Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 Would Fix a Sony Villain Universe Problem

Since abandoning Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4, Sony hasn't known what to do with the hero's universe.

Spiderman climbing a tall building in a scene from the film 'Spiderman', 2002.
Photo: Columbia Pictures | Getty Images

Doctor Octopus! Green Goblin! Mysterio!

Spider-Man has a baddie line-up to rival that of any other superhero. Even better, the best of the worst regularly get together to form a supervillain team, the Sinister Six. Why the very idea is enough to send any superhero fan’s heart aflutter. And make a Sony executive’s bank account howl in hunger.

That’s undoubtedly why Sony has tried so hard to make a Sinister Six movie happen, first in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, and then in its Spidey-less Spider-Verse with Venom, Morbius, and Madame Web. But before both of these disastrous failures, Sony was already on the right track to making a great movie with some of the best baddies.

After the sub-standard Spider-Man 3, director Sam Raimi had planned to right the ship, leaving behind shiny new(ish) villains like Venom. Announced on March 12, 2009, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 would have reunited the director with not only star Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, but also to the villains he loved since childhood namely John Malkovich as the Vulture, possibly Dylan Baker’s Curt Conners finally becoming the Lizard, and a cameo for Raimi’s old pal Bruce Campbell, who may have been playing Mysterio.

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Had Raimi not decided to step away from the project, he would have made Spider-Man 4 into the villain movie that Sony wants so badly. Here’s why.

Raimi Grounded His Movies in Spider-Man’s Best Comics

Without question, Spider-Man 3 has its problems. Connecting Sandman to the death of Uncle Ben, the unclear Gwen Stacy arc, and the resolution of Harry Osborn’s story — none of these elements work.

But then there’s Flint Marko’s transformation into the Sandman, one of the most lyrical moments in any superhero movie. As the camera circles around Marko, trying to reconstitute himself into a solid person long enough to hold the ring his daughter gave him, absurd superpowers meld with grounded human emotions. Despite the shoddy CG effects, the pain on Marko’s face as the ring slips through the grains of his hand is real. We buy the effect emotionally, even if we don’t buy it visually.

How can Raimi glean such authentic emotion from such a silly premise? Because he accepts the high soap operatics of early Marvel Comics. For his movies, Raimi drew from the 1970s Spider-Man comics he loved as a youth, comics made by creators such as Gerry Conway, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and John Buscema.

These were the comics that made Spider-Man into the sensation he was today. They built stories out of the core premise of Spider-Man, a New York kid who tries to use his powers for good while balancing school, personal life, work, and superheroing. That central tension drove Spidey’s stories, and the villains who made trouble for him.

Raimi Understood the Tone of Spider-Man Comics

Some of you youngins might not know this, but way back in 2002, audiences mocked one scene in Spider-Man. They just could not accept the bit when Green Goblin tries to recruit Spidey by knocking him out and carrying him to the rooftop. They said it looked cheesy, that it looked like Power Rangers.

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But it’s not supposed to look cool. It’s supposed to look awesome, and it succeeds. That kind of goofy set-up comes right from the comics that Raimi loved. Those comics got melodramatic, sure. But they also understood the inherent cheese and unrealism of superheroes. Instead of apologizing for that tone, Raimi embraced it.

Even after Stan Lee left Amazing Spider-Man, those comics carried his penchant for melodramatic dialogue. Sure, it reads cheesy now, but to young Sam Raimi, only those over-the-top exclamations could capture the pain of trying to balance a failing love-life, school, part-time work, and the weight of responsibility. Raimi carried those feelings into adulthood, where he translated them as a gifted visual artist.

As demonstrated by Norman Osborn pleading Peter not to tell Harry, Doc Ock fighting to take control of his mind, and the aforementioned Sandman scene, we can be sure that the Lizard and the Vulture would have moments of tragedy missing from Venom, Morbius, or Ezekiel Sims.

That said, the Sony movies do have a sense of humor. But it’s not an internal sense of humor, one driven by the motivations of the characters in the movie. Instead, it’s a wry or winking humor, one that makes fun of the characters. Memes about “Morbin’ Time!” or being in the Amazon with Madame Web’s mom are funny, as is Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock jumping into a lobster tank. But those want viewers to laugh at the stupid stuff on screen, not laugh with it.

Contrast that to what Raimi wanted to do for Spider-Man 4, bringing back his old pal Bruce Campbell. Campbell played a doofus in all of Raimi’s previous Spider-Man movies, and Spidey 4 would have been his biggest part yet. Campbell’s charming bluster would have crystallized the Raimi comic book aesthetic, especially if he played special effects expert turned villain Mysterio.

Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 Would Have Spider-Man In It

On one hand, you have to admire Sony’s gumption, trying to make a movie about a guy like Venom — whose entire look and motivation revolves around Spider-Man — without Spider-Man. In some reality, the right mixture of out-of-the-box-thinking filmmaker and rogue producer exists to make such a concept work. But it is not the reality in which Sony green lit their Spidey-less movies because they had an IP and they wanted to money it promised.

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The Kraven of this era was just a lunatic who wanted to hunt big game, so he comes after Spider-Man. The Electro of this era wants to rob banks and get rich, so he tries to avoid Spider-Man. The motivations were simple because the story belonged to Peter.

That’s exactly how Raimi chose the baddies for his movies. Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman, and Venom weren’t the first concern. Rather, they reflected Spider-Man’s new powers, his desire to enjoy life, the mistakes that still haunt him. The villains gain meaning as thematic resonances with Spider-Man, not as ends to themselves.

The Sony movies don’t have a central figure to build their movies around (unless you count Mary Parker’s boy in Madame Web. Too bad they never revealed his first name, huh?). Instead, the producers grab underdeveloped characters who were never written to stand alone, plop them on the screen without adding anything to enrich the stories, and poke them with a stick, saying “C’mon. Do something.”

The Past and Future of Spider-Man Movies

In the 15 years since Spider-Man 4 was announced, Sam Raimi reunited with his Harry Osborn James Franco for the disastrous Oz the Great and Powerful and then stopped making movies for nearly a decade, finally returning to Marvel for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Sony tried to launch a cinematic universe with The Amazing Spider-Man before giving up and sending Spidey to the MCU.

Although they still have Kraven the Hunter and Venom 3 upcoming, the utter failure of Madame Web has forced them to rethink the entire non-Spider-Verse enterprise. And while Tom Holland’s Spider-Man plays around in the MCU, Sony still owns his movie rights. With Spider-Man: No Way Home bringing the character to something of a close, some have wondered if Sony’s going to try to bring Holland out of the MCU and into their universe.

At the same time, there’s a spreading rumor that Sam Raimi is in talks to do a fourth Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire. If that, still very flimsy, rumor does somehow come true, it only furthers proves that Sony should have never let Raimi go in the first place.

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