REUTERS

REUTERS

The latest Spider-Man sequel is proving villainously difficult to plot out.

Sony and director Sam Raimi are at loggerheads over which direction to go with the villains for the latest installment -- an impasse that has prompted the studio to delay its scheduled spring production start and potentially to bump the picture from its May 11, 2011 release slot.

Raimi wants to have a criminal known as the Vulture act as the primary antagonist in the film while the studio, which dislikes the idea of the winged wrongdoer, is pushing for a romantic sub-plot involving a burglar named the Black Cat in addition to another villain.

A succession of writers has tried to marry the two parties' differing visions to no effect.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) was hired in October 2008 to pen a key version of the screenplay, on top of the earlier version penned by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac). Last year, Sony brought in Gary Ross -- Oscar-nominated for his adapted script on 2003's Seabiscuit -- which he also directed.

Alvin Sargent is penning the latest iteration.

Word of the Sony-Raimi conflict first surfaced mid-December on genre Web site IESB, but Sony denied the report, saying tweaking of the script was nothing unusual.

The differing views about the villain have their origins in the making of Spider-Man 3.

Raimi, a fan of the wall-crawling super-hero since the character's 1960s debut, wanted to use classic villain Vulture in addition to Sandman, another classic creation, for that movie. The studio pushed him to use Venom, a character that was introduced in the late 1980s, because it thought that character, with its slick alien-symbiote origin, would lend itself to more effective marketing material and a way to attract the kids.

Spider-Man 3, while ensnaring $890 million in its worldwide web, turned out to be reviled by both the fanboy community and by many critics.

Production still could begin by this summer. While Sony insiders maintain the pic still could remain in its current release date, a shift to a date later in summer 2011 may be more likely considering the lack of a final script for the visual effects-driven project.