Spider-Man 4: What it Could Have Been & Why it Didn't Happen

Spider-Man 4: What it Could Have Been & Why it Didn't Happen

Despite lukewarm critical reception, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 was a massive financial success for Sony Pictures, so a sequel seemed like an inevitability. Right?

  There is no superhero movie that brings back as many nostalgic memories as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man does. With all the "gritty" and "realistic" comic book adaptions in today's cinematic world, it may seem cheesy and tacky to some. To me, though, it's great. Tobey Maguire was the Spider-Man I grew up, so he will always be the definitive Spidey to me. I loved the sequels just as much as the original film, and nowadays I love Spider-Man 2 even moreso. It's my favorite Marvel film. And yes, I did say sequels. Despite how hated it is by my fellow fans, and the mockery I usually get for defending such a loathed film, I love Spider-Man 3. Part of it is nostalgia, but another part of my love for it spans from the charm it has. It isn't afraid to be silly, and while that silliness is exactly what puts some off, I admire it, especially in today's cynical world. Sam Raimi grew up reading the original comics from the 1960's, so he tried to imitate that style and bring that escapist world to life. Personally, I think he succeeded in doing that. As part of bringing his childhood comics to life, Raimi wanted to include the villains from those comics. Classic foes such as the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman, and the Vulture. Sadly, because of pesky studio interference, he never got to bring one of those villains to the silver screen. Story time... 

  Our story begins in the summer of 2004. Spider-Man 2 has received glowingly positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, and it made a mint at the box office. Sony is pleased, and has made a choice that is a no-brainer. That choice? Green ighting a third Spider-Man film, to be directed by the returning Raimi, and to feature the same cast. Once story sessions began, things were looking bright for the future of the beloved franchise. Sam and his brother Ted came up with a storyline that focused on forgiveness. Harry, who would not become a Goblin, rather being conflicted over whether or not to believe his friend Peter or the phantom of his deceased father, Norman, would forgive Peter. Peter would forgive Flint Marko, AKA The Sandman, the true murderer of his beloved Uncle Ben. A second villain, the Vulture, was also to appear, and would die in the third-act to show what happens if we do not forgive each other. The storyline was shown to Sony, who liked the gist of it, but was worried about the inclusion of the Vulture, a villain who they did not think was visually interesting enough to sell toys of. Producer Avi Arad convinced Raimi to include the iconic antihero Venom as the second antagonist, citing the fan's desire to see the character make an appearance as the reason Raimi should scrap and replace Vulture. Raimi did this, and Arad also saw to it that Harry's storyline was altered so he would don the mantle of his fallen father, becoming a "New Goblin". With three villains, the story was becoming cluttered. By introducing Venom, Raimi also had to introduce the symbiote, and the black suit worn by Spidey. Producer Laura Ziskin convinced Raimi to include iconic Spidey supporting characters Gwen Stacy and Captain George Stacy. With all these new characters, Alvin Sargent, who returned to pen the screenplay, was becoming overwhelmed and struggled to find a reasonable way to connect all of these characters. He made a plea to the producers that the movie should be split into two, but they didn't think that was a good idea, and so Spider-Man 3, with a muddled script that Raimi was not fond of, began filming in early 2006. Topher Grace was cast as Eddie Brock/Venom, a choice that remains controversial to this day. It is believed that Raimi cast Grace to spite Arad for making him change his original storyline. Spider-Man 3 was released on May 4th, 2007, to mixed reviews. The convoluted and cluttered storyline was a major problem for most people, with the fans especially taking issue with the treatment of Venom, whose appearance was reduced to a five-minute action scene at the end of the movie before being killed off. Despite the reviews, it was a massive hit for Sony. Massive being an understatement. Spider-Man 3 was Sony's highest grossing film, as well as the highest-grossing Marvel adaptation, and the highest-grossing superhero film, for that matter. Sony didn't care for the reception. This movie was an unprecedented hit for them, and they quickly greenlit a fourth installment. Raimi, however, was disillusioned by the reception. He felt guilty for disappointing the fans, and only agreed to direct a fourth film so that he could redeem himself for Spider-Man 3's shortcomings with an installment that would be "the greatest Spider-Man of them all". As we all know, this never came to be. But why?  

