It’s kind of interesting to note the attention that’s paid to comic book movies and TV shows these days because the tone of everything shows just how deeply comics have penetrated the culture and business of Hollywood.
The classic example is the announcement by Columbia Pictures that Marc Webb has been hired to oversee the next Spider-Man film, which will reboot the franchise and focus on a Peter Parker still in high school.
By coincidence, I watched Webb’s current movie, (500) Days of Summer, almost simultaneous to the announcement (and thanks to the magic of awards season DVD screeners). It’s doing quite well on the awards circuit, though not well enough it seems to win too many of the awards its nominated for — it is, after all, a comedy.
What struck me the most was a scene after the lead character of Tom Finn, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has had sex with and fallen in love with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer Finn and he walks though downtown Los Angeles, seeing himself as Han Solo in a window reflection and dancing in synch with a large crowd to the tune of Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” My first thought was to compare it to a nearly identical scene — minus Han Solo and the animated bird — from Spider-Man 2 in which Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker walks through the park and everything goes wrong to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
There’s a bunch of questions to ask about this film, not the least of which is why reboot and the second being whether it’s reasonable for Columbia or the fans to think Webb can deliver a satisfying film on a budget rumored to be about $80 million.
On the first question, the reboot does a couple of things, not the least of which is discouraging comparisons to the previous films. Ditching a popular director and pretending like nothing changed was a key factor in fans approaching X-Men: The Last Stand predisposed to not liking it. And rebooting the Batman franchise with Christopher Nolan in charge did the near impossible and (almost) got fans to forgive Warner Bros. for Batman and Robin.
Obviously, Webb (pictured at right) can make it work when it comes to the Parker stuff — the awkward romances, dealing with the sickly aunt, the humiliating job taking pictures for a blowhard boss, etc. But is it necessary to start all over to do that? Why not do what the comics do: ignore the parts you don’t like and keep the ones you do. The most important thing I think would be to move forward. Repeating previous movies only invites comparison and given the generally great job Raimi has done that’s inviting criticism and disappointment.
But when we get to the second half of the equations, whether this can work as a Spider-Man film of the type audiences and fans expect after seeing the first three and reading the comics, is a much harder one to ask.
That’s where the second question comes in. If it’s true that Columbia wants to make this film for only $80 million, then I find it hard to imagine that it’s going to satisfy anybody. For reference, when X-Men was being made with Bryan Singer back in 1999, it had a budget of about $75 million — and it was considered low back then.
And Spider-Man outdid X-Men as a movie franchise on pretty much every level, from the record-setting opening weekend for the first film to positive reviews for the second and even record-setting box office on a third film no one though was as good as the previous two.
Putting it in perspective again, Spider-Man 3 had a reported budget of more than $250 million. The first Spider-Man was made for an estimated $140 million back in 2002. What could Columbia’s rationale for this be, considering the immense box office the series has generated to date?
It’s definitely a vote of no confidence, either in the series to be able to continue without Sam Raimi, in Spider-Man specifically or in comic book movies in general.
There’s also the X-factor of Marvel now being owned by Disney. Both Marvel and Disney surely would like to take back the rights the film rights from Columbia, even though it seems like Columbia can keep those rights as long as it wants without much hassle.
Either way, it could be a sign that studios are willing to move on from superheroes and comic book movies — or at least expensive ones. That could be a big mistake, should Marvel’s slate of movies and the upcoming Green Lantern movie do as well at the box office as previous superhero pics have. But if either of those falls short, expect to see lots of articles about the death of comic book movies and watch Hollywood move on to making toys like ViewMaster and Stretch Armstrong into the next wave of blockbusters. I personally can’t wait to see the board game Sorry! turned into a movie.
Maybe the future for comic book movies lies in TV. The announcement that AMC is going to make a Walking Dead pilot with Frank Darabont directing and serving as executive producer alongside creator Robert Kirkman is definitely an exciting one. And having just watched the premiere episode of Human Target, based on the classic DC Comics series created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, it’s got potential to be a cool, if somewhat traditional, action series. It’s better than what I remember of the Rick Springfield version of the same name, which aired sometime in the early 1990s.
I’m interested in Walking Dead even though I’m not a fan (at all) of zombie stories, simply because Walking Dead is so well done. To succeed in TV, series need to work on an ongoing basis and I can’t say it would be bad creatively for comics if Hollywood’s interest in adapting its stories moved from the big screen to the small. While we might get more shows like Smallville, there’s plenty of good. off-beat TV-friendly comics material to mine for years to come.