When is a reboot not a reboot? When it happens every five years.
In 2010, the reaction to the recasting of Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield was fierce enough to inspire charged Internet campaigns. On Tuesday, the role changed hands again, going to the 19-year-old English actor Tom Holland, who will appear in the third Captain American movie next year before getting his own film in 2017. This time, the news was greeted with shrugs. Holland is by all accounts a talented young actor, and since he’s actually a teenager, he’s perhaps a better fit to play the comic books’ high-school student Peter Parker than Garfield or Tobey Maguire, both of whom were in their mid-to-late 20s when they took on the role. Still, Holland will be the third onscreen Spidey in less than 10 years, and is by far the least familiar face, raising the question of whether audiences have the appetite to watch this particular origin story again.
Holland’s casting is a by-product of corporate negotiations: Marvel Comics owns the film rights to most of its characters, but Spider-Man is in the hands of Sony, which has produced two franchises since 2002—a trilogy from director Sam Raimi starring Maguire, and two films from Marc Webb starring Garfield. Now, thanks to a unique production deal, Spider-Man can exist in the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Sony can keep the profits from his appearances: Starting next year, fans can watch Spider-Man work with Iron Man and Captain America. But box-office returns show that as the superhero has been recast and rebooted, audience loyalty has fallen dramatically—and the lukewarm reaction to Holland’s casting is perhaps further proof of the same downward slide.