We asked Film Salon contributors to think about Sony's apparently bizarre decision to dump director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst from the previously impending "Spider-Man 4" and "reboot" the franchise, whatever that's supposed to mean. (Film Salon contributor Scott Mendelson has an extended discussion of the whole question on his Open Salon blog.)
Well, we have a rough idea what it means, right? Evidently the producers want to send Peter Parker back to high school and start over. Does this mean lightweight teen comedy with some rousing action sequences? (Well, they made that movie already, but why not?) Or does it mean some quasi-bleak, pseudo-existentialist attempt to ape "The Dark Knight," in which Peter's crumbling, underfunded Gotham City High is a nightmare and Spidey has to face al-Qaida? Are they going less noir than the Raimi films, or more?
Seriously, this presents an opportunity, however misguided in its genesis, to reinvent one of the iconic American comic-book heroes. So what should Sony do? A gay leather-boy Spidey, as Al Pacino's lover in the '70s Manhattan underworld of William Friedkin's "Cruising"? A Goth-vampire Spidey, adding a desperately needed burst of all-American testosterone into the "Twilight" series? Maybe Peter and his arachnoid alter-ego should be transported into the time-travel paradox world of "Donnie Darko"? Or into the Stanley Kubrick-Michael Haneke boarding-school horrorshow of Antonio Campos' "Afterschool"?
Here are the first few ideas to get us rolling. Please speak up, you in the back!
Eric Kohn, freelance critic and reporter for indieWire, New York magazine, the New York Press and elsewhere: The idea of rebooting the Spider-Man story sounds awfully redundant to my somewhat comic-book-literate ears. Back in 2007, Marvel launched a controversial Spidey series called "One More Day" that took place within the larger context of the Marvel universe's Civil War plot. As various superheroes took sides -- some joined forces with Tony Stark/Iron Man and unmasked by order of the government, while others went into hiding -- Peter Parker had a more personal dilemma on his web-caked hands: The impending death of his dear Aunt May. After an assassin's bullet hit May (an event that took place in Marvel's "Back in Black" series), Spider-Man began a seemingly vain attempt to cheat death. When none other than Doc Strange threw up his hands, it seemed as though May's fate was sealed -- until the devilish Mephisto showed up out of nowhere and made a nefarious pact with Spidey: If he allowed himself to forget that Mary Jane ever existed, May would live. After a tearful farewell with his stalwart lover, our hero agreed -- but not before M.J. whispered an enigmatic addendum to the pact in Mephisto's ear. Then, suddenly, Parker was back in high school and Aunt May was in the kitchen. M.J. was around, too, but Parker didn't know it.
Marvel effectively hit the reboot button with a tactic that made narrative sense, and whoever takes the reins of the latest Spidey iteration should consider doing the same. Many diehard fans consider the twist finale of "One More Day" to be a bit of a cop out, but I think it's a brilliant set-up. If some aspect of the original webslinger still exists in his amnesia-riddled self, he still has the opportunity to win back M.J.'s heart. The earlier Spider-Man movies dealt with the cheesy romantic aspects of Parker's life in broad strokes, but this angle allows for a deeper, multi-universe twist that doesn't threaten to encroach on the potential for darker themes (à la "The Dark Knight") and mind-boggling sci-fi/fantasy conceits (à la "Avatar," I guess, but this one's a little closer to "The Matrix"). If the success of ABC's "Lost" proves that time travel has become hip again, then blockbusters have a lot of catching up to do.
Rosemary Picado, freelance writer and Open Salon blogger: Bad move on Sony's part. Doesn't a franchise require a time of cooling before the reboot?
Anyway, I imagine "Twilight" with superheroes is what Sony would like. In that vein, maybe they should give Anne Rice a go at a script. As the progenitor of the current vampire meme, she could inject some serious erotica into the teen webslinger's confused double life. Perhaps an über-Goth reimagining by Tim Burton. But as the king of all things bizarre -- solidly planted in a well-worn and desperately pedestrian world, where poor Peter Parker is most trapped -- I'd give the franchise to Neil Gaiman ("Coraline," "Stardust") of the well loved "Sandman" comic series.
Josh Bell, film editor, Las Vegas Weekly: As a longtime comic-book reader, what bugs me the most is that every superhero franchise has to start with an origin story. In the history of a character like Spider-Man or Batman or even Green Lantern, there's a handful of issues dealing with the character's origin and then literally decades of stories that take place later. We all know that "Spider-Man 2" is better than "Spider-Man," "X2" is better than "X-Men," "The Dark Knight" is better than "Batman Begins," etc. So why does this movie have to go back to the beginning yet again? What I'd like to see is a Spider-Man who has some experience under his belt, who's had setbacks, who's fought villains, who's gone numerous rounds with J. Jonah Jameson in the press, but who still does what he does because he believes in it. Give the movie the sense of history and scope that the comics have; make it feel like it takes place in a fully imagined fantasy world, one with other superheroes and alien races and mutants and so on.
I know licensing issues mean that Sony can't insert other Marvel heroes into the Spider-Man movies, and that Marvel can't use Spidey as part of the Avengers franchise they are building. But that feeling of history and continuity is one of the best things about reading superhero comics, and the movies never get it.