Through the annals of abandoned superhero movies, and masked marvel projects which never happened, Spider-Man 4 remains one of the greater ‘what ifs.’ This is in no small part because millions of fans around the world had already seen what Sam Raimi and company brought to the wallcrawler in what is now known as “the Spider-Man Trilogy,” and most generally loved two-thirds of that. So when Raimi famously derailed the project in late 2009—effectively leading to its cancellation—there were plenty of folks upset by the idea that we’d never see Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker again.
Things of course change. That said we’ve still only had hints at what Raimi’s abandoned Spider-Man 4 would’ve looked like. John Malkovich was expected to play the Vulture; Anne Hathaway was at least very close to being cast as Felicia Hardy (it’s vague whether she officially signed on). But what would have all that looked like? Thanks to storyboard artist David E. Duncan we now have a much better idea.
More than a decade after Spider-Man 4’s cancellation, Duncan has released on Vimeo what he described to be one of a half-dozen animatics he illustrated for the picture. A combination of storyboard illustrations and early previsualization digital animation, this animatic is from what Duncan says would’ve been the final battle between Maguire’s Web-Head and Malkovich’s Adrian Toomes, who judging purely by the storyboards is a much nastier figure than the version of the character played by Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
In the video linked here, fans can see how the fight would begin with a nifty web trick wherein Maguire’s Spider-Man creates two web parachutes after being dropped from a great height by the Vulture. While they fail to fully prevent the impact of his fall, it’s still a Spider-Man comic book maneuver we’ve yet to see on the big screen. Be that as it may, the actual fight quickly appears to be cruelly intimate, complete with Maguire’s Spidey being stabbed repeatedly by a long wrist blade in the Vulture’s armor which resembles Laurence Olivier’s killing move in Marathon Man.
Notably the sequence includes one woman looking on in horror, and at least in this writer’s opinion, she better resembles Hathaway than Kirsten Dunst, who was also slated to return as Mary Jane Watson in the sequel. The onlooker seems fairly apprehensive as well when Toomes is mortally wounded by Spider-Man and bloodily flies off, crashing into several buildings before succumbing to his wounds and sinking beneath the river.
As an action sequence, the final battle appears to be pretty gripping, and even in terms of animatics, one can get a sense for Raimi’s muscular visual flair, with an emphasis on close-ups and tracking the action in ways which is often more brutal and visceral than the standard Marvel Cinematic Universe fare. Which is to say, this Vulture’s attack seems much more menacing than anything we saw in Homecoming. Similarly, Raimi’s penchant for always getting the “human” perspective, with onlookers inside the building watching the warring gods, adds a level of awe to the sequence which superhero movies have increasingly come to lack over the last decade.
However, it is also filled with what had become clichés by Spider-Man 3. While the Vulture (blessedly) does not kidnap Mary Jane, we still have another climax pivoting around the villain removing Spidey’s mask so viewers can get a look at Maguire’s baby blues, and another scene of the villain being at least partially responsible for his own demise (Vulture appears to fall on his blade). Familiar is one word to describe it. Also I might be looking too deeply into it, but the rumors that the studio was requiring Raimi to change Felicia Hardy from the Black Cat into Vulturess, and therefore secretly be Toomes’ daughter, might also be at play in this sequence with her horror at Toomes’ fall.
If that is the actual direction Spider-Man 4 was going… no thanks.
But to be fair, one of the reasons for its eventual cancellation is there was not a lot of agreement about what direction the movie should go in. According to Duncan the film died after “studio politics, creative differences and bad internet reactions (to John Malkovich as Vulture) caused the plug to be pulled December 20009, early in the prep stage.”
And we’ve known from anecdotes past that Raimi wasn’t happy in the direction the film was headed. Deadline reported in January 2010 that the director “hated” the first several drafts of Spider-Man 4’s script, which were written by James Vanderbilt, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Gary Ross. The director was holding out hope that a new draft by Alvin Sargent (who was critical to writing the final drafts of all three original Spider-Man movies) would salvage the story. But the director lost faith that they could fix the movie in time for its intended May 2011 release date, so he publicly announced he could not deliver the film by that year. You can read more about what might’ve been here.
Sony of course mothballed the project and fast-tracked what became Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man, with a screenplay by Vanderbilt. Hathaway meanwhile landed on her feet as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.