Is Gritty the Answer for Every Comic Book Franchise in the World?

A lot of people breathed a sigh of relief last week when it was announced that Spider-Man 4 was a no-go. As we all know, Spider-Man 3 was hardly the highlight of the series, and it was probably wise for Tobey Maguire to hang up his spandex before the reputation of the beloved franchise could be further tarnished.

But as it turns out, Sony doesn't need the help of Maguire or writer/director Sam Raimi to knock Spider-Man down off his web. They can find someone else to do it for much cheaper! It only took moments for that sigh of relief to turn into a groan when it was announced that instead of a Spider-Man 4, Sony would be giving us Spider-Man Redux. Apparently, they felt it was time to infuse the franchise with fresh blood and a "gritty, contemporary" tone. I like this article's suggestion that the main motivation for rebooting one of the decade's most successful franchises is a desire to bring in the same type of record-breaking box-office hauls that the first three films earned with a much smaller budget. It would be easy to pretend this new Spider-Man didn't exist if I just wrote it off as a product of corporate greed. But I can't ignore this reboot when I'm worried that it might possibly tarnish not only the legacy of those first two great Spider-Man films, but also Batman Begins, the terrific superhero film Sony is clearly about to rip off.

"Gritty" is one of those worrisome adjectives that gets tossed around (see also: "edgy" and "quirky") when a studio sees something that works and wants to cash in themselves. Sony was doing fine with their first two Spider-Man movies, bringing in huge box-office totals with Spider-Man in 2002 and Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Maguire's nerdy, earnest Peter Parker seemed to be the decade's reigning action hero. But then something unexpected happened in 2005. Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan brought back the struggling Batman franchise from the campy hell Joel Schumacher had sent it to with 1997's Batman and Robin. Nolan's Batman Begins was a total reinvention of the Caped Crusader, a darker and -- dare we say it -- grittier vision of the Batman character than movie audiences had ever seen before. It spawned a sequel that became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the superhero genre. And although Spider-Man 3 performed well at the box office in 2007, critics and audiences seemed to agree that Spidey was starting to feel a little played out.

After the creative failure of Spider-Man 3, it's easy to understand how Sony could envy the success of Nolan's Batman franchise and want to get in on the "gritty" action. But there's one major problem that's apparent to anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man: there's not an ounce of grit in this character. Sure, like Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker is an orphan. But unlike Bruce, Peter was taken in and raised by his loving aunt and uncle. And while he may not have been the most popular guy in school, Peter was not a complete outcast. He wasn't friendless, and he was even able to eventually win the heart of his beloved Mary Jane Watson. People don't relate to Spider-Man because they are intrigued by the darkness in him. They relate to him because he is an Everyman. He behaves the way we like to think we'd behave if we were ever given extraordinary powers. We like him because he looks like Tobey Maguire, who, let's face it, never looked like a real movie star to us anyway.

If all superhero movies were meant to look the same, there probably wouldn't have been so many superheros that have passed the test of time and become ingrained in our pop culture. One mega hero would've eaten up all the competition long ago. But there are different reasons to enjoy different heroes, and that's why Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man can all peacefully co-exist in our world. Just because Batman's grit is the current flavor of the month doesn't mean the rest of his superhero brethren need to adapt to his style. In fact, if Spider-Man follows through with the radical transformation Sony has planned for him, and in turn, other studios jump on the "gritty" bandwagon with their comic book franchises, we will quickly grow tired of these brooding, miserable guys in capes that are supposed to be saving the world. The entire genre will suffer.

The studio might miss the revenue he brings in, but fans will be OK with Spider-Man taking a break from the big screen if the creative team that truly understands the character doesn't want to make another movie. We'd rather see no Spider-Man than one we don't recognize. Sony needs to realize that with their great power comes the great responsibility to remain true to this iconic character.