New York: On a weekend in January of 2010, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios pivoted faster than even Spider-Man would dare.
A fourth installment of the hugely popular Spider-Man franchise was planned, with director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire returning to their trilogy of films that had earned more than $2.5 billion at the global box office and generally been hailed as a standard-bearer in big-screen comic book adaptations.
But by that Monday, Raimi's dissatisfaction with the script and the producers' eagerness for a new movie had come to a head. In a flash, the sequel was kaput, and a reboot was ordered up. Next Tuesday, The Amazing Spider-Man will be released, charting a new start for the web-slinger just five years after Spider-Man 3.
Reboots of film franchises have been typically launched many more years later than that. But today, "five years is a lifetime in the movie business," says Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal. "I wasn't troubled by it."
Reasons for reboots vary from restoring dormant franchises (Star Trek), to refreshing long-running ones (James Bond) or improving on previous failures (The Hulk).
The Hulk was famously tried twice, in 2003 and 2008 by Marvel and Universal Pictures. Similarly, a new Superman (Man of Steel) is due out next year from Warner Bros., a new start for the DC Comics' character after 2006's Superman Returns disappointed.
The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, comes close on the heels of Raimi's acclaimed trilogy. Though Sony's preference was to make a fourth film with the same team, Pascal now says they were "looking for a story that wasn't there," following the conclusiveness of Spider-Man 3.
That makes the $200 million The Amazing Spider-Man a somewhat daring maneuver, bound to face comparisons to the recent Spider-Man films and skepticism from some moviegoers.
To combat any Spidey fatigue, Sony has imbued the new, 3-D Spider-Man with youth: Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker, Emma Stone plays his girlfriend Gwen Stacy and Marc Webb, whose only previous feature was 2009's (500) Days of Summer, directs.
"The only time to take a break is when your franchise fails," says Avi Arad, a producer of the film and former CEO of Marvel Studios. "People want Spider-Man, so it's our responsibility to give them something new, something different and start a whole new generation of Spider-Man lovers."
Webb's vision of the film (written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves) is predicated on Parker's origin - tracing his history as an orphan and beginning with his parents. That also means, come high school, covering some of the same ground from Raimi's first Spider-Man: the spider bite, the uncle's death, the school hallway showdowns.
"It's not like we're retelling the exact origin as Sam had done it," says Webb. "But I felt it was important for a new story to understand the character from the ground up because I feel like the inflection of this character was quite different than what we'd seen before."
That inflection is closer to the Spider-Man of the comics. Garfield's version of the hero is more sarcastic, lithe and twitchy - more of a rebellious teen.
The 28-year-old British actor from The Social Network, who's fresh off an acclaimed performance in Death of a Salesman on Broadway, wanted to honor the previous incarnations of Spider-Man. A fan of the comics since childhood, he says taking on the role was less a decision to consider than a matter of listening to "my inner 3-year-old screaming at me."
"With Spider-Man, the legacy is so huge and there's so much to pay homage to and respect to, that you have to be as aware of it as much as possible," says Garfield.
After moving through some of the iconic elements of the Spider-Man story, the film brings in a new villain from the comics: the Lizard, as transformed from the scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). The film reminds one that Spider-Man remains a young man's superhero: It works best as a coming of age story. Had Spider-Man 4 gone ahead (Maguire is now 36), producers said it would have been the last of the series.
"A big part of the DNA of Peter Parker is that adolescent quality," says Webb, whose (500) Days of Summer was also a story of transition into adulthood. "It's a time in your life where you're imperfect and you're unpolished and you make mistakes and you're discovering things and every emotion is apocalyptic."
Certainly, unending serial storytelling is part of the spirit of comics, which typically flow in constant weekly or monthly installments.
"I want to live in a world where Spider-Man stories are being told over and over again," says producer Matt Tolmach. "Sometimes, people leave things sitting on a shelf for too long."
It's also an enormously lucrative franchise, with robust merchandizing and popular accompanying video games. The Amazing Spider-Man keeps that machine churning. Early reviews have generally been positive and global box office expectations are running high.
A sequel is already in the works, with production expected to begin early next year. The huge success of The Avengers has stoked speculation that Spider-Man could be roped into the next episode, of which Arad says, "Anything is possible."
Either way, the future possibilities for more Spider-Man are again limitless. Says Arad: "This can be so many movies."
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