But some people thought it was a failure because of its lower than expected domestic grosses. There is no excuses to be made for Punisher: War Zone. It only made a third of its production budget back and only one fifth of what the first Punisher film made. So there is no guarantee that the revamped Spider-Man film will continue the previous films success or even “make history once again” as the press release hopes.

Since the reboot wasn’t necessitated by bad reviews or poor box office, many are pointing to the rumored combative relationship between Sam Raimi and the films producers, most notably Avi Arad. It began during the filming of Spider-Man 3when Arad pushed for the inclusion of Venom as a villain in the film. Raimi admitted as much when speaking at the San Diego Comic Con the year before the film’s release:

“Avi Arad, who’s really got his pulse on all the Marvel fans better than any head of the corporation has ever understood those people that are interested in the corporation’s product – he really knows what those kids want – he said, ‘You’ve had two Spider-Man pictures. This third one – there’s so many kids, so many fans of Spider-Man want to see Venom. Even if you didn’t grow up with him, they want to see him. You’ve got the Sandman, that’s one of your favorite villains. Why don’t you bring Venom in also and make those kids, the fans of Venom, happy?’ So I thought that’s what we should do.”

SamRaimi2A similar thing was rumored to be happening this time around. as we reported here. Raimi has shown a favoritism for the classic Spidey villains, and wanted to use The Vulture as the bad guy in the film, played by John Malkovich as the actor admitted recently on an Italian talk show.  The studios were pushing for a more recent Spidey villainess, the Black Cat. Actress such as Rachel McAdams and Anne Hathaway were rumored to be considered for the role. There was problems in constructing a script that would combine both characters in a way that would satisfy both parties.

Deadline-Hollywood reports that Raimi felt he could not possibly meet the constraints of the film reaching its new release date and stepped down from the directors chair. Instead of replacing him and continuing with the franchise’s continuity, the powers that be decided to reboot the franchise with a teenage Peter Parker donning the webs once again.

In my opinion, this takes a “can’t miss” franchise and quite possibly fatally derails it. The studios seemed to underestimate Raimi’s skill as a director. He was able to fill the story with great emotional depth all the while filming the action with his unique visual style. The studio concerns about he choosing old-school Spidey villains as the film’s antagonist need not look towards the last film. Sandman, a villain that predated the Green Goblin in the comics and arrived only one issue after Doctor Octopus, was much more well defined than Venom and came off much better. I’m sure a lot of this was Raimi’s doing.

And Raimi was building an epic story with the franchise. The characters were growing from film to film, which was part of the reason why the franchise was so successful. Now, instead of looking forward to what might happen to the characters we came to know over the last eight years, we have to start over from scratch. Essentially, instead of giving us a known commodity , it has to resell the property to us all over again.

And, quite frankly, any director short of Steven Spielberg or James Cameron as a replacement would be a disappointment at this stage. Raimi is one of those rarities in the modern film director–an artist with a distinctive visual style and a respect for the craft of filmmaking. Replacing him at the helm with a McG or Brett Ratner would be a disaster of epic proportions.

My greatest fear about all this change is that Sony believes that the fans of the first three movies will naturally follow along onto the reboot, and that they really don’t have to dedicate all that much effort to making the new batch of films good. That would not only be damaging to the franchise , but also to the fate of comic book movies in general.

Avatar für Bill Gatevackes
About Bill Gatevackes 2037 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken, and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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Rich Drees
January 13, 2010 8:05 am

The more I think about it, the more obvious it is that Sony just wanted to be rid of Raimi and company. Why else would they be so adamant about sticking to their planned May 2011 release date in their negotiations with him and then suddenly push back a year the minute Raimi was out the door? By bringing in a whole new cast and crew, Sony’s salary costs will be much cheaper than the new deals they probably negotiated with Eaimi, Maguire and Dunst. (Of course, if any of them had pay or play deals, Sony is still out… Read more »