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At Last: Spider-Man to Become Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

spider-man civil war

Though there was always hope in the fan community that Marvel studios would regain Marvel comic’s flagship character, Spider-Man, there seemed (at least up until recently) little chance that it would actually happen.

Over a decade ago, Marvel sold the film rights to some of its most popular characters, including the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and, yes, even Spider-Man, in order to save itself from the financial ruin of what was tumultuous time for the company. Under that deal, these studios (Fox for X-Men and Fantastic Four, Sony Pictures for Spider-Man) had to keep the lights on the production departments for films related to those properties with the intent of turning out a film within a certain (very limited) time, or else the rights would revert back to Marvel Studios. In short, all they had to do was make a film featuring (or related to) that character every few years, and they’d retain the film rights to those characters. If all signs of production stopped, then, without any cost to Marvel Studios (now owned by Disney) the character could be used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Fox has been making some very good (and a few very bad) X-Men films and will continue to expand that universe, and these projects, in conjunction with the forthcoming Fantastic Four reboot (which may, in fact, take place in the same cinematic universe as X-Men) will allow Fox to keep those franchises for years to come. On Sony’s side, after Sam Raimi departed the Spider-Man franchise following 2007’s Spider-Man 3, Sony rebooted the franchise in 2012 with Andrew Garfield (now called the Amazing Spider-Man) in order to keep the rights. After all, there are few bigger super-heroes in our culture than Spider-Man: like Superman and Batman, people of all ages know who he is. Sony had since announced a whole slate of Amazing Spider-Man films, and other films based on related properties (like The Sinister Six and, maybe, Black Cat,) were planned.  Indeed,  it seemed certain that Sony would be as secure in chaperoning Spider-Man’s feature film future as Sony is about the properties that it has.

Things change.

Amazing Spider-Man

Sony (the overall company, the one that makes our headphones and PlayStations) is going through its own tumultuous time. And surely, anyone with an ear to the ground of entertainment culture has at least heard about the “Sony hack” in which closed-door talks were suddenly made public. Now, with regards to Spider-Man as a film property, it all came to a head last night.

Maybe you’ve seen the headlines: Spidey is Back with Marvel! Maybe that’s what you’ve read.

It’s important, right now, to be very clear, and to put it all in perspective. Spider-Man did not revert back to Marvel. In other words, what would have happened if Sony stopped making Spider-Man films altogether (Marvel Studios simply getting the rights at no cost because of the creative lapse) did not, in fact happen.

What did happen was that a deal was struck; a deal between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures. And the point of a deal is to 1) put aside, for the sake of said deal, any previous agreements and 2) come up with an agreement that would benefit both parties.

So here’s the deal (from what we can tell):

“Sony is bringing Marvel into the amazing world of Spider-Man.”

That’s a quote from the official press release distributed by both companies. Check that, and note that it does not say that Spider-Man is going to Marvel Studios.

What does this mean?

It means that Sony retains the full rights to produce, finance and release Spider-Man films in the future (starting with a film now slated for July 28, 2017).

The rub: the same Spider-Man will appear in a Marvel Studios film (making him part of the MCU) prior to that stand-alone film in 2017.

Did you catch that? Sony is still very much in control of the franchise, particularly from a business stand-point. Nothing has changed in that regard.

What has changed is where Spidey stands from a creative standpoint. The new film will be produced by (now ex-Sony Boss) Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige (who happens to be the head of Marvel Studios) and these two will chart the creative direction for this character.

As stated above: this is a deal, and in any good deal, both parties benefit. Sony might have the rights to the character on paper, and that studio might control him in the “business-sense” of the word, but one thing everyone has noticed in the last year or so is that they have floundered with the character from a creative stand-point. The Amazing Spider-Man was a respectful outing, but it still lacked a bit of punch and certainly seems to tread the ground of Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in 2002, while its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, suffered from having a real identity crisis of it’s own, at times feeling too shallow in story while simultaneously carrying the weight of the franchise:  from it’s rather sloppily-handled story Sony was planning to launch it’s entire slate of proposed films in the “Spider-Man universe.”

