After the critical debacle that was Spider-Man 3 and the eye-opening masterpiece that is The Dark Knight, does anyone really care to see a fourth Spider-Man movie with the same creative team behind it? How about a fifth?

Deadline Hollywood has confirmed that Sony has signed both Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire to direct and star in Spider-Man 4. They already have a script from Zodiac scribe Jamie Vanderbilt, and a principal photography start date of fall 2009. What they don’t have is a non-fiscally related reason to make a fourth film in the franchise. (But this is not a rant about how abysmally bad Spider-Man 3 was…)

A continuation of the series was a no-brainer as Spider-Man 3 was the highest grossing of the three films (although the lowest grossing domestically.) What was up in the air however was the involvement of Raimi and Maguire, both of whom played it coy and non-committal in recent months. Maguire has stated his desire to step away from the role, but his Spider-Man paychecks and residuals are understandably tempting. Since the series started in 2002 Maguire has only made two non-Spidey movies, which is a shame because if you’ve seen Wonder Boys, The Ice Storm, or even Pleasantville, then you know he has a lot more talent and range than the Peter Parker role affords him.

The inside source says Sony is seriously considering filming parts four and five simultaneously, a la Back to the Future 2/3 and The Matrix 2/3. The reasoning is financially based (like most decisions with this franchise) although future scheduling concerns are sure to play a part as well. The Shrill Snaggletooth (aka Kirsten Dunst) has not yet signed on, but expect that to change by next fall. The villain (or villains…) has not yet been announced, although the source says “once you find out who the villain is, you’ll know who’s playing it.” That quote leads most people to think Dylan Baker’s Dr. Curt Connors will be growing a tail to play The Lizard for the sequel.

One guarantee is that part four will not feature the Venom character played by Topher Grace in the last installment. Sony has screenwriters hard at work on a stand alone Venom film, even though creator Todd McFarlane thinks it’s a bad idea. “I don’t know if you can have a movie about a guy who goes out there and maims everybody and wins all the time,” he said. “I don’t know what their mindset is and how they can get there other than adding too much niceness to him, but we’ll see.” That desire to make the character somewhat sympathetic is the main argument for keeping Grace in the role going forward, even they his portrayal met with stiff criticism from fans.

Should Sony give the Spider-Man series a rest? Or should they bring in fresh talent and give Raimi and Maguire a rest? Does anyone actually find Kirsten Dunst attractive in any way, shape, or form?

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