Yesterday the internet was aflame with the news that, in the wake of the ultra-successful Spider-Man: Far From Home, Disney and Sony would be parting ways on the Spider-Man character. It’s pretty big news in terms of modern blockbuster filmmaking, but it didn’t feel too surprising to me.
After all, Venom‘s success was the worst thing that could happen to Spider-Man – it convinced Sony it knew how to make these movies.
A step back: it’s unclear just what is up with Spider-Man at the moment. The story broke in Deadline, and the journalist who ran it was Mike Fleming Jr, who is a waterboy. He carries water for people, and most of his stories are just repeating what people in power want in print. This isn’t a dig, but rather largely a statement of fact. So when we read this story we have to ask who wants it in print, and who wants this version in print?
I’m not sure. I thought it was for sure Sony, because the version Fleming gives has Disney demanding 50% of Spider-Man profits moving forward. Currently Disney gets 5% of first dollar gross on these movies, but they also don’t pay any money towards their production; under this new proposal the studio would kick in half the budget and advertising.
That version makes Disney look like the bad guy, demanding more money (although, frankly, they’re the ones making the character profitable). But then Sony came out on official channels to dispute some of this, and to say that the real crux of the issue was a disagreement over whether or not Kevin Feige would remain the creative exec on the films; Sony claims that Feige has said he’s too buy with the new Fox properties to focus on Spidey.
I don’t know what the truth is here, and basically don’t care. All of this has the scent of negotiating in the press to me, which is actually a tried and true Marvel Studios tactic. The fan outcry is supposed to send Sony back to the table to make new terms, maybe.
But what if they don’t? First of all, I want to say that while Feige is for sure the wizard at Marvel, he isn’t the only wizard. He’s been slowly building up a team beneath him made up of people who have learned at his feet. Nate Moore, producer on Black Panther, is in my estimation the likely Next Kevin Feige. If the story that Feige is too busy for Spidey is true, Sony should be trying to get Moore on the franchise. The guy’s good and smart.
But anyway, what if Disney and Sony part ways? I think it’s actually good for Disney, believe it or not. You have to remember that it’s easier for Marvel to wash its hands of Spidey than the other way around, although the end of Far From Home definitely sets up an environment in which Spidey never again needs to mention Mr. Stark or anything else. He can move forward into his new status quo, which is the traditional loner Spidey status quo.
But more than that, the success of Venom has emboldened Sony into thinking they know how to make these movies, and so they’re off doing Morbius the Living Vampire and will be adding more D-level spin-offs to their Spider-verse. And as time goes on, they’re gonna force Tom Holland into these movies, connecting them to the mainline Spidey movies. And in doing so, they’re going to tarnish the Spider-Man brand… which, if he’s still hanging out in the MCU, begins tarnishing the big brand.
Lest you think I’m overthinking, last year I worked in a movie theater and the discussions normal people had about superhero movies were stunning. People asking if Iron Man would be in Aquaman. Thinking Shazam! was tying into Avengers: Infinity War. Believing Hellboy was a DC movie. We are high information consumers, most of the public is not.
But when you actually put Spider-Man physically next to Morbius on a poster the confusion is cleared. People understand the relationship. And they’ve seen Spider-Man next to Thor, so they understand that this terrible Morbius movie (and let’s be frank, the odds of it not being terrible are slim) is related to The Eternals or whatever franchise Marvel is trying to launch as part of its interconnected universe.
When Marvel has direct control of Spidey it’s all good for Marvel, but the fact that Sony can plug him into their other trash is not at all good for Marvel.
Does it matter if Marvel is no longer involved with Spidey? The answer here is clear to me: yes. The argument some might make is that with his previous five MCU appearances Spidey has been established well enough that Sony needs to pick up the reins and just move in the same general direction. This misunderstands a few things.
One, Hollywood is not sensible. It’s made up of largely high school level pettiness, jealousy and resentments. The idea of picking up the character and just doing what was being done with him is anathema to studio execs. They need to get their grubby fingerprints all over the franchise to prove that their inflated salaries have a purpose and to assuage their inflated egos. This is why so many movies are bad.
Two, this is Tom Rothman we’re talking about. Leaving aside any other Rothman-related issues from his tenure at Fox, we must keep in mind that this is the guy who demanded Deadpool HAVE HIS MOUTH SEWN SHUT in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and who wouldn’t allow Sentinels in the X-Men movies because he didn’t like robots. This is a dude who famously doesn’t get the source material; where Marvel respects the source, Rothman thinks he’s above it.
But, you say, he was running Sony when Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse came out. Sure, but here’s the thing: he inherited that movie, and he had a lot of big arguments with the creatives along the way – arguments where he was always wrong. Spiderverse was great in spite of Rothman, not because of him.
It is clear to me that a deMarveled Spidey franchise, run by Rothman and with the need to support spin-offs that should never have been greenlit in the first place, will be a lessened and weakened franchise. Poor Tom Holland is just going to be trapped in the middle of this web.
If this isn’t resolved we can flash forward to five years from now, and Spider-Man gets written out of the MCU with some off-handed snark about how ‘that bug kid’ couldn’t make it to the Kree-Skrull War or whatever. And we don’t even blink an eye; there’s going to be all these new stories and characters to obsess over in Phase Four that we’ll forget that Spidey was ever even in play.
And maybe it’s for the best – I’ve never loved the idea of Spidey being an Avenger, and I’ve never been partial to putting him at the center of the MCU. He’s always been a loner and an outcast, and getting shunned from the MCU feels like the most appropriately Spider-Man turn of events I can imagine.
That said, I wish it happened in a way where I could believe the inevitable Spider-Man 4, 5 and so on would be any good. And I suspect that as Sony watches their worldwide grosses drop from a billion to well under $500 million as the series continues, they’ll wish they had figured out a solution. Although by then Rothman will probably be retired again and somebody else will be left holding the dissolving web of the Spider-Man franchise.
But just you wait until we get to that third reboot…