It’s difficult to launch something so ambitious when ASM2 seemed to so uncertain of its own identity.
But, now, with this deal, Sony doesn’t have to worry as much. By doing what fans have been clamoring for (bringing the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and leaving the creative decisions to someone like Feige, who certainly knows best how to adapt a comic book property to the big screen, they can now feel secure in the future of this character on the big screen. (technically it’s important to remember that Sony retains “creative” control as well). And what does Disney get? Well, they get to use Spider-Man again, to make the Cinematic Universe a more dynamic place. In fact they might have a hand in future Spider-Man films beyond 2017. What better way or Feige to test the mettle of some of the smaller Marvel comic book characters that we have yet to see on the big screen than top have them be featured in a future Spider-Man film. Since Feige has already mapped out “Phase 3” of the MCU, he has an opportunity, using Spider-Man as his springboard, to expand that universe even more.

There are a few other things about this deal that must be made clear.

First: since it was just announced, we don’t know everything about it, particularly the financials that have no doubt been hammered out behind closed doors. Questions about such things (like how much of the pie will Marvel Studios get for these Sony-produced Spider-Man films that are set in the MCU) we will probably not know for some time. It’s so important not to make guesses regarding how the financials will work.

Second: With the date of the first stand-alone Marvel film announced, Marvel Studios has shuffled a few proposed dates around for it’s other films. Here’s the new schedule:

May 1, 2015: “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”
July 17, 2015: “Ant-Man”
May 6, 2016: “Captain America: Civil War”
Nov. 4, 2016: “Doctor Strange”
May 5, 2017: “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”
July 28, 2017: untitled new Spider-Man movie
Nov. 3, 2017: “Thor: Ragnarok”
July 6, 2018: “Black Panther”
Nov. 2 2018: “Captain Marvel”
July 12, 2019: “Inhumans”
May 4, 2018: “Avengers: Infinity War Part I”
May 3, 2019: “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2”

Third: Spider-Man will be recast. There will be a new continuity for this character. Andrew Garfield will no longer be Spider-Man (by all rights he was fine in the role, and the creative problems that his films struggled with had nothing to do with his performance as the lead. Now, it seems that Garfield is a victim of bad circumstances and timing) and the powers that be (Sony and Marvel) will no doubt begin the casting process almost immediately. Names like Logan Lerman and Zach Efron, are already being battered about on the internet, but we’ll have to wait and see who will make it to the “short list” for the role.

So now, the speculation can begin. It seems, based on the press release, that Sony put itself in a situation where it cannot lose: they retain the financial benefits of having the character under their banner but they can rest easily knowing that the story-telling aspects of the character will be shepherded by the very man who knows how to make it work: Kevin Feige. We could speculate that there is, in fact, more to it: Feige might have more, either creatively or in others ways as well, over this character than the carefully-worded press release would lead us to believe (after all, we have no idea what has taken place behind closed doors). Maybe, at this point, all Sony is interested in is the financial benefits of having the character, and they’ll lave the creative aspects in the hands of those who know how to use him well.

Whatever the case may be, the fans out there who have been rallying to have Spider-Man a part of the MCU have, in fact gotten their wish. After all, the press release has stated that Spidey will be featured in an MCU film prior to the 2017 stand-alone film. There’s a good chance that this could mean that the character will appear in the 2016 release of Captain America: Civil War. There’s certainly a story precedent for this as well: in the comic book lore from which Feige is adapting Captain America: Civil War from, it was Spider-Man who was caught in the middle of the feud between Captain America and Iron Man as to the status of superheroes and their relationship to the government. It seems likely that the character will serve the same role in the upcoming film. (Note: there had been speculation that the character of Black Panther was originally going to fill this role in the film. Whether Spider-Man replaces him in the film is dependent on how far into production the film is at the current time.)

Fourth: Despite the enthusiasm this deal, and the promise of a rebooted Spidey, might be receiving in the internet community, most movie fans will likely wince at the prospect of seeing Spidey’s origin story again on screen. After all, two films in the last fifteen years have already detailed this origin story, and most people who would see new films know the origin in any event. Feige would be wise to take a cue from his studio’s own The Incredible Hulk: tell the origin story quickly, in the opening credits, perhaps.

Movie fans can sit back and rejoice now that the MCU might become all-the-more richer with the presence of Marvel’s most iconic character, just so long as they maintain the correct “real-world” perspective: it’s still Sony’s character.

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Comments (1)

Great insight into the workings of the film industry! This article taught me a lot about the “behind-the-scenes” process that goes into producing a film based on a comic book, the financial interests that sometimes seem to take precedence over creative ones, but also about the fact that the two have to eventually balance out. I’m very familiar with the world of comic books, but it seems to me that film adaptations of comic books make up a “genre” of their own, as there are both creative and financial concerns that may not plague other types of films. It’s very interesting to see the decision making process that goes into that. Really loved this article!

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