There is a terrifically unkind way to report today's story, and a quick scan of Twitter should give you some idea of just how strong a reaction some people are having to the short list of directors that Deadline claims are in the mix to direct Sony's upcoming reboot of “Spider-Man.”
First thought: Miller and Lord are making the wrong movie for the studio.
Second thought: why is this so difficult for Sony?
After all, the original “Spider-Man” was a huge milestone in terms of how superheroes were treated on film. Sam Raimi got the tone so right it was ridiculous, and no matter what choices he made in the film, he proved that Spider-Man could work, and that he could bring the colorful world of Marvel Comics to the screen in a way that the whole world could enjoy. Was that really just 13 years ago? I can still remember the energy in the room that first night, when it played that midnight screening at the Cinerama Dome. People went nuts for it. It was electrifying.
At this point, one of the main problems with Spider-Man is familiarity. Because of Sony's reboot, audiences have been treated to two versions of his origin story, and because of how grotesquely franchise-minded the two Marc Webb films were, they've burned down any goodwill towards the franchise in general. Those two movies aren't “movies” in any conventional sense. They're trailers for other films that were just going to feel like trailers for other films that no one in their right mind actually wants to see.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about Deadline's article is that Drew Goddard is not listed as part of the process right now. They report as rumor the idea that this new series will aim for a four-film story, with each year being one year of high school. Throw in college, and we can call that the “Harry Potter” model, and it's certainly an interesting way to think about Peter Parker. If you want to tell a story about becoming a mature adult, the “Spider-Man” story seems perfectly suited for that, and it would be fun to watch Parker grow from confused child to confident adult. Spending a little time with The Avengers between his own movies could only accelerate that process for him.
Goddard was attached to “The Sinister Six,” and when he left the NetFlix series “Daredevil,” there was widespread speculation it was to return to work on Spider-Man in some form. If today's short list is accurate, Goddard's name is nowhere on the list at all. Instead, Jonathan Levine, Ted Melfi, Jason Moore, Jared Hess, and the team of John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein are the names that are being considered, and it's fairly clear from that list that Sony is thinking of something other than what we've seen before from this character.
It was a strange enough jump from Sam Raimi to Marc Webb. Raimi spent much of his career working towards making films exactly like “Spider-Man,” and his crazy Liam Neeson film “Darkman” felt to me like an audition for comic-book movies in general, a sort of proof-of-concept for him to make an origin movie for a character. Raimi made sense to me. Webb was a stranger choice up front, but when looking at his first film, it's clear that the thing that most interested him was the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and he totally knocked that out of the park. No doubt. They are enormously watchable in every moment they're together onscreen. The problem is that Webb and the various writers who went through the Sony meatgrinder on his two movies were under strict marching orders to start to build something better, and everything was tied together by the involvement of the Osborne family, and in their efforts to make sure they told the story differently than Raimi did, they made certain reactive choices that never really seemed to be fully considered.
This list of filmmakers is even less likely than the Marc Webb choice at first glance. If you've been paying attention, it's clear that Warner Bros. feels confident they have a monster hit coming with “Vacation,” so I would imagine John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein have been taking meetings on everything in town right now. Everyone's heard the same buzz, and they've certainly made money for Warner in the past with their other comedies. Jonathan Levine's “XMas,” the Seth Rogen/Anthony Mackie/Joseph Gordon-Levitt comedy that's coming out this holiday season, got a big bump out of CinemaCon, and Levine's paid his dues with a fairly eclectic resume. None of his work remotely resembles any superhero film I can name, but that's fine. That isn't what makes someone the right choice here. I would argue that the most important thing is that you want someone who has a strong sense of voice. If they're going to really make Spider-Man feel new and fresh and different, it has to be because someone with a voice is telling the story. “St. Vincent” was fine, but I didn't think Ted Melfi's work was so stylistically confident that I would hand him Spider-Man. Same is true of Jason Moore's work on “Pitch Perfect.”
Honestly, the most distinct voice on the list is Jared Hess, best known still for “Napoleon Dynamite.” In that case, though, his very distinct voice is one that I have learned over time I do not particularly care for, and I really can't see any scenario where Sony decides he's the guy. If they do, they should videotape the pitch that got him the job, because it would need to be legendarily great to make that decision make sense.
If this is the list that the director comes from, then I would say Sony is off to a confusing start with this new series. But I've also learned over the years that directors can surprise you, and here's hoping Sony sees something in this list that we don't yet. Why not throw Adam McKay in there? Marvel's said that they love him, he did some significant cover-your-ass work for the studio on the “Ant-Man” script, and he would do a great job of writing a wise-ass young Spider-Man. It also seems strange that they would have Phil Lord and Chris Miller write and produce the animated film instead of the live-action film. Lord and Miller are two of the savviest pop culture artists working right now, and if anyone could give us a Spider-Man that we don't expect but that would probably feel just right, it's them.
In the meantime, I'm curious to see how far we are from a casting announcement. If Spider-Man's got a decent-sized supporting role in “Captain America: Civil War,” he'll have to start shooting soon, and as soon as an actor shows up on set, the secret will get out.
“Captain America: Civil War” is in theaters May 6, 2016.