Doctor Strange 2: Director Sam Raimi Deserves Another Shot at Superheroes After Spider-Man 3

Following reports original Spider-Man trilogy director Sam Raimi will replace Scott Derrickson on Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, some online commenters are voicing concerns over Raimi's superhero résumé including the much-maligned Spider-Man 3. Despite a mixed-to-positive reception from fans and critics alike — many criticizing Spider-Man 3 for an overabundance of plot threads and villains, including Topher Grace's Venom — the final entry in the Raimi-directed trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst reigned as the highest-grossing Spider-Man movie for more than a decade, displaced only by last summer's billion dollar grosser Spider-Man: Far From Home.

One tweet from popular YouTuber Comics Explained admits to mixed feelings over Raimi's reported involvement in Multiverse of Madness, followup to 2016's Doctor Strange set to partner the titular Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of Avengers: Endgame. "On one hand he made Spider-Man 1," reads a tweet that has received nearly 800 likes. "On the other hand he made Spider-Man 3."

The 2007 blockbuster webbed up a respectable 63% from critics but only a 51% approval from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, down from predecessors Spider-Man (93%, 67%) and Spider-Man 2 (93%, 82%). The latter, pitting a conflicted Peter Parker against Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), is still widely regarded by many as one of the genre's best offerings — including famed critic Roger Ebert, who called the 2004 sequel "the best superhero movie" since 1978's Superman.

Ebert was among those who criticized the cluttered Spider-Man 3, awarding it only two stars for having "too many villains, too little infamy," referring to the machinations of the scorned Eddie Brock, the newly risen Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Peter Parker's best friend-turned-enemy Harry Osborn (James Franco).

Ebert dubbed Spider-Man 3 a "mess," writing it suffered from "too many villains, too many pale plot strands, too many romantic misunderstandings, too many conversations ... How could Sam Raimi, having gone so right with Spider-Man 2, have gone so wrong with Spider-Man 3?"

The answer, in part, lies with Venom: the symbiote-powered foe was not just one villain too many, but he was a character over which Raimi expressed an admitted lack of enthusiasm and understanding. Inspired by the 1960s comic books from co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, as well as early run collaborator John Romita Sr., Raimi's Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 differed from Spider-Man 3 over its inclusion of the alien-born Venom, a creation of the late 1980s.

While the sometimes horror-tinged character was in Raimi's wheelhouse — he was best known for cult favorite horrors The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness before Spider-Man — Raimi admitted he failed to connect with Venom, who was forced into the picture by producer Avi Arad.

In a 2009 interview with Empire Magazine, Raimi confessed Sony Pictures allowed him a "tremendous amount of control on the first two films," but on Spider-Man 3, there were "different opinions." He continued, "I didn't really have creative control, so to speak." Despite executive meddling, Raimi accepted the blame for the portrayal of the fan-favorite Venom:

"I don't even want to comment on Venom, because I know he's a great character and all the fans love him," Raimi said. "I never want to say anything bad about a much-beloved character because usually it turns out that I'm the one that doesn't understand what makes it great."

In 2014, Raimi said his original plans for Spider-Man 3 centered on Peter, Mary Jane, Harry and newcomer Sandman — and it was only at Arad's insistence that he included Venom.

"When we were done, Avi Arad, my partner and the former president of Marvel at the time, said to me, Sam, you're so, you're not paying attention to the fans enough. You need to think about them," Raimi said in a later interview. "You've made two movies now with your favorite villains, and now you're about to make another one with your favorite villains. The fans love Venom, he is the fan favorite."

While Arad later accepted the blame for squeezing Venom into Spider-Man 3 as a "sideshow," Raimi called Spider-Man 3 "awful" and said the movie "just didn't work very well."

"I messed up with that third Spider-Man. People hated me for years. They still hate me for it," Raimi told Nerdist in 2014. "I tried to make it work, but I didn't really believe in all the characters. So that couldn't be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man. If the director doesn't love something, it's wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it."

Despite the well-spun Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 — both faithful to the Lee/Ditko/Romita era of the comics, of which Raimi is a longtime fan — it's Spider-Man 3 that has some doubting Raimi's ability to steer another successful superhero effort. Doctor Strange is also a Lee and Ditko co-creation and was famously referenced by name in Spider-Man 2.

While Derrickson originally called Multiverse of Madness the "first scary [Marvel Cinematic Universe] film," Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige later clarified he "wouldn't necessarily say that's a horror film," saying instead it will be "a big MCU film with scary sequences in it." Feige cited Steven Spielberg-directed or produced films filled with frights — including the Indiana Jones franchise, Poltergeist, and Gremlins — pointing to a fun kind of scary that is "in the service of an exhilarating emotion."

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For Raimi, filmmaker behind Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell, that's certainly an apt description.

Marvel Studios releases Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness May 7, 2021. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.