When even Nikki Finke decides to throw her hat in on a geek movie rumor, it's time to talk about it.

I'm not a fan of this point in the casting process, when names start flying and people start reporting non-news breathlessly every day.  It's one thing when we get down to the point of people doing screen tests... those are serious contenders for something.  But just coming in to meet the producers on a meet and greet does not mean someone is "in talks" for a role. It sounds to me like right now, "Spider-Man 4" is at the stage where they are casting a wide next, looking for someone to step in and play The Black Cat, aka Felicia Hardy, one of the many ohmygodhawt female antagonists who have tormented Peter Parker over the years.

At this point, it seems to be accepted as fact that Felicia Hardy is in the film.  In truth, all we've heard officially is that they are looking for a new "female lead," and that they are not replacing Kirsten Dunst.  Much of what I'm reading about this particular actor search is speculation, which is one of the reasons I've been slow to pick the story up.  I've been waiting to see if my own sources could cough up something I could treat as fact.  So far, all is quiet, though, which is strange.  If this is such a hotly debated part, and they're really looking at names like Rachel McAdams, Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, and Julia Stiles, then why is everything so quiet in the places I'm looking?

These days, once a rumor takes hold, it has a life of its own.  I've seen fanboys complain and say there's something wrong with a film because a rumor that was never true turns out not to be true.  They get so attached to rumors that they hold it against the movie if they somehow end up believing the rumor.  I hope the Black Cat is in the film... she's an interesting character, this franchise's Catwoman, a character who plays both sides of the legal fence, whose morality is a slippery prospect, and who looks absolutely ravishing in a skin-tight suit.

She also offers a viable romantic alternative for Peter Parker.  After all, here's a girl who lives on rooftops, wears a costume, gets in fights, and who actually loves and understands the rush of being Spider-Man. She's kind of the perfect girl for him, a much-better fit than the movie version of Mary Jane.

Of the choices we've heard, I think Anne Hathaway is the one to beat.  I don't really care for Stiles in anything, and sorry... in the heightened world of a comic book, where women aren't just attractive, but uber-hot, I think Hathaway more closely resembles the exaggerated physiology of a character like The Black Cat. She's also proven herself capable with this sort of material in "Get Smart," where she manages to be funny and lovely and physically adept.  If you're talking about casting anyone out there who might be appropriate?

Let me urge the producers to take a good long look at Diora Baird.  She's starring in the "30 Days Of Night" sequel for Sony right now, which practically makes her family, right?  She's got the body of a '60s glamour pin-up, and she's genuinely funny.  Baird remains a great secret for some reason, and some producer's going to take the right chance on her in the right role and look like a genius.  This could certainly be an appropriate moment for that to happen.

The big question remains, though:  who is the villain this time?  The Black Cat won't be played as a bad guy, or at least not ONLY as a bad guy.  I'm sure there will be some side-switching as Felicia's put into a position where she has to choose between doing what's right and doing what's right for her.  Early buzz saw Dylan Baker finally stepping up to play The Lizard, but even there... if Raimi really wanted to, he could play Dr. Connors sympathetically, as more of a tragic monster than a villain, still leaving him room to cast someone truly evil as the main antagonist.

I'm curious to see how this one comes together.  After the near-universal acclaim of "Spider-Man 2," Raimi and company stumbled hard on that third film, and no one wants to go out like that.  I would imagine Raimi's got the fire in his belly this time, determined to make this a great chapter in the series, and that can only be a good thing for the audience.

We'll keep you posted as things start to get more concrete, and as story details come into focus.

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