By Adam Clement
After the success of Iron Man this summer, putting superheroes on the big screen is just as popular as ever.
So, as certain as the sunrise, talk of a fourth installment in the lucrative Spider-Man film franchise (which boasts a collective $1.1 billion alone domestically, thus far) has begun to surface. With a release date pegged for May 2011, it’s hard not to speculate about which direction the franchise will go.
We recently spoke via email with comicbook aficionado and executive editor of Wizard magazine, Brian Cunningham, to tap into the flurry of suspicions and preeminent hype for what could be a ripe return to form.
“It’s pretty exciting to even be talking about a fourth Spider-Man movie! I mean, Sam Raimi and co. have built a movie franchise laced with adamantium, and much of their success is due to keeping [it] in the spirit of the comic books,” he affirmed. “I know I'm not the only one looking forward to Spider-Man 4.”
Not everyone is that optimistic, though.
With a less-than-“amazing” structure in Spider-Man 3, the alleged input on behalf of producers to include fanboy favorite Venom (played by Topher Grace) in the midst of a hodgepodge of great standalone stories seems to have been too much for the webbed wonder to handle. Purists are also quick to point out many nitpicks (Gwen Stacy’s too-little-too-late introduction into the franchise, an unsubstantial Sandman villain and an “emo” Peter Parker, among other nuisances), despite the film’s huge commercial success.
With that said, turning to scribe James Vanderbilt ( Zodiac, Darkness Falls ) to pen the third sequel seems an inspired choice that may put characters before special effects, once again.
“ Zodiac was an excellent character-driven film, so I'm looking forward to seeing Vanderbilt's take on the Spidey cast,” Cunningham said.
Yet even if the story comes together, the creative team behind the first three films may be absent. Director Sam Raimi and comic book couple Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have all served out their contracts, leaving a frantic studio to commiserate new alternatives or shell out more money for familiar faces to appease fans.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty, Cunningham sees nothing to worry about.
“The franchise is built upon solid bedrock. If Raimi opted out, I would love to see Joss Whedon try his hand at it. [He] plays to strengths and storytelling sensibilities extremely well. Plus, he's a Spidey fan, to boot.”
When inquired about newbie names who could fill the costume in lieu of Maguire ( Almost Famous ’ Patrick Fugit and Sky High ’s Michael Angarano have been named) the comic-savvy editor had this to say: “I think most people would like to see Tobey and Kirsten reprise their roles because they play their parts so well. But if Tobey’s hanging up his spandex webs, I can see those actors [Fugit or Angarano] taking on the role, sure. I also see Connor Paolo from Gossip Girl in the running.”
“You really need to find an actor who has that nerdy optimism vibe,” he concluded.
Veering slightly just the same, one might argue that the films haven’t stayed strictly faithful to the comics in numerous facets; but a change of pace could be a refreshing appeal to fans and mainstream audiences looking to delve deeper into the mythos.
“The filmmakers could go for a mystery angle having a Hobgoblin show up, but you don’t know who he is, which is how it played out in the comics,” he stated. “Or you could do a ‘Clone Saga,’ but it would need to be the story done in Ultimate Spider-Man,” Cunningham advised.
“Any of the Ultimate Spider-Man arcs would make for excellent springboards.”
The momentum provided by the initial trilogy seems powerful enough to warrant another success regardless of what happens, but Cunningham warns there are always pratfalls for even the mightiest of superheroes.
“The only thing that will hurt the franchise is if the filmmakers deviate from the spirit of the character and do [it] an injustice. Batman & Robin stands as the ultimate cautionary tale of filmmakers not treating the material with respect ... and we all know how well that turned out.”
Come summer 2011, audiences can only hope that the people behind the Spidey franchise still understand the mantra, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”