As of today, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is in theaters, ending the two-and-a-half-year build up to one of the more controversial superhero films in history. Plans for a "Spider-Man 4" were well underway at the end of 2009, with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire both returning for a script (by "Rabbit Hole" writer David Lindsay-Abaire) which saw your friendly neighborhood web-slinger come against classic villain The Vulture (John Malkovich) and his daughter The Vultress (Anne Hathaway). But wary of spiraling costs, bad reviews for the third-installment, and an aging lead (Maguire would have been 36 by the time of the film's summer 2011 release, for a character normally portrayed at half that age), Sony pulled the plug and decided to start all over again, to no little protestations from fans.
"(500) Days Of Summer" helmer Marc Webb was brought on board with a script from "Zodiac" writer James Vanderbilt, and Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans were cast as the leads. "The Amazing Spider-Man" finally makes it to theaters today, and the controversy shows no sign of abating: the film's had both highly positive reviews and deeply scathing ones, with our own falling somewhere in the middle. However the film does (and it's tracking to take about $125 million over the next six days, a decent number by any standard, but significantly down from the $150 million that "Spider-Man 3" made on opening weekend five years ago), a sequel is already firmly on the cards: "Transformers" writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have been reworking Vanderbilt's screenplay, and the studio has already nabbed a May 2, 2014 release date.
But will Webb be back in the director's chair? The music video veteran was hand-picked to make the film after the success of his debut "(500) Days Of Summer," but no announcements have been made regarding his presence for the follow-up. And the Webb has been non-commital about returning in interviews. When we talked to the director in the lead-up to release, he said that "I've had conversations," but that "It's like asking a woman who's just given birth if they want to get pregnant again. I'm still nursing the baby!"
And to the Huffington Post, he was a little more telling: "I want to finish this up and go to a beach and think about the future. People ask about the sequel and I'm like, 'Well, you know, I don't know if I want to do that, but I love the process.' " The director certainly isn't wanting for potential follow-ups; he seems to be high on post-apocalyptic adventure "Age of Rage," and is also still theoretically attached to thriller remake "Just Another Love Story" and musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," and the timeframe on the sequel would mean he'd be unable to take another project on in the meantime, realistically.
But if what we've heard is correct, the decision may not be up to Webb. Based on the whispers we picked up over the last few months (not from first-hand sources, it should be said, but others seem to have heard similar things), Sony executives pretty much hated the film that Webb initially delivered, ordering some extensive reshoots. And while these are simply rumors, the finished film certainly bears the scars of significant reshoots and recutting. **Spoilers in the next paragraph**
Irffan Khan's character, set up as a major villain, disappears from the story entirely, and a still (see right) shows a sequence featuring the character and The Lizard that doesn't survive to the finished film. Actress Annie Parisse had her entire role, as Martha Connors, the wife of Rhys Ifans' villain Dr. Curt Connors, excised. The Lizard turns a SWAT team into creatures like himself, seemingly setting up more adversaries for Spidey, but the next time we see the characters, they're turning back into human beings again. The film stinks of compromise and interference throughout, with a choppy, fractured feel that only just holds together. **Spoilers end**
We suspect what happens is that Sony's intial plan — a lower budget take compared to "Twilight," with a director best known for a quirky rom-com — shifted over time, with more spectacle demanded. That's borne out by the change of writers for the sequel: James Vanderbilt initially pitched two films, but bringing on Orci & Kurtzman suggests a more action-heavy approach than one led by character, given their track record; the scope and scale of "The Avengers" may have made the studio feel that they need to go bigger next time around. And if the reports of Sony being unhappy with Webb are true, then we can't imagine he'll be back for follow-up.
We like Webb, who seems to be one of the good guys, and we can't imagine his career will be hurt too much if he doesn't return. The film is no "Wolverine"-level disaster, and if the movie does well at the box office, how qualitatively good or bad it is will matter less and less. And perhaps all the scuttlebutt has been incorrect, and in a month or two, Webb will be announced as returning to the director's chair for the second film. But our gut says that won't be the case. But what do you think? Could Webb get it right at this second time at bat? Or is more fresh blood required for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"? Who would you like to see? Let us know in the comments section below.