If you’ve been following entertainment news at all recently, you’ve probably heard about the Sony Pictures hack that went down recently, allegedly perpetrated by North Korea because of that Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy about tabloid journalists being recruited to assasinate Kim Jong-Un. Whether that suspicion is true or not (I don’t know), the world learned some interesting news about the inner-workings of Hollywood, ranging from studio executives calling Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat”, to difficulties with the latest James Bond film, to ill-conceived ideas like merging the 21 Jump Street and Men in Black franchises into one crossover movie.
For my money, though the most interesting bits were the discussions of the Spider-Man franchise, particularly the details about conversations between Sony Pictures and Marvel Films about rights issues, profit sharing, and most importantly, incorporating Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The history of Spider-Man on film has been long and storied, and let’s be honest, pretty dysfunctional (they’ve written books on the whole sordid relationship between Spidey and the screen). Back in the mid-80s, when superheroes weren’t a sure-fire Hollywood bet, Marvel, facing financial struggles and not even remotely in the movie business, sold the Spider-Man film rights. for almost 20 years those rights bounced around, and despite many interesting developments (including a screwy James Cameron treatment) nothing got made, until 2002 when Sony released the first film directed by Sam Raimi, which was great (for its time) and kicked off the current superhero fashion. Of course, things eventually soured, and five films later, Spidey is on the downslide, largely because of mishandling of the character (especially if you ask comic book fans or Sony Corporation corporate executives). The movies still make money, but not lots (especially given the budgets), but are critically panned (exhibit A: The Amazing Spider-Man 2), especially since Marvel’s now in the movie business, and setting the example for everyone else.
That said, Sony’s got the rights for Spidey in perpetuity, if my understanding of the deal is right (different from the Fox deal with X-Men and the Fantastic Four, whose right lapse if they don’t actively produce things on a regular timetable). However, Sony is a strugglng studio, and was even before these hacking revelations. They’ve had a few hits recently, but no reliably profitable franchises aside from 007.
Marvel fans have, for years, longed for Spider-Man to “come home” and join the same screen universe populated by Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America, feeling Marvel would finally get the character right. The leaks from the recent hacks indicate that this recently came very close to happening, though those talks initially fell through. However, if the rumors (see that link in the second paragraph above) are to be believed, with these leaked discussions seeing the light of day, discussions may, in fact, still be happening.
As I’ve said before, this is an exciting time to be a comic book fan. Especially a Spider-Man fan, as I’ve been since I was a small child. I still read the comics (it helps that my favorite comic writer, Dan Slott, does a great job with the character, despite the weirdness of the last decade), was overjoyed by the first film series (even if it hasn’t aged well), and while I’ve had problems with the newly rebooted series, I think that as long as he’s in the suit, Andrew Garfield is a pretty great Spider-man (when he’s in civvies, I’m less sold).
As a fan, I’d love to see Spidey back in the Marvel studios fold, eventually. That said, I’m kind of glad Marvel didn’t have access to one of it’s biggest guns right out of the gate. If they did, I doubt we’d have gotten such a diverse film universe, and we’d certainly never have gotten things like Guardians of the Galaxy and films in the pipeline about Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. It forced Marvel to go for some of the deep cuts, and turned some of these lesser properties into tentpoles, creating a unified brand and telling some great stories without leaning on pre-established relationships with the public consciousness, leading, I think, to a much stronger product; a living, breathing universe ready to birth a wealth of new characters.
According to the Sony leaks, Spider-Man was almost part of Civil War, the upcoming Captain America film (based on a storyline Spidey played a big part in), but that fell through. Which, was probably for the best, to be honest. Peter Parker would be a plot crutch in that story before becoming properly established. It sounds like they worked the story out otherwise (a good thing, as comics Civil War was a mess – an interesting idea with crappy execution). The latest info points toward a Sony “Spider-Man Summit” in January, and the latest-latest rumors indicate that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will be present; seems he’s got some thoughts on the direction of the franchise, and those thoughts include a clean break from existing continuity, and probably most importantly, getting rid of Avi Arad, former Marvel executive (and the guy who started Marvel Studios), who is considered largely responsible for how messed up this Spider-Man business has gotten.
In any case, it seems that Marvel and Sony are well on their way to an agreement that will send Spidey home eventually. We’ll see how it goes.
My personal ideal situation? Marvel and Sony come to an agreement. The details of the agreement don’t matter so much for me except for creative control landing back in Marvel’s court (they can work out profit-cost sharing agreements to their hearts’ content; doesn’t really matter unless it affects the creative property). As for introducing Spider-Man to the larger Marvel Cinematic universe, I’m perfectly happy with a clean break with the Sony stories, which got convoluted. While I liked Andrew Garfield in the role (he had some great wisecracking in the suit, anyway), I like the idea of starting Spider-Man over with Marvel fresh.
This doesn’t mean we need to do the origin of Spider-Man again. We’ve seen two different interpretations of the origin in the last decade. People know it cold; it’s not necessary. That said, as much as I love the older Peter Parker (science teacher era would be excellent), Marvel Studios hasn’t tackled the teenager angle yet, nor the secret identity thing, which might be fun for a while*.
I like the idea of having Spider-Man come to the attention of SHIELD/The Avengers as a street level start-up hero, cleaning up the streets and maybe tackling a couple non-cosmic scale villains from the Rogue’s gallery. Do the intro from the Avengers’ perspective in a post-credit stinger in one of the Phase 3 films: Spidey webs up a couple of carjackers or the Shocker or something, and turns to find one of the Avengers observing. Teenage Pete is kind of startstruck, and bluffs his way through the encounter with false teenage bravado. The encounter ends with a “keep fighting the good fight, kid. If you need us, give us a call” from the established hero. He’s in. That’s all you need to get him into the Infinity War action, leading to a solo film with an established Spider-Man in Phase 4, with the origin details sketched out in dialog and characterization, rather than the first 40 minutes of the movie – seriously, all you need is bite/Uncle Ben/”With Great Power comes Great Responsibility” checked in passing.
Feel free to send me a check, Marvel. There’s your solution.
* – Not that SHIELD couldn’t figure out Spider-Man’s actual identity as a matter of routine. Heck, they probably would. I kind of like the idea of them keeping his secret for a while without him knowing, just to see what he does. I kind of expect a properly intelligent teenage Spider-Man would know SHIELD would figure it out as well…though there’s possibility in the idea that a smart and sort of cocky kid who builds web shooters Spider-tracers and whatnot wouldn’t even consider that somebody could figure out his secret. Would be a great moment of humility, which plays well with Spidey stories. Don’t recruit him into SHIELD like the current cartoons (that’s too much, but maybe set up a mentor/hero worship relationship with Steve (I’d say Tony, but if “Civil War” spins out anything like the comics did…); I like that dynamic. See the Spider-Man episode of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for a pretty good example of how it might be done.