Ever since eBay began hosting an auction for the Spider-Man 4 VIP experience, speculation has run rampant about the (obviously progressing) fourth installment of Spidey’s franchise. Sam Raimi has continually said he hadn’t been asked back, and no one knew anything about Tobey Maguire’s involvement, or lack thereof, though the franchise would have a serious hurdle if recasting was necessary.

Now Nikki Finke claims that she knows for a fact that Sony has locked in Sam Raimi to direct and Maguire to star based on Jamie Vanderbilt’s script for the fourth film. The villain remains publicly unknown, but Finke’s sources say “once you find out who the villain is, you’ll know who’s playing it.” M.O.D.O.K. and Patton Oswalt? Unlikely, I guess. No word on Kirsten Dunst returning or not, but it seems likely.

More interesting, but hardly a real surprise, is that Finke’s sources also say Sony is trying to figure a way to shoot Spidey 4 and 5 simultaneously. If that happens, Spidey will be that rare franchise with five consecutive films directed by and starring the same principals; not a small feat at all. Finke also stresses that Sony has stressed that these films won’t take The Dark Knight‘s road into darkness, which is some sort of good thing.

That said, this isn’t where I’d like to see Sam Raimi; I think both his career and the series’ fate would be more interesting if he moved on. Especially since Drag Me To Hell shows signs of being a nice meaty little horror flick. Let’s get Raimi back on stuff that isn’t massive studio product; small studio product will do just fine. I am glad, at least, to see that Sony isn’t going with a Raimi/Raimi script again, though many of Spider-Man 3‘s problems weren’t their fault. I’d rather see Sam and Ivan working with Vanderbilt’s screenplay than writing their own, though if Sony wants to go with 4 and 5 at once, I’ll begin shuddering at the thought of the patched-together script for 5 right about…now.

(That said, principal on 4 doesn’t begin until fall ’09 which should leave plenty of time to knock a script for 5 into shape. Should.)