2002’s Spider-Man was a huge moment in superhero cinema – but it’s easy to overlook that some weren’t happy with the film as it headed to release.
Over the last few weeks, there have been a fair few trips down memory lane, reminiscing that online campaign that ran all the way back in 2005 to convince us that Daniel Craig wasn’t the right man to be James Bond. Now, five films later, Craig has comfortably had the last laugh here, but the creatives have admitted that the protest website against the Craig casting did get through their armour at one stage.
Yet in the pre-social media age – which sounds bliss – it wasn’t the first major franchise to attract a protest website. At the turn of the millennium, it was Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film that was in the crosshairs of internet ire.
Even on the surface, the fact that the film was going forward felt like a breathe out moment. After all, Spider-Man had been in rights and development hell for years, with James Cameron infamously trying to wrestle a version of the webslinger to the big screen and failing. Eventually, the rights to the character landed with Sony – as long as it paid Marvel 7% of the takings – and a film could press ahead.
But early rumours of the movie quickly started spreading around the internet, and it soon became clear that one particular decision was causing consternation amongst some parts of fandom. That in Sam Raimi’s film, Peter Parker/Spider-Man was going to have organic webshooters. That the origin story of the character was to be slightly altered away from the mechanical webshooters most associated with the character at that stage.
To a large section of the fanbase, a wait and see attitude was taken. But fervent Spidey fans weren’t happen. So much so that a man called Joe O’Malley – and a few of his colleagues – decided to do something about it. Thus, in 2000, he registered the domain www.no-organic-webshooters.com and popped a protest website online.
No point searching, it’s not there anymore. But that link goes to an archived version of it if you want to take a look. And here’s a screenshot of it (be nice, it was 20 years ago!)
The site made its case, arguing that “they have chosen to abandon over 37 years of existing fiction. Their decision is to have his webshooters be a mutational side effect of the radio-active spider bite that caused his other amazing powers. Basically, they would be newly developed mutated glands located in his wrists capable of producing webbing like a spider’s spinnerets. This is in direct contrast to the extraordinarily successful and well received story from his origin that Peter Parker in fact created the webshooters out of his own genius”.
Now in fairness to O’Malley, he wasn’t the only one concerned, and his website was on the constructive side. Perhaps it’s a sign of how things have changed and got nastier amongst fandom, but I’m far more respectful of someone putting their argument across on a website without resorting to personal attacks. That’s what this site did.
O’Malley and his chums also tried to recruit other fans to the protest, setting up an online petition and writing to Sam Raimi, Marvel and Sony Pictures, asking them to reconsider the decision to go organic. Ironically, it was said to be James Cameron who first introduced the idea of going that way on the big screen anyway, but no matter.
Raimi learned about the protest and was duly asked about it. It is not much of a spoiler to reveal that he opted not to change his mind on this, and Tobey Maguire’s take on Spidey had a slightly altered origin as a result. As he said in an interview at the time, “I’ve seen the Down With Organic Webshooters website”, adding “I’m putting out a petition myself: Down with Down with Organic Webshooters website”.
Rami was asked later, with two successful Spider-Man films under his belt and whilst promoting Spider-Man 3, how he felt about the protest in hindsight He opted not to add to it, telling Superhero Hype that “these people are very upset with me. They probably still are and I definitely won’t say that they aren’t because they’ll even be madder”.
Using internet archive services to explore the website now, it does all seem quite tame in comparison to the bile spewed online daily. The closest I could find to any kind of rage was a bust-up on the message board of the site, but even then that seemed to sort itself out. The protest went nowhere, and the wide acclaim and huge commercial success that greeted 2002’s Spider-Man film vindicated Raimi’s decision, even if some still would have preferred the more traditional approach.
But then they ultimately got that.
The great irony to all of this was that Sony then reversed that decision when it opted to hit the reboot button. Concerned that Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 was getting too expensive, it shut that project down and instead brought in a new team – and a new Spidey – for The Amazing Spider-Man. Two films in that line were made, with Andrew Garfield the new webslinger. This time around, Spider-Man would have his more traditional mechanical webshooters attached to his writers. However, unlike Sam Raimi- and James Cameron – there wasn’t much feeling either way. In fact, rather than it being a wrapped in story decision, the webshooters went to a vote.
Comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis told the story of how he and a bunch of producers and creatives went to the office of then Sony chief Amy Pascal. There, Pascal asked him whether the webshooters should be mechanical or organic. He said “mechanical”, and then he became clear that he’d cast the decisive, deciding vote in a decision that had split the room. As he told Yahoo! at the time, “when I see the mechanical webshooters, I feel a little happiness. I feel like I did something good in the world”.
No fan protests sprung up this time around over the webshooter issue.
As it’d turn out though, Sony had a whole host of other problems where The Amazing Spider-Man movies were concerned. Those, though, are stories for another time…
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