“Why are they starting the ‘Spider-Man’ movies over?”

It’s a question we’ve heard echoed again and again (and again) by casual movie fans who have recently seen the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man; those still wondering why, what should’ve been the fourth film in a popular movie franchise, is now a film with an all new cast, an all-new look, but is essentially the same origin story that was covered by director Sam Raimi and Co. in the 2002 Spider-Man.

Comic book fanboys and/or hardcore cinephiles can probably explain the situation – but to those still looking for answers, today we have a rundown that will help explain what is going on with this Spider-Man movie situation, and give you some information that will make you sound like the smarty in the group, when the subject inevitably comes up in social discourse.

Comic Book Retcons

Properly referred to as “retroactive continuity,” ‘retconning’ is when comic book creators go back and revise aspects of a character or story that have been previously established in continuity. See, comic books are a unique medium in that they’ve run for an incredibly long time, but under the guidance of many different creative visionaries. The writer/artist team that created Superman in the ’30s had different ideas and sensibilities than the creative team in the ’50s, the ’80s, and so on; Batman has been around since 1939, and even “newer” superheroes like Spider-Man or the X-Men have been around since the ’60s, about half a century (or more). In that time, more than a few writers and/or artists have altered a superhero’s backstory, powers, costume, attitude – sometimes even their identity (for example, since 1940 four different boys have taken on the mantle of Batman’s sidekick, Robin).

On the one hand, the constant change of creative teams keeps a comic book character fresh, as new people bring new ideas to the table, and keep the character relevant and connected to the (at that time) current generation. On the other hand, there is the danger that a prior idea may become outdated, unsustainable over a longer course of storytelling, or was simply born of an era and/or social context that no longer exists. When that happens, comic book creators rely on ‘retcons’ to right (and re-write) the (possibly) outdated aspects.

The revamped heroes of Marvel's "Ultimate" Universe.

In 2000, Marvel Comics launched their “Ultimate Marvel” comic book universe, starting with Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Spider-Man. The goal was simple: create an alternate reality in which popular superhero origin stories were re-told in a modern context – free from decades of convoluted and dated backstory. New readers could start from a fresh beginning and follow a character through a more familiar world; longtime readers could get a new take on their favorite heroes, but could still enjoy the “classic version” being offered by the original comics.

As you may surmise, a modernized look at Marvel superheroes also became the basis for a fair number of superhero films – including the upcoming Avengers movie, which borrows many elements of the modern “Ultimate” universe – not least of which is a Nick Fury who looks like (and is played by) Sam Jackson. Thanks to a wonderful and dedicated creative team (the same writer has written all 140+ issues of the series), Ultimate Spider-Man‘s modernized take on the web-slinging superhero became a hit – and the primary inspiration for the franchise reboot film, The Amazing Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man’s ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ connection…


Movie Reboots

If you missed our article on upcoming movie reboots, let us explain the term: A “reboot” is when a studio tries to re-launch a movie franchise – typically either a franchise that has long been dormant (see: Judge Dredd), has become outdated (Sherlock Holmes), or one that previously existed in some other medium, like TV or radio (21 Jump Street).  Think of a movie “reboot” as being like a comic book “retcon” – only, you know, for movies.

Of course, things these days have taken a slight turn toward the ridiculous, as some studios barely wait for a franchise to cool off before trying to relaunch it again. Case in point: The Amazing Spider-Man is coming to theaters just five years after Spider-Man 3 debuted. In terms of cinematic shelf-life, five years is not long enough for most people to forget that a movie existed.

So why reboot a property like Spider-Man so soon? Money, for one thing. After three films, Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire was getting $50 million to stay with the franchise for a least two more films – that’s $50 million in the budget just for the star to show up. Other big players in the franchise like Kirsten Dunst or director Sam Raimi would’ve also gotten fatter paychecks – and Raimi was pushing for more creative control on Spider-Man 4, after Sony forced him to wedge so many story elements into Spider-Man 3 that the whole thing became a bloated mess that most fans point to as the worst in the series.

"You want 'Spider-Man4'? I want $50 million."

With an inflating budget in the hundred millions and friction with the director who made the franchise so popular, how would a little studio like Sony (sarcasm) get the Spider-Man ship back on track? Why, with a fresh start of course – reboot to the rescue.

By casting rising stars like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, Sony spends less on actor paychecks; the same logic applies when hiring a director like Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer), who will essentially be getting his shot at the big time with this film. With less invested up front in personnel, and a smaller budget for creating the film, Sony has all the reason it needs (from a business standpoint) to restart their franchise. There’s also the small matter of holding on to the Spider-Man movie rights. If Sony doesn’t put out a Spidey movie every so often, the rights would then revert back to Marvel, who sold them (and many other character rights) to various movie studios back in the ’90s, when the comic publisher was going broke.

However, while it makes business sense for Sony to reboot the franchise, does that mean people will pay to see a Spider-Man origin story again?


Retcons for Reboots

There’s been some popular misconception that The Amazing Spider-Man is just going to be the same Spider-Man origin story we saw in the original films. This is both true and untrue.

As stated, a lot of what ASM‘s story covers is being borrowed from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book launched in 2000. Part of the purpose of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book was not only to modernize the life and attitude of Peter Parker for the new Millennium (which this movie has done – for better or worse), but also to give shallow elements of the story more depth (like Peter’s missing parents) or make connections that the early comic creators didn’t have the larger perspective to see (like Norman Osborn’s company doing the research that would create both Spider-Man and the Green Goblin formula).

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Though it will pick and choose those elements of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic that it wants to incorporate, Amazing Spider-Man will follow the lead of re-approaching the origin story from a new perspective, with different story details, confident that people are already familiar enough with the basic premise of the Spider-Man mythos and how it looks onscreen. The hope is that basic familiarity with the character will allow the film to explore deeper or more modern ideas of who this superhero is as a person, and what his life, beliefs and world are all about.

Will this second-look at Spider-Man be worthwhile? Only those who have seen the finished film know for sure. Will audiences appreciate the new interpratation – or simply see it as a shallow re-hash? Only God and your wallet know that one for sure.

The Amazing Spider-Man will be in theaters on July 3, 2012.

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