Unexpectedly dramatic developments in Hollywood. Sam Raimi and his team who had been behind three very successful Spider-Man movies had been all set for a return for a fourth and potentially fifth and sixth films in the franchise, with the fourth movie set for a 2011 release. However, a series of behind-the-scenes problems seem to have unfolded, resulting in production being rolled back a year and the original plan to make the next two films back-to-back being dropped.
Sony Pictures announced today that they were parting ways with Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire (and presumably the other recurring actors and crew), but have retained Spider-Man 4 scriptwriter James Vanderbilt to instead pen a remake. The new film, now planned for release in 2012, will apparently return to the classic origin story and begin the story again from scratch with a new cast. In a positive-sounding statement, Raimi wished the new team good luck.
I have to admit that I did not enjoy the original Spider-Man (2002) very much, finding Maguire to be an effective Peter Parker but the movie overall lacked sparkle and was overloaded with dissatisfying CGI, not to mention the Green Goblin's ridiculous Power Rangers-style appearance. Spider-Man 2 (2004), on the other hand, I thought was a very strong movie with Alfred Molina making for a much more formidable antagonist and the story was more interesting. Spider-Man 3 (2007) was a confused, incoherent and plain ridiculous mess with too many villains and too many ideas clamouring for screentime.
Whilst the third film was poor, it wasn't a franchise-destroying travesty on the scale of Joel Schumacher's Batman movies (which were so bad they effectively forced a reboot of the franchise eight years later), and the new movie will arrive only five years after the previous film, a rather short span of time before a reboot takes place. This would be the equivalent of a remake of King Kong, War of the Worlds or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe coming out this year. I think most people would agree that this is simply too short a space of time to warrant a new take on the concept.
The reasons for the split are unclear, but it is possible that since Marvel Studios are taking a closer involvement with the new reboot, it may be that they want to tie their flagship superhero in with their 'family' of other superhero movies set in a shared continuity that they are developing (including the two Iron Man movies, the new Hulk, the new Thor movie out next year and The Avengers film which will unite them all in 2012). However, it is a big risk. Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire have made this franchise very successful indeed, and it is possible that public interest in the character and series will simply drop off rather than being transferred to the new cast and production team. Interesting to see how this pans out, as it may be the biggest test of the public's tolerance for remakes and reboots to date.
In the meantime, this leaves Sam Raimi free to look at a new, fresh project - which may or may not be the long-gestating World of WarCraft movie - and Maguire to pursue other work (such as the Robotech movie he's been bigging up for years).