Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Spiderman is in the Marvel Universe!

An hour ago I was asleep. I was very happy when I was asleep. But then I guess my Spider-Sense was tingling and I woke up to find a message from Cinemartian.

So here's what happened. In a move that is completely unprecedented, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Sony Pictures Entertainment of last years hacking scandal, more on that further down, and Marvel Studios have released a statement that said that Spider-Man will appear in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Also, Kevin Feige, the genius behind those movies, will be co-producing upcoming Spider-Man movies, the first one set for release on July 23rd, 2017.

So what exactly is going on?

Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes in the world. He's in one league with Superman and Batman in that. The movie rights to Spider-Man were sold to Sony somewhere in the 90's, meaning that only Sony had the right to make Spider-Man movies. The same thing happened to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, who both went to Fox, and a bunch of other characters, most of which got one film made, failed completely and then reverted back to Marvel. With the exception of the Ghost Rider and the Punisher, who got to fail more than once before they went back home.

In the meantime, Marvel had enough of seeing film studios butcher their properties and decided, if you want to have it done well, you have to do it yourself. So they founded Marvel Studios, their own film studio, in order to have their own production. The rights to their most popular characters were all gone, so they took a risk and adapted "The Avengers" to the screen, and we all know that didn't exactly turn out bad for them. A few years later and Marvel is the absolute boss in the blockbuster business.

Sony however struggles with Spider-Man, with an extremely mixed output, that got heavy criticism on at least two out of the five Spidey outings they produced. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" was so bad, that even though it did solid business, Sony decided to hold a big Spidey summit (their words) in January, to decide the creative direction they will take in the future. (Their previous direction seems to have been to meddle with the creative choices as much as possible, which has led to the abysmal quality of ASM2.)

Their decision is unprecedented in so far that two big studios have never cooperated on a single property like this. And there are good reasons for that. There is some weird overlaps with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, because they are X-Men and Avengers, but apart from that, it just tends to get very complicated. Sony retains creative control over Spider-Man, so they can potentially veto every decision Marvel makes. Every line Spider-Man gets in a MCU movie is therefore a possible conflict between the two studios. Does he get enough lines? Are they cool enough? Can we still sell toys with this Spider-Man (no joke, you wouldn't believe how much money a studio makes with toys and merchandise. Which, by the way, ended the Batman franchise until Nolan showed up, but that's another story)? That's the reason why this hasn't been done before.

So is it even a good idea then?

Well, that's certainly not an easy question. Let's go through some pros and cons.

First, Spider-Man is immensely popular. It's never really a bad decision to add something popular. Still, if there is one company in the world that doesn't need Spider-Man right now, it's Marvel Studios. One of their most successful movies is based on a property that not even the biggest comic book geeks knew much about. Yet people flocked to see "Guardians of the Galaxy", and it was awesome. At this point in time, Marvel can do anything and the fans will trust them. Getting Spider-Man into their movies is just showing off.

On the other hand, it's also a huge gamble, because now whenever they want to put Spider-Man into one of their movies, they have to deal with Sony. And Sony has not exactly shown good judgement pertaining to him. That spells trouble and it touches on the point that worries me the most. Sony Pictures as a company is on the ropes right now. They had a huge scandal last year and just fired one of the people responsible for making it as big of an embarassment as it is, Amy Pascal. She got a really nice severance package with a new studio under Sony, but she is no longer leading one of the biggest movie studios in the world. And guess who is partnering up with Kevin Feige to manage this crossover. It's not Scott Rudin, who was the other guy getting a lot of coverage in connection with the Sony hacks (He's also the one who was right in that particular argument about the Steve Jobs movie, but again, beside the point). So, I don't know how capable Amy Pascal is in the end, when the last Amazing Spider-Man movie was a complete mess with multiple members of crew and cast speaking out against it afterwards, blaming studio interference. Now Kevin Feige is a very smart man and I doubt he would have made this deal if there wasn't some regulations in place that limit Sony in their ability to interfere.

What it comes down to on the business end is this: At this point, nobody would have been surprised had Sony just outright sold the rights for Spider-Man back to Marvel. If that had been the news this morning, hell, I'd probably be dancing on my chair right now. This way, I think is very likely to cause problems down the road. I would rather have seen Sony actually man up and try to make a decent movie by themselves for a change or, if they don't think they can do that, give it back completely.

So that's the business side, interesting in their own right. But what about the character, about the Cinematic Universe... well, I might catch some flak for this, but I don't see Spider-Man play an integral role in the MCU. Take a look at the trajectory "The Avengers" are on at the moment. They are going global, with "Age of Ultron" reportedly taking place all around the world, for example that big brawl everyone is waiting for, "The Green against the Machine", Hulk vs. Hulkbuster, is set in Johannesburg, South Africa. We have yet to see even a hint that Spider-Man can work outside of New York in a movie. Hell, they haven't been able to make him work in New York for all it's worth. But that is Spideys home turf. Sure, the comics see him branching out from time to time, but he is firmly New York based. In that, and in his powers, which let's be honest, put him somewhere slightly above Black Widow in the MCU, he is more on the scale of "The Defenders", Marvel's Netflix property.

More likely, Spider-Man will take a part in Civil War, and I don't expect it to be the part that he takes in the comics, because Black Panther has been put in his place and they won't change that after they announced it on a stage in front of the fans, and then we will see him in his solo movies. Of which there will be less. Because if they are serious about working together with Kevin Feige, they will have to work around his schedule, and he has a whole universe to manage. So I don't see a "Sinister Six", "Venom" or any other spin-off film happening any time soon.

And that is a pity, because I was really hoping for a Spider-Man cinematic universe. What Sony doesn't seem to realise is that they had a perfectly fine universe of their own to play in, and in that they needed Marvel as little as Marvel needed them. Spider-Man has such a great rogues gallery, which if treated right, gives you so many options. Now clearly, everything is on a smaller scale than the MCU, but scale doesn't matter if the movies are done well.

By which we come to an overwhelmingly positive point. From this point on, they are going to be. So all that talk, it doesn't really matter, because what Sony was lacking was someone in charge who actually cared about the property Spider-Man. Now they have Kevin Feige on board, who knows exactly how far a studio can get involved and when to let the filmmakers do their thing. He takes risks and makes them work. So whatever the role he will be playing, however bad or good this decision has been for Sony and Marvel, there is one person who profits from this in any case, and that's Spider-Man. And when Spider-Man profits, we all profit. Except for Andrew Garfield, who is probably going to be recast, although nothing is confirmed on that yet. Which is a shame, because he was the best thing about the last two Spider-Man movies, and by that I mean he was really really good.

Small edit: It has been pointed out to me that I entirely missed the fact that the new Spider-Man movie will take the release date of "Thor: Ragnarok" and push the rest of the MCU movies back a bit, delaying for example "Black Panther" for half a year, until we are getting back into the original release schedule with "Avengers Infinity War Part 1". However, this is more of a minor annoyance than something that actually worries me.

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