  Pre-production on Spider-Man 4 began in 2009, after Raimi finished directing his indie-horror film "Drag Me to Hell". An exhausted Sargent opted not to return to write the screenplay, so James Vanderbilt, writer of Zodiac, was hired. Raimi signed on to the project with Sony promising him full creative control. Needless to say, this did not happen. Problems arose from the beginning. Sony opted not to use Raimi's choice of villain, the Lizard, as they believed his inhuman appearance would alienate viewers, and wanted a villain who had a human face. This didn't bother Raimi, as it gave him an opportunity to bring back the Vulture, who he was still interested in after the Spider-Man 3 fiasco. As they were during the production of that movie, Sony was worried about the inclusion of the Vulture. They didn't believe he was marketable enough, and wanted to go with a more visually interesting foe for the wall-crawler. Raimi and the producers made an agreement. Vulture would still be featured, but antihero Black Cat was to be included as well. Once Vanderbilt turned in his first draft, things only got worse. Raimi hated the screenplay with a passion, and demanded a rewrite. Pulitzer-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abiare was hired to rewrite Vanderbilt's draft. Behind the scenes, more changes to the villains of the film arose. Over at Warner Bros, Christopher Nolan was beginning production on his third Batman film, which was to feature Catwoman. Sony, fearing audiences would accuse them of ripping off Catwoman with the Black Cat, made the bizzare and controversial decision to have Felicia Hardy suit up as the "Vulturess", rather than the Black Cat. Raimi hated Lindsay-Abaire's script, so Gary Ross was hired for yet another rewrite, which Raimi also hated. The story of the unmade film, in a nutshell, focused on Peter and MJ, now married with a child, being torn apart yet again by a new girl, Felicia Hardy, who Peter begins cheating on MJ with. Once MJ gains light of this, she leaves Peter and brings their child with her. As if that wasn't enough, Felicia's real father is revealed to be the Vulture, AKA Adrian Toomes, the new editor-in-chief at the Daily Bugle. Spider-Man deliberately murders the Vulture, so Felicia becomes the Vulturess to avenge him, and by the end of the film, Peter has quit being Spider-Man yet again. Raimi hated the story, Sony hated the story, everyone hated the story. Sony decided that if they were going to put out this mess of a film, they could at least make some extra money off of the toys for it, so they decided to include a THIRD villain, rumored to be either Carnage (to set up a Venom spin-off) or Electro. By this point, Raimi was livid. He didn't get the creative control Sony promised him, and he was about the disappoint fans a second time. He hired Alvin Sargent to try and fix the story, but Sony wouldn't have any of it. They already had a release date set for the film, which was May 6th, 2011, and they didn't want to delay the film any further for yet another rewrite. After all, concept art and storyboards were already being produced, and the villains were cast, with John Malkovich donning the wings of the Vulture and Anne Hathaway suiting up as the... ugh... Vulturess. Realizing there was no way he could get a good movie out that soon, Raimi left the project in January 2010, and the cast left with him. Sony feared this would happen, so they had already hired James Vanderbilt to pen a gritty reboot, which became 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man. 

   Audiences have a great new Spider-Man in the form of Tom Holland, so they obviously wouldn't be lamenting the loss of this film, but as a fan of Raimi and his vision, I lament it. I always will lament it. I firmly believe a fourth Raimi film, no matter how poorly received it would have been, would have been much more successful than the reboot. The general audience ate these movies up, which is why Spider-Man 3 was such a success, despite its reception. I hope that maybe, one day, we learn more about this film. Much like Tim Burton's Superman Lives, or George Miller's Justice League: Mortal, it is an interesting "what if?" situation. It's a shame Raimi never got the redemption he was hoping for with Spider-Man 4, but maybe one day, somehow, he can redeem himself in the eyes of the fanbase he feels he let down. He deserves closure for this. He made two (three imho) great Spider-Man films, and doesn't deserve to be bashed for the shortcomings of Spider-man 3. 

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