So Sony have dumped Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire, and plan to reboot the Spider-Man movie franchise by taking Peter Parker back to his high school days to start all over. Sounds like half of a great idea, at least.
I actually have nothing against bringing in new people to make the next Spider-movie, especially after the mess of the third (As blasphemous as it may sound, I was never completely sold on Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker anyway, and don't get me started on Kirsten Dunst); there's no reason why the Spider-Man movies couldn't just be treated like James Bond, the actors, directors and writers changing on a regular basis as the movies continue (See also, to lesser effect, the Batman movies. But we got Chris Nolan in the end, so there's that). No, what I don't understand is why the franchise is finding itself going backwards for the next movie. This is how Sony announced the news:
Peter Parker is going back to high school when the next Spider-Man hits theaters in the summer of 2012. Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios announced today they are moving forward with a film based on a script by James Vanderbilt that focuses on a teenager grappling with both contemporary human problems and amazing super-human crises.
Here's what makes no sense to me: WHY ARE THEY PUTTING PETER PARKER BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL?!?
It isn't just this movie reboot; Marvel Comics have become obsessed with permanently de-aging Spider-Man over the last decade, first with their Ultimate Spider-Man series - where writer Brian Michael Bendis has publicly announced that Peter will never graduate high school no matter how long the series runs - and then with successive series Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. Every new version of Spider-Man, it seems, will make sure that he's underage and fulfilling the high-school fantasies that his fanbase never achieved.
But why? Despite Marvel's insistence otherwise, Spider-Man isn't really a high-school character. The original version of the character had graduated and was attending university less than three years after his creation; if anything, the college-age Peter Parker is probably the archetypal one for most fans, having managed to survive for twenty years or so (There's a post-grad involved somewhere in there, but even so, apparently Peter wasn't really fast with the learning). Of course, this is the publisher who retconned the character's 25-year marriage because they thought it made him seem too old, so perhaps there's some kind of not-so-subconscious wish fulfillment makeover on behalf of the creators going on here.
It seems off, though; as a character, Spider-Man works best not as a high-school kid, but just past that, at the point in his life where he's leaving that world of security behind and having to juggle newfound responsibilities as an adult (Including having to take responsibility for himself) with his newfound powers. Don't get me wrong, Ultimate Spider-Man works - but because of the sharp, witty writing, not because of the high-school setting (The same with Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, for that matter). Unlike, say, Buffy, Spider-Man isn't about metaphors for high-school, but about what comes afterwards - Dealing with asshole bosses (Hello, J. Jonah Jameson!), money worries and a repeatedly screwed-up lovelife (One of the things that the movie series has skipped over, by bringing in Mary-Jane so early: Hopefully the reboot can do more with that aspect of the comics) as well as all the superhero stuff people come back for time after time.
(There's also an argument to be made that it's about growing up in general - stuck between two identities, one of which is a reminder of who he "used" to be, and is expected to continue to be for others, and the other, which identifies as "Man" as opposed to boy, where he feels more free and yet has arguably a greater responsibility to more people. But that's neither here nor there.)
But even if Spider-Man was a classic high-school tale, rebooting the movie franchise still seems premature, not just in terms of time (There'll only be four years between "versions" of the character, enough time for the old version to be fresh in audiences' minds), but also in terms of untapped potential in the Raimi version. Yes, some villains have been used (and, in the case of the Green Goblin, used up) already, but there are many more left untouched. Also, for the most part, the characters are still relatively clean slates beyond the basics that are unlikely to change in any version of the franchise. Why risk confusing, or worse, upsetting fans by overwriting or remaking stories they've just finished with when there's so much else left to do?
It would be one thing if the Spider-Man movies weren't hugely successful - As much as I think that rebooting the Fantastic Four and Daredevil movies is a bad move, at least you could argue that their cinematic versions have untapped potential, both in terms of financial success and moviemaking - but the idea of hitting reverse on the franchise that pretty much restarted the superhero movie boom while it was still in motion seems such a counter-intuitive move (Why mess with success, as they say?) that it either speaks to a future disaster, or some impossibly cunning plan that we can't appreciate yet. Based upon the choice to de-age the character, I'm worried that it's not the latter.