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Superhero movies that fell apart : Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4

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Caffeinated Clint
@http://www.twitter.com/clintmoviehole

Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

Like a cheating spouse who coincidentally goes cold on a relationship, things can simply and surprisingly just come to a stop just when it looks like they’re going good. Film productions are no different. And if we could see behind the bedroom doors of the many superhero movies that were greenlit, we wouldn’t at all be surprised when some of them were diagnosed ‘done’ before the camera even rolls.

From numerous Superman movies to a Rocketeer sequel that would’ve cemented Billy Campbell’s career as a bonafide matinee idol, superhero movies are one of the leading causes of wasted contract paper today. One minute they’re on, the next minute they’re off – and many trees lives are ruined as a result. Some fanboys may claim theirs were too.

Spider-Man 4

directed by Sam Raimi
starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, John Malkovich, Dylan Baker
date of release May 6, 2011

One of the more recent 11th hour axings of the superhero movie world is “Spider-Man 4″, which likely would’ve hit cinemas next week had it not been castrated by the powers-that-be just a couple of months shy of wetting down Kirsten Dunst’s see-through T-Shirt.

Raimi told me in 2009, just after signing the deal to do a fourth “Spider-Man”, that he believed he could right the wrongs of the third film with a fourth. He sounded energized again – so enthused, in fact, he abandoned plans to direct a Jack Ryan movie, something he’d dreamed about doing since catching 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October” in cinemas. But he loved Spider-Man, more than Ryan. Or said he said.

“I love the character [of Spider-Man]”, Raimi told me in a phone call. “I love Spider-Man, but I really love Peter Parker. I think I can do a good job, if not a better job, than I’ve done before. I really feel like I know the character in a way I haven’t been able to put on film just yet.”

Raimi said he had been working his ass-off on trying to crack the script with James Vanderbilt. This fourth “Spider-Man” might also lead the way to a fifth and sixth in installment, he stated, claiming that those two would be one big stout linked story. Clearly, he was excited to some degree about getting the franchise back on track.

Like most filmmakers who involuntarily find themselves tied to a superhero film franchise, Sam Raimi swore that “Spider-Man 3″ would be his last. And ultimately, his word would be true – even if he didn’t mean it. Because for a while there, it looked like the suit-and-tie wearing legend of cult cinema might be caught in the sticky web one more time, with Raimi, Sony, as well as “Spider-Man” stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, all agreeing to unite for “Spider-Man 4″ in 2009.

Production on “Spider-Man 4″ would begin on February 2010.

But with a rushed production schedule, the nightmare situation of “Spider-Man 3″ still fresh in Raimi’s mind, and too many opposing ideas, the cast and crew of the original “Spider-Man” series opted to take a package – or, to quote a technical-term thrown away in Hollywood, ‘they decided to dodge a fucking bullet’.

Raimi, who did have creative control on the sequel, said he simply couldn’t crack the script, and that’s why he and Sony parted ways. And with no less than four writers onboard “Spider-Man 4″ at different times, including Alvin Sargent, “Hunger Games” scribe Gary Ross” and “Jurassic Park” penner David Koepp, seems they did give it a good try.

It was early 2010 when word started to leak that “Spider-Man 4″ was in trouble. One of the most damning pieces of evidence came in the form of an internal memo from the vfx department that was leaked.

It read :

” Hi there.
So, it’s official. “Spider-Man 4” has been pushed back several months, both the start of shooting and the release date.
At this time, we have no official start date, so I would encourage all of you to look for other work.
If/when the situation changes, either Rachelle, Spencer, or I will be in touch.
I apologize for the inconvenience.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Josh R. Jaggars
Sr. VFX Producer
SPIDER-M4N”

So, why not give Raimi more time to crack the script? Well, the answer lies in a per-arranged release date Sony already had locked in for the film.

Sony wanted “Spider-Man 4″ in cinemas on May 6, 2011 but Raimi knew, what with the script in poor shape, and nobody seemingly on the same page, that he couldn’t make that date. The film would be rushed. It would be “Spider-Man : The Squeakuel”, in other words. And nobody wants to put their name on a cinematic pap smear… er. twice.

Raimi was also rumoured to have butted heads with the studio on his choice of villains for the film (the studio pushed ‘Venom’ on him for “Spider-Man 3″ and ruined his movie, in his opinion, so he didn’t want to be told which characters to include in the next film) and his pick for the film’s leading lady – who Sony said was too expensive.

