I don't know that we've ever seen a franchise killed quite like the latest iteration of the Spider-Man franchise was. I think the closest we've ever come was the one-and-done George Lazenby Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but even that was just a recasting, not a wholesale ending of the franchise, only to have it immediately resurrected.
It's possible that the Amazing Spider-Man franchise was doomed from the start. When the Sam Raimi films ended there were decisions made that would set the course for what was next, and chief among them was reboot. It's been said to me that the reboot option was taken to get Raimi away from the franchise; if there was a Spider-Man 4 he would have been a producer, taking a big fee, even if he didn't direct. Raimi had ideas for the film, but after the morass of Spider-Man 3 he was probably done anyway. The reboot was supposed to fix the series' trend of bloated budgets - Spider-Man 3 has a stated budget of $258 million, but every source I've spoken with has told me the true cost of the film was north of $300 million. The vision for the reboot was a scaled down Spider-Man story, focusing heavily on a high school Peter Parker and his love affairs, with a major triangle between Peter, Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson. Marc Webb was chosen because his film (500) Days of Summer showed him to be a guy who could do romance in a way that dudes liked, and probably because his Han Solo shout out in that film felt like geek cred.
But that initial vision changed, and The Amazing Spider-Man ended up being just another expensive blockbuster, with a stated budget of $230 million, and with a story that didn't feel very different from what had gone before. People basically liked it - it's Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes - but it didn't feel like enough of a change, and the stuff that was changed, especially the addition of intrigue surrounding Peter's parents, felt awkward. But Webb seemed to have a great cast, and he moved forward with the sequel, supposedly costing $200 million (yeah, right). And disaster struck.
It's hard to see how it was a disaster if you're not used to the way Hollywood thinks and works. The film made money, but Sony had been hoping for a lot more - for a billion dollars worldwide. What's more, the series had been losing box office with every instalment; no entry in the series had ever beat 2002's Spider-Man, despite increases in ticket prices and 3D surcharges. The series was clearly deflating.
Sony simply didn't know what to do; Webb supposedly had a plan, and he had seeded Amazing Spider-Man 2 with elements that are clearly intended to pay off in the next film, including further reveals about Peter's parents and their connections to Oscorp. The studio had to face angry shareholders who wondered why Disney and Warner Bros had superhero universes while they only had one series that was shedding box office every entry. They spent some time flailing, looking for spin-off opportunities, planning on creating a whole Spider-verse. They didn't know what they were doing, frankly. They had Webb, who they liked, but they just didn't have a vision, and Webb's vision did not seem to be one that was speaking to audiences. His Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like an homage to Batman Forever more than a part of the modern superhero aesthetic.
Then the hack happened. No one can say for sure, but I truly think the Sony hack is what ended Webb's tenure on Spider-Man. They may have been thinking about it, may have been considering getting rid of him, but Sony was not interested in making a deal with Marvel before the hack. My sources at Marvel were sure that the talks between Sony and Marvel were dead at the time of the hack and the leaking of Amy Pascal's emails. But in the aftermath of that, everything began to change and the studio began to scramble. Pascal found herself on her way out. And they needed to save Spider-Man, their only real, dependable blockbuster franchise that could get them to a billion worldwide per picture.
What follows is sheer speculation: I suspect that Pascal, knowing she was on her way out, made the deal with Marvel and made herself a producer on the next Spider-Man as part of her own golden parachute. She knew that Sony could not fix this character. They simply do not know what to do. I'm not sure if she fully believes Marvel can, but anyone who looks at what Marvel has done simply has to give them the benefit of the doubt. Now with a stake in the future of the franchise, Pascal offiicially killed the reboot series and handed the reins to Marvel.
So we're left with this curious duology. I wonder how people will look back at these films in the future. They're unfinished, with indications of a story that continues and more growth for Spider-Man - over the course of two movies no one has yet said 'With great power comes great responsiblity,' after all, the central motto of the character. You can see where both of these movies had promise, you can see the skeleton that worked in a pitch meeting and in storyboards. But as movies both fail, despite the best efforts of great cast members and top notch FX work. They're bad movies, but they're sadly bad - you can see the effort. I think that effort, mixed with the casting and the essential question of "what could have been" will lead to a re-examination of The Amazing Spider-Man movies in a few years. I won't join in, but I'll understand it - it's such a curiousity, a vestigial franchise jammed between two other franchises. Spider-Man has now become a trilogy of versions, and the middle part is, as always, the darkest and most tortured. People like that.
I'm curious if this will ever happen again. We're in the middle of an endless reboot cycle, with properties just coming back up for air again and again, and I assume at some point this will happen once more. I think we came close with Man of Steel; throwing Batman into the sequel is the most obvious Hail Mary pass anyone has made in franchise filmmaking maybe ever. Batman comes close, but his first series petered out in a less spectacular way than Spidey's beheading, and his second series was allowed to wrap up as a whole. I suspect there are not other characters popular and successful enough to get three first films in fifteen years - that's one fresh start every five years, basically a new Spider-Man for each complete turnover of a high school. It's hard to imagine anyone taking a crack at John Carter of Mars or The Lone Ranger any time soon, and with the Marvel and DC characters existing in universes failures will be recast, as in the Bond mold, as opposed to rebooted. So enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man films as a true anamoly, a very expensive, sort of profitable experiment that didn't make it to the third trimester.