By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 12, 2010 at 12:22AM
Spider-Man 4 will be going forward without Sam Raimi, who shepherded the first three installments, or stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.
The studio has decided to proceed with a younger, cheaper version based on a screenplay by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) about a younger teen dealing with high school issues as well as larger-scale crises worthy of a super-hero. Didn't we already have an origin Spider-Man?
Clearly, the issues with Raimi that surfaced on Spider-Man 3 reached an impasse on this iteration, as Raimi and the studio could not reach a middle-ground over villains and other script issues. Franchises are rough when a studio can't rely on the firm foundation of a literary source such as the Harry Potter series or three-part The Lord of the Rings. Developed screenplays are more fungible, clearly, as Vanderbilt offers the studio an opportunity to replace the creaky older model with a brand-new one. The studio could save millions (the last Spider-Man ran close to $300 million) but runs the risk of alienating the Spider-Man faithful. This was a franchise that kept on paying: $2.5 billion worldwide to date.
It's important to note that the studio is announcing a summer 2012 release date, one year later than the Raimi film, which was stalled in advance of a February start. This means they are signaling to Wall Street: 'we have a script, we are moving forward.' That's how important this franchise is to the financial health of the studio. They're also saying, 'we picked Raimi and Maguire once, we can do it again.' They are also announcing that departed producer Laura Ziskin is back on board, along with Marvel Studio's Avi Arad, to supervise production. Todd Black, who was in charge of this latest Raimi film, is gone. He wasn't able to make Raimi happy with the script.
What next? You'd think every director on the planet--during a time when A-list big-budget directing jobs are scarce--would be on the phone with his agent to land this gig. But Sony will seek a director with a commercial track record, a sense of humor, and proven expertise with this level of moviemaking and visual effects. David Fincher competed with Raimi; they were the last finalists for the first gig. But now Fincher won't want to be an after-thought. James Cameron once wrote a 65-page Spider-Man treatment, but he's unlikely to be interested at this point. But a reboot does give a director a chance at putting their own stamp on the next film, instead of inheriting someone else's established world.
Some people prefer the high school era Spider-Man comics over the more adult stories. Gwen Stacy could come forward in this one. Bryce Dallas Howard was a mere throwaway in Spider-Man 3, but Stacey was Peter Parker's great love in the comics: Dunst's Mary Jane Watson came in later, after Stacy.
District 9's Neill Blomkamp would do a great job with this. Sony would have reason to keep him at the studio. But he would demand creative freedom, and they didn't even give that to Raimi. Pascal and Marvel will want someone to play ball and agree to their script, villains and action figures. Jonathan Mostow did a good job with Terminator 3. Any ideas? Let's hope it's not McG.
Official quotes from Raimi and Sony execs are below:
“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 have a 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. 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."