The long-running effort to return Spider-Man to the big screen just took a big left turn with this news release that Sony has decided to scrap the current franchise with director Sam Raimi and star Toby McGuire and reboot the character as a contemporary teenager. Seems that the team that brought billions into the studio's coffers with the first three films just couldn't agree what to do next. There was discussion of what villain the hero should face, the most recent being the geriatric Vulture. But all this isn't really that surprising given that the franchise had succeeded in adapting the comic book hero to film far too successfully to continue.

The first Spider-Man film profitably launched the character with an origin story that stayed true to the classic comics story where Peter's irresponsibility with his new powers leads to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben and his commitment to dedicate himself to fighting crime. Spider-Man 2 fulfilled the theme of self-denial as Peter's mission was pursued at the painful loss of a normal life with his beloved Mary Jane Watson. Everything fans loved about the character was beautifully played out in the ultimate Spider-Man story. At the time I wondered where the next film could possibly go thematically that could improve or even equal it. And they couldn't. The infamous sequel was a confused and constipated mash-up of too many villains, poorly structured plot and badly motivated lead characters. Yet Spider-Man 3 made almost $900,000,000 worldwide so of course Sony would plan on sequels. But Raimi must have sensed that he had succeeded too well and that there was no where else he could satisfactorily take the character.

Thus the tactic too often used by the comics industry-when a character gets tired, reboot it. Since the 1980s, there have been three or four different re-tellings of Superman's origin. Now, the studio has decided that the only way to sustain the movie version of the character is to re-invent him. IOW, it's Spider-Man Begins all over again, within memory of young people who can remember Raimi's first origin story in 2002. By making Peter a teenager again, you return the character to his most appealing period as a new hero trying to get a handle on both his new powers and high school relationships complicated by his double life. But, as Toby McGuire who was 27 when he first played the teen hero and now at 35 is looking a little old for the eternally youthful Peter Parker, the problems of sustaining a comic book character's unchanging age demonstrates why even a teen Spidey will need to be in a series of films paced every 18 to 24 months, like the brilliantly produced Harry Potter films, to sustain the teen concept.

And this also points to a looming issue for another comic book franchise, Warner Brothers fabulously successful Batman films: The Dark Knight's billion dollar success left the studio eager to follow up on Christopher Nolan's artistic and financial success, but The Dark Knight, like Spider-Man 2, are both probably impossible to top and anything else would be a lesser effort-which of Batman's supervillains could possibly offer a challenge to match the Joker's? Will Warner's be able to see this instead of dollar signs or will they follow Sony's lead and re-conceptualize the franchise yet again with yet another director so that Batman begins yet again?

Posted by Alex Wainer.