With or without Raimi and friends, Spidey has big-screen future

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Don't worry about Spider-Man. The web-slinger will be back on the big screen after "Spider-Man 3," his Hollywood handlers say.

The question is whether director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst will go on another adventure.

Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios, the film branch of the comic-book empire that owns Stan Lee's superhero creation, plan to move ahead with "Spider-Man 4," though the actors and filmmaker are noncommittal about their own participation.

"I know there'll be a `Spider-Man 4, 5 and 6,"' said writer-director Raimi, the filmmaker behind the first three. "I just won't be the guy that'll probably write the story, because I've got to step away from it to clear my head."

"My hope is that Sam and Tobey and Kirsten will want to come back for more," said Amy Pascal, Sony co-chairwoman. "They can make as many `Spider-Man' movies with me as they want to."

If Raimi, Maguire and Dunst decided against it, "then I'll be making `Spider-Man' movies," Pascal said, with other actors and filmmakers. "We will continue to make them at the studio."

Since 2002's blockbuster "Spider-Man," Raimi said he had known precisely what he wanted to do with each succeeding chapter. With "Spider-Man 3" wrapping up key conflicts from the first two films, Raimi said he has no story in mind to continue the saga of young Peter Parker and his superhero alter ego.

That could be left to another writer, with Raimi potentially directing again if someone hit on the right story.

"If there was something within the character, Peter Parker where we last left him, that told us where he next had to go, what he next had to learn as a human being to become a fuller person, and somebody could fashion a story around that idea that was intriguing, engaging, interesting - you couldn't keep me from it," Raimi said.

"I just can't think about that right now. That's really the truth of it."

Raimi's "Spider-Man 4" prospects are further blurred by speculation that he could be in line to direct "The Hobbit," the prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" fantasy.

Peter Jackson, the filmmaker who turned "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy into one of Hollywood's biggest successes ever, is at odds with New Line Cinema, the studio that made the films and is developing "The Hobbit."

Jackson, who is suing New Line over profits on "The Lord of the Rings," and New Line boss Bob Shaye have traded bitter words indicating they would not be working together again.

New Line executives declined to comment, but Hollywood is notorious for blood feuds that end in hugs, kisses and reconciliation, so the company and Jackson still might patch things up. Yet their quarrel certainly could open a door for Raimi should he not return to "Spider-Man."

Raimi's a proven hand at the mix of action, spectacle and human intimacy Jackson brought to "Lord of the Rings," so he would be an obvious choice to take on "The Hobbit."

"I don't feel it's appropriate for me to say even, because really, that's Peter Jackson's, Bob Shaye's picture. They'd have to come to terms about what direction they're going to go first," Raimi said. "Then it would have to be offered to me. If that were to happen, Peter would have to be OK with it, and I'm not even sure it's the picture for me next. I think it might be premature for me to guess."

Maguire, who plays the steadfast Peter and the daring Spider-Man, and Dunst, who co-stars as the love of his life, Mary Jane, also are uncertain about their future with the franchise.

Both say it would take a new approach - and probably Raimi's return - to get them to come back for more "Spider-Man" films.

"Sam really is the heart of these movies. So I can't imagine it without him. We have a fantastic shorthand and a great relationship. To me, he is these movies," Maguire said. "A lot of people contribute a lot of great things, but to me, Sam is the core of it. The character of the stories lives in his gut."

For Dunst, the future of Spider-Man hinges on "Sam and Tobey and me and a good script and a different kind of direction. Something fresh that's different for all of us," she said. "We resolve a lot of things in this film, and so it's really an end to this trilogy. It feels like an end."

Maguire said he expects it will be as long as two years before a script might be ready, at which point he would think about returning.

"We could all get together and make a fourth one, they could make a fourth one that's a continuing story and just kind of have all new people, they could reconceive the whole thing and approach it from a different angle. I just don't know," Maguire said. "They're going to squeeze everything out of these things that they can."

"Spider-Man" producer Laura Ziskin said the caretakers of the franchise would sit down with Sony executives in mid-May, once the film opens, to discuss what to do next. It would take a minimum of three years to get another film ready, she said.

"We'd love to have Sam, we'd love to have Tobey, we'd love to have Kirsten. We'd like to keep the team. But Spider-Man is bigger than all of us," said Avi Arad, a producer on the "Spider-Man" films who until last year also headed Marvel Studios.

"It's early to say, but you can totally assume that Spider-Man will endure and thrive and will continue," Arad said. "There's so many stories to tell. Over 40 years of stories. We only told three."

Raimi agreed that with or without him, Maguire and Dunst, Spider-Man should live on in future films.

"There are so many stories that Stan Lee wrote that are great stories, and so many new characters to be introduced and so many events that have yet to take place in Peter Parker's life," Raimi said. "Plus the character is rich in that he is a young man learning the lessons of life, so there's so many lovely parables to tell."