Sony are firing up their own Spider-Man centric cinematic universe which will likely end in disaster – When will they learn?
Last week, Sony Pictures confirmed the existence of the long rumoured Venom movie. They’re wasting no time either – The film is set to release on October 5th, starring Tom Hardy as the titular Eddie Brock/Venom with rising star Ruben Fleischer on directing duties.
To say I was excited when I heard this news is an understatement. Venom is a visceral villain, one of the most iconic in the Spider-Man rogues gallery, that has the capability to really shine on the big screen. Tom Hardy is a big name, a versatile actor and has the potential to bring both Eddie and Venom to life. Ruben Fleischer has shown he has he directorial chops to deliver with Zombie Land, Gangster Squad and, more recently, Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet. There’s a lot of reasons to get hyped about this project – but then my hype turned to trepidation thank’s to a single tweet…
Sony celebrated the announcement of Venom with this tweet.
— Sony Pictures (@SonyPictures) May 19, 2017
The words “Sony Marvel Universe” knocked a lot of the hype right out of me. It feels like Spider-Man has only just joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sony are already attempting to spin off his rehabilitated reputation into their own cinematic universe – a prospect that has failed once before with the Amazing Spider-Man movies. A Marvel Universe made up singularly of Spider-Man and his friends/villains is like creating a food group out of just Pop Tarts. It’s like opening up a freshly delivered Pizza box and finding only one slice of pizza – and it has pineapple on it. A large part of why there’s a newfound excitement about Spider-Man Movies is that a) the deal struck between Marvel and Sony mean he’s part of the larger connected world of the MCU and b) Marvel Studios, the team that have released hit after hit since Iron Man back in 2008, have had the lion’s share of creative control. Venom, on the other hand, seems to be something else entirely.
When Marvel and Sony came to an agreement to use Spider-Man in the marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a unique one. The deal didn’t actually cost either parties any money but meant that Marvel would keep all the profits from any Ensemble piece (Civil War for example) in which Spider-Man appears while Sony would keep the profits from any Solo Spider-Man films (Sony are distributing Spider-Man: Homecoming). Venom however doesn’t fall into either of those categories.
Venom is being wholly produced by Sony Pictures with Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad (the man that many fans blame for the shortcomings of the previous Spider-Man films) as producers. It’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and exists in its own separate world. Why, exactly? Well Sony just can’t help themselves can they? Sony own the rights to Spider-Man and up until now, they’ve not earned much out of their deal with Marvel. It’s their prerogative to use the Spider-Man movie rights however they please and who can blame them? They have the movie rights to probably the most instantly recognisable Super-Hero Marvel have ever made – but instead of trying to work with Marvel Studios to give their Spider-man spin offs a fighting chance of survival, they’re going it alone.
Sony Pictures need to make money – the division posted a $920 Million operating loss in February 2017 – and leveraging the Spider-Man characters might seem like a no brainer. Venom is an A+ Villain and a B- anti-hero in his solo comics so the film, regardless of which direction they take it, will probably make money. The issue is, Sony don’t seem to understand the mindset and motivation of Comic Book Movie fans. We’re an odd bunch who thrive on the “everything is connected” angle. It’s the reason we love the MCU – we love the house of cards that they’ve built, stacking each movie on top of the others, linking them all together (even when its superficial such as a name drop or an easter egg). Even before the first movie of the “Sony Marvel Universe” has had chance to release, we know we won’t get that same level of connectivity and it seriously dampens any expectations and excitement. Sony don’t seem to understand that, sure, borrowing Spider-Man to Marvel doesn’t earn you as much money in the short-term but starting your own cinematic universe isn’t the answer to that. Fans don’t want separate entities that make everything confusing and convoluted. They want to believe in the fiction and the connectivity and as compelling as the argument for a solo Venom film is, it’s severing the possibility of him showing up in the MCU.
For many superhero movie fans – at least the ones over 25, myself included – we grew up in a simpler time when “Who owns the movie rights to that?” was never a consideration. We grew up on the “Marvel Action Hour”, glued to the Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons. We watched in amazement as Spider-Man teamed up with the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Blade, Doctor Strange, the Punisher and Captain America in 90’s animated series. We poured over each panel of the team-up comics as The Hulk fast-balled Wolverine into Titannus. We hoped beyond hope that villains that “died” would return later (and they almost always did) so that they could team up with other villains. We lived for that stuff, when you’d have heroes having to put their differences aside to fight an evil that’ll challenge them all. 15 to 20 years later, we still do.
The MCU has been building towards that for nearly 10 years. They’ve been building towards the biggest cross-over event in cinematic history with Avengers: Infinity Wars. Every hero available to them (with notable Fox owned exceptions) in a battle with the ultimate villain that has been teased for years. It’ll likely smash box office records like Hulk smashed Loki. We know Spider-Man will appear in Infinity Wars (we should be counting our blessings for that), but what happens after that?
If the rumours are true, and the deal stuck between Sony and Marvel comes to an end after the solo sequel to Homecoming, we’re likely to see Sony trying to reboot Spider-Man again and it’s a crying shame. After being treated to the amazing scenes involving Spider-Man in Civil War where he finally felt perfect, it’ll be difficult to go back to anything less connected, less involved with the wider Marvel character base. If this happens, we’re probably not ever going to see Spider-Man suiting up as an official member of the Avengers. We’ll never see him team up with Daredevil to take on Kingpin. We’ll never get to see those top-of-the-dream-wish-list ensemble pieces we’ve been hopinf for.
Perhaps we should give Sony Pictures and Venom the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’ll be a brilliant movie and the perfect springboard to the Spider-verse. But the “Sony Marvel Universe” will never truly be what Marvel fans want and what we thought we’d reached just a short year ago – Spider-Man and his related characters as a permanent fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.