In short, Sony just didn’t want to make Raimi’s movie and definitely didn’t want it if he was going to need more time to make it happen.

A call was made. Raimi and his cast would not be returning. He was keeping his dignity intact (even if some of it was taped together after “Spider-Man 3″), and protecting his actors at the same time, and off the trilogy troupe walked into sunset. They wouldn’t be making May 2011.

Now in panic mode, Sony had to quickly scramble to get any kind of Spidey project up (if they didn’t want to lose the rights) and a week or so after Raimi’s exit, announced the result of said emergency brainstorm.

Instead of Raimi’s continuing adventures of Peter Parker, Sony decided to reboot the “Spider-Man” franchise with Andrew Garfield stepping in for Tobey Maguire, and the cheaper but talented Marc Webb playing proxy to Sam Raimi. The result is “The Amazing Spider-Man”, hitting cinemas next week.

But if “The Amazing Spider-Man” hadn’t happened, what would “Spider-Man 4″ have had in store for audiences?

Two words : Anne. Hathaway

OK, three words : Anne. Hathaway. Leather

But since Batman ended up giving us that anyway, we’re not really missing out on much… or are we!?

The star of this Summer’s “Dark Knight Rises” was originally courted to play the femme fatale of the fourth “Spider-Man”. Early scuttlebutt had it that she’d been asked to play the Catwoman-esque ‘Black Cat’, but it would later be revealed that the multi-talented hottie was pencilled in to play a character called.. The Vulturess.

Hathaway ultimately ended up with a much richer gig, playing the world-renowned Catwoman (in an opposing studio’s blockbuster movie), over the ‘WTF’ character, The Vulturess, but it might still have been interesting to see thesps Hathaway and Maguire go head-to-head, or latex-to-latex, in the one-time Spidey film, no?

And speaking of thesps, John Malkovich was hired to play The Vulture, the film’s main villain. Hathaway’s character, of course, would be his daughter. Such a resemblance there, after all. Both have eyebrows. Or something.

And this would also be Dylan Baker‘s chance – the “Spider-Man” movie series regular – to turn from Dr. Curt Connors to ‘The Lizard’, a conversion Baker had been promised from day one (as it turned out, Sony would use the character of The Lizard – albeit with a different actor, Rhys Ifans – in their reboot.)

“Spider-Man 4″ – or “The one that James Franco would be free of”, as it was quietly nicknamed around town at the time – would’ve likely been a better flick than the character-crammed hammy-as-bacon “Spider-Man 3″ (widely regarded to be one of the worst superhero sequels in recent history) but just how good? Especially considering how much of a rush Sony were in to make it… and how desperate they were for good villains that they opted to ‘make one up’ (The Vulturess)

Malkovich says he was personally disappointed not to have gotten a chance to do the film, but reiterates that neither the story idea nor the characters in the script were enticing enough for comic-book buffs.

“Well, I think a lot of the people who sort of follow that genre… I’m not sure, I never really spoke with Sam about this, but I’m not sure they — maybe the kind of fanbase, the fanboys — either didn’t approve of that character as an adversary for him to some extent…or maybe the studio. Or maybe that was totally unrelated to why it fell apart.”

The “Con-Air” star, who you have to admit would’ve been perfect to play the bald-headed ‘Vulture’ character, says he would’ve enjoyed doing the “Spider-Man” movie if only because he’d been in the mix to play one of the film trilogy’s villains since the 2001 original.

As it turned out, “Amazing Spider-Man” would offer audiences something new… but also something old… and also, some recycled bits (like ‘The Lizard’, the 3D gimmick, and the darker theme, all of Vanderbilt’s “Spider-Man 4″ script). Review-wise, the Marc Webb-directed picture is snagging reviews not much better than those “Spider-Man 3″ got. Is that a chortle I hear Mr Raimi!?

“Amazing Spider-Man” is, despite the very mixed reviews, likely to make a mint at the box-office. But with Andrew Garfield rumoured to have only signed onto do one turn as Peter Parker, and director Marc Webb apparently in a spit-fight with Sony over how he was treated on the film, might Sony be forced to reboot the entire series again in another three years!? Guess time will tell.

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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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