So Marvel Studios and Sony are getting a divorce and Sony will be getting custody of the kid. The “kid” being Spider-Man.
In August it was announced that Sony and Marvel Studios (Disney) were unable to reach an agreement on the rights to continue to share Spider-Man between the two movie studios, meaning Spidey will no longer be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – and the internet expectedly lost its collective mind. I’ve had some time to think this over so here is my take on it.
For me it’s a surprising move especially from Sony’s perspective. Not to over use the relationship analogy, but it almost seems like a relationship where one person was just in it to use the other for their own personal gain. But who was using whom? On one hand it seems like Sony were using Marvel, riding the coattails of the juggernaut that is the MCU. Learning how they operate so that they could launch the new Spidey franchise with a view to eventually cut ties, then do things on their own and not have to share any of the profits. After all, this is the third cinematic iteration of Spidey that Sony have done in less than twenty years and given the way they ran the previous two franchises into the ground - with the cringe-worthy, bloated Spider-Man 3 and then the quick reboot and dark and unpopular Andrew Garfield versions - its highly likely they knew they couldn’t screw up another one and wanted to tap into the genius that is MCU producer, Kevin Feige.
On the other hand it’s a little simpler for Marvel. Here they had this massive success with the MCU, a bold move to bring several comic book properties such Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Black Window into the same universe, and having the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson sharing the screen with each other. But they didn’t have their biggest star: Spider-Man. That always seemed like a big hole, to even the casual comic book fans, and it would have been no different to the big-wigs at Disney/Marvel Studios until they were able to broker a deal shortly before Captain America: Civil War to share Spidey and have their number 1 superhero finally join the MCU to boost the already successful movie franchise. Credit where it’s due – both movie studios would have done this not only for the $$$, but for the fans.
So what was Sony thinking by letting this match seemingly made in heaven fall through? Perhaps they feel that with the heavy hitters such as Iron-Man & Captain America gone and Thor & Hulk nearing the end of their respective story arcs, that the MCU is on the wane post Endgame and there is no real benefit to be part of it any longer. Sure the likes of Guardians Of The Galaxy, Black Panther and Doctor Strange have been hugely successful in their own right, but a lot of that can be attributed to what was built before them and they just don’t carry the same clout that Iron Man, Cap and Thor do. So perhaps now is as good of a time as any to cut ties, take what they have learned and go it alone. But they need to be careful. The standalone Spidey movies have been excellent and true to MCU form, however when they went it alone and produced another Spider-Man property in Venom, it was mediocre at best. Lets hope they don’t apply the same production values (or lack of) to future Spider-Man movies.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is that while these heavy hitters are gone, with Disney now owning 21st Century Fox and all their comic book properties, there are new heavy hitters to take their place. We’ll see the Marvel Studios take on X-Men, which was a very up and down franchise to say the least while under Fox’s care, and after Fox made a mess of the Fantastic 4 twice, comic book fans are genuinely excited to see them join the MCU because there is pedigree there with Marvel Studios and with that confidence that they will get it right this time and finally give such classic comic book characters the movies they deserve. Throw Deadpool in there too, but whether they decide to slip the R-rated, fourth-wall breaking character into the MCU or keep him separate remains to be seen. So if the major characters exiting the MCU is what Sony see as the beginning of the end for the MCU, they need to remind themselves that there are more – plenty more – to slot right in and fill that void.
With no deal to share Spidey in place, what will be somewhat of an elephant in the room in the Spider-Man movies going forward is that they can’t make any reference to the MCU, its characters or the events of Infinity War or Endgame. Something they have leaned on heavily in the standalone movies so far. Sure, the opening scenes of Spider-Man: Far From Home served as an epilogue to Endgame and wrapped up the ‘Infinity Saga’ with a nice bow, but in the context of Peter Parker and the world in which he now lives those are massive events to never mention ever again. So without being able to reference the MCU, there can be no mention of Tony Stark. This is an even bigger elephant in the room because so much of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man origin and character development has been based around Stark. Tony gave him a teched up suit to replace his onsie; he gave him the ‘Iron Spider’ suit which Peter kept in jar when he went off to Europe; we saw Peter design and fabricate a new suit on Tony’s jet using what looked like a Stark tech 3D suit printer, and looking very much like he was growing into the void left by Tony after his death. Not to mention Peter looking up to Stark as a role model and father figure. We also have two villains with origins deeply rooted in the MCU and the budding romance between Happy Hogan and Aunt May. Strange things for Sony to set up in their most recent installment of Spider-Man only to now have to leave behind with no deal on the table.
On the Marvel side, they gave a lot weight to the progression of Spider-Man from an excitable, rookie, teenage superhero, to finally becoming an Avenger like he desired so much. He was finally ‘knighted’ as one by Stark in Infinity War - a proud moment for Peter – then Thanos dusted him before returning in the final battle of Endgame. And now… that’s it? He’s gone? An Avenger no more, after all that? The whole venture seems kinda pointless in hindsight. While losing Spider-Man from the MCU will not be as bigger blow for Marvel as what Sony losing the entire MCU is to them (though Marvel would still love to have their golden boy), the elephant in the room for Marvel will be when the next Avengers movie comes around and Spider-Man is not there. Missing. Unable to explain his absence because they too can’t reference Spider-Man given he is solely a Sony property again. The casual moviegoers will no doubt ask, “Where is Spider-Man?” (The even more casual movie goers will ask, “Where is Batman?” - *Sigh*), and it will be at the forefront of the minds of comic book fans who will be frustrated that he is not there.
Having said all that, I still think a deal will still get done – eventually. We need to keep in mind that Spidey wasn’t introduced into the MCU until phase three when he was practically shoehorned into Captain America: Civil War. It showed how much Marvel Studios wanted the number 1 Marvel Comics character in their universe so I don’t think they will let him slip especially after they have already invested so much into a property they don’t even own. Likewise for Sony. While Spider-Man movies will probably always turn a profit, I feel a lot of the interest in this third version of Spider-Man is based upon the fact that he is part of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and that helps them capitalize on those profits, whereas without the integration and cameos of MCU characters and storylines, fans might get a bit of “Spider-Man fatigue” so to speak. I think its great that the Internet lost its mind over the split – it shows how passionate we all are about these characters and movies and I’m sure that won’t be lost on Marvel Studios and Sony. It may even help build anticipation for Spidey’s return. Give it some time and I’m sure both parties will come to terms and we’ll see Spidey as an Avenger again.