Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Most Tangled Web: Thoughts on Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and Rebooting Spider-Man



As we've learned, both Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi are out from Spider-Man 4. The studio has also decided to "reboot" the series by going back to Peter Parker's high school days.

What you have in effect is a total do-over. Spider-Man began with Parker's high school days, so why on Earth would you go back? What is there to fill in terms of story? What we the audience will have to do in order to make sense of the new Spider-Man is to ignore everything we've seen from the first three Maguire/Raimi films and begin again. It will be akin to Batman Begins putting the Burton/Schumacher films from our memories.

While that makes some sort of sense, there is one point that they seem to be forgetting: there was a large gap of time between the embarrassing Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, while the gap between the embarrassing Spider-Man 3 and the next film would be shorter.

How will this work? Will audiences who've come to identify Spider-Man with Maguire readily and quickly embrace whoever takes his place? We have come to accept Christian Bale as Batman, though he still suffers from comparisons to Michael Keaton (less so with Val Kilmer or George Clooney). It won't be hard to move from Maguire but it still will come as a bit of a shock to the system, again because it won't be that long since we've seen him as Parker.

The decision to go back to Parker's high school period will make it impossible to get someone near Maguire's age. In spite of his youthful looks he is 34, and the person who came closest to taking over for Maguire (Jake Gyllenhaal) is 30 this year, as is avant-garde actor (and former Mousketeer) Ryan Gosling. It's doubtful either could play a high schooler believably, or that Gyllenhaal or Gosling would want to.

As a result, we have two options: pick a young star (in the vein of a 22-year-old Zac Efron, 20-year-old Wizards of Waverly Place's David Henrie, Kyle XY's 27-year-old Matt Dallas, or any of the males from Gossip Girl who are all in their early 20s) or look for a complete unknown. Just for the record, I'm not recommending Efron, Henrie, Dallas, Ed Westwick, Penn Badgley, or Chace Crawford, merely pointing out they are all relatively known and around the right age--God help us if they go for the vampires of Twilight (the humans, maybe). The best and safest choice is to go for someone not yet known to the general public.

As for director, the franchise would be best served by picking someone who will go away from the hyper-reality that a Christopher Nolan has infected the Batman franchise with AND the camp nature of Schumacher. What sunk Batman & Robin (among other things) was that it did not take the material seriously. What has made The Dark Knight difficult to embrace has been the ponderous nature of the material as well as the fact that it takes itself too seriously. Yet I digress. If we are going to go back in the past, we need to find a director who will in short do one of two things: make the first of the new films a "lost years" type where gaps are filled in within the already established story, or ignore the first three films altogether.

The decision to replace Maguire and Raimi shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Spider-Man 3 was a disaster: too many villains and the dark/emo Peter Parker being reduced to a Saturday Night Fever-type montage was an absolute embarrassment. It also changed the origins story by making the man who became The Sandman Uncle Ben's real killer. That bothered me--I felt I was being cheated because the story was being changed midstream. I personally feel Maguire had one more Spider-Man movie in him, and Raimi could have made a good one to replace the bad one. However, things in the script department were getting too difficult: they were doing it again with too many villains. It's unfortunate that they won't be coming back, but it's not a big surprise. They did a bad job on the last one and were being too difficult on the subject of the next one. The studio HAD made money on Spider-Man 3 but the enthusiasm among critics and fans was waning. It was in THEIR interest to A.) get this film ready for production, and B.) try to revive a flagging franchise with new blood.

Ultimately, it will not be the end of the world (or the Spider-Man series) to have the face & mind behind the series effectively be fired or pushed out. We can have good revivals (Bale/Nolan in Batman Begins) and bad revivals (Schumacher/Clooney in Batman & Robin). It will be fun to see how all this will work out: if they succeed, they will have a new star and a chance to expand the mythology as well as make more money & fans. If they fail, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man will be left hanging by the thinnest of spider threads.
 

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