"With great power comes great responsibility." — “Amazing Fantasy #15” (the first appearance of Spider-Man, 1962)
Oh, what a tangled web they weaved. After three massive hit films featuring everybody’s favorite webslinger, series star Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi have parted ways with Sony over “Spider-Man 4."
As a lifelong fan of the comics and, later, the movies, I was crushed. Both did an amazing job on all three films — even the third one, which is unfairly regarded as the weakest of the series. The biggest problem with “Spider-Man 3” was that it was no “Spider-Man 2,” which is up there with “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” “X2: X-Men United” and the first two “Superman” films as among the greatest superhero movies of all time.
Yes, “Spider-Man 3” was a very busy movie. It had not one, not two, but three super-villains, so there wasn’t a lot of room for the emotional depth that dignified the second film. But the brilliance — yes, brilliance — of “Spider-Man 3” was that the last act didn’t just wrap up the movie; it wrapped up the entire series.
But critics weren’t kind, and neither were the fans. Despite being the highest-grossing film of the series (with $885 million worldwide), reviews were mixed, and fanboys generally hated it.
That must have hurt Sam Raimi, a lifelong Spider-Man fan who vowed to do right by the character when he stepped behind the camera for the first movie. And right he did: 2002’s “Spider-Man” was a big hit with critics, moviegoers and fans, while 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” was that rare sequel that improved upon its predecessor in every way.
So after the drubbing he got for 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” who can blame Raimi for wanting to go out on top with the best Spidey of them all?
It’s no secret that he was at odds with the studio over the villains in the third movie. Along with the Sandman, he wanted the Vulture, another classic baddie who first appeared back in 1963 (while John F. Kennedy was still president). But Sony wanted Venom, a modern favorite with younger fans, who made his first appearance in 1987.
Raimi caved and made a movie he didn’t want to make.
So for “Spider-Man 4,” Raimi again pushed for the Vulture. And once again, the studio wasn’t keen on it. So rather than have history repeat itself by rushing the very expensive movie into production in order to make its May 2011 release date, Raimi decided that stepping away was a better idea.
And with Raimi, Tobey Maguire was out, too. They had a good run, but Sony will be hard-pressed to find a better actor to fill Spidey’s shoes. When Maguire was first cast as Peter Parker back in 2001, fans had a field day. But anyone who saw his engaging performances in “The Ice Storm,” “Pleasantville” or “The Cider House Rules” knew that he was as perfectly cast as the sincere, blue-collar kid from Queens as Christopher Reeve was as Clark Kent/Superman.
But with Maguire turning 35 this year, he was probably getting too old to squeeze into the red-and-blue tights anyway. Besides, Spider-Man’s conflicted alter ego was a more fascinating character while he was still in high school, since adolescent angst was a stark contrast to his confidence as a superhero.
So while I’m sorry to see Raimi and Maguire go, I’m pleased to hear that the next film will return Peter Parker to high schoo. Maybe it is time for a new cast and a new director to take the series in a fresh new direction. After all, it worked for James Bond with Daniel Craig, and it worked for last year’s excellent “Star Trek” reboot with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.
But whoever does take over for Raimi and Maguire, let them not forget the big lesson that Spider-Man first learned way back in 1962: With great power comes great responsibility.