It was a kinder, simpler time back in January of 2010. Daybreakers and Youth in Revolt were both in theaters, New York City was asking people to eat less salt, and we were all about to find out the one-two punch that Sam Raimi was done with Spider-Man but Sony was not. It was the sort of news that reeked of corporate thinking – extending a franchise cash cow without the creative forces behind it; rebooting an unimaginably familiar character just five years after his last outing; and deciding to do all that on a dime.
Optimism pointed to characters like James Bond getting new actors, but this was that rare time where a character introduced to us was being re-introduced to us, and the announcement was, admittedly, a bit surreal.
It won’t be revolutionary, but there are two ways, two chances for that reboot to change the ways that movies are made. Marc Webb‘s The Amazing Spider-Man will have a lot of eyes on it these week, and a few of them will be watching it as an experiment instead of entertainment.
Basically, it breaks down like this:
- Outcome #1: The movie beats creative expectations, defeats cynicism, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield make the main characters their own, and it proves that rebooting a newer series for (mostly) commercial reasons can yield something narratively exciting.
- Outcome #2: The movie loses out financially, making it that much harder for studios to justify maintaining aged franchises past their Sell By Date.
There are many other possible outcomes, including ones where those overlap, but they are the key to how filmmaking at the studio level could change because of Peter Parker. Normally, this sort of question would seem like an anomaly, but with Warners brazenly claiming they’ll reboot Batman as soon as Christopher Nolan is done with him, it seems realistic that studios are comfortable killing their cash cows by milking them dry. A bad box office showing for Spidey might not stop the Bat-train, but it might at least be a caution sign, and wouldn’t it be cool if a Bat-train existed? Continuing the franchise is the only way we’ll see it.
But there’s a massive danger in studios devoting large amounts of their resources to rebooting and re-rebooting the same comic book characters. That should go without saying. On the other hand, it could mean the transformation of comic book movies into comic books – new artists expressing different takes on characters. Then again, comic books don’t cost $150m to finance, and that’s a huge chunk of money (not to mention the time dedication) to stagnate their tentpole stable.
Again, it won’t crack the concrete, and the change might not even be all that noticeable, but you can bet that plenty of major studio employees and executives are watching how Spidey does the week as a testing ground for how long they estimate they’ll be able to keep a superhero alive in movies. If Webb and company deliver a solid re-telling, then maybe there’s hope for the story side, but how many movies do you want? Five Spider-Man movies? Ten Batman movies? Fifteen X-Men flicks? Here’s where thinking of them as Bond starts to feel a bit heavy.
If The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t live up to its balance sheet, other projects might see the brakes, but if it does well, we might be looking at a future continually dominated by capes and spandex. The 2000s will live well into the 2010s.
And we haven’t even mentioned Marvel yet.