• Joel Ryan

Spider-Man Cuts Ties from the MCU: Making Sense of the Sony/ Marvel Studios Split

I did it, friends. Yesterday I broke one of my cardinal rules of writing and social media.

I went on social media to offer a very heated opinion (also known as a rant) on the news that Sony and Marvel Studios had failed to come to terms on future film rights and profit sharing on the world's favorite web-slinger.

If you've skimmed social media at all in the last few days, you already know what's going on and have probably felt the emotional backlash of fans like me who who were upset (or outraged) to learn that Tom Holland's Peter Parker will no longer be suiting up as an Avenger or carrying on the legacy of Tony Stark on screen.

Since I've been revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, news of Peter Parker's departure from the MCU is a worthy topic of discussion, bigger than Aunt May and Happy Hogan becoming a couple, but I guess that relationship's over now too.

I, like most, have been a big fan of Spider-Man's presence in the MCU and thought Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel Studios/Disney have done a remarkable job with the character and integrating him into the Avengers and greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, Sony and Amy Pascal deserve some credit for the shared version of the character, but it's hard to ignore Feige and Marvel's creative direction being the driving force behind Spidey's recent success.

To give you a little backstory, Sony has owned the film rights to Spider-Man since 1999 back when Marvel Comics was struggling financially and selling off their character rights to various studios just to stay afloat. This decision is what led to Spider-Man going to Sony and other Marvel properties like the X-Men and Fantastic Four going to Fox, whose characters are also now owned by Disney and will soon enter the MCU as well.

Sony's acquisition of Spider-Man in 1999 eventually led to Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man and its exceptional sequel Spider-Man 2 (2004), both starring Tobey Maguire. And then things went slightly awry in 2007 with the less-than-praiseworthy Spider-Man 3. A box office success, Spider-Man 3 was a creative disaster that signaled the end of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man era.

Sony decided to reboot the franchise five years later with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), starring Andrew Garfield as the eponymous web-slinger. That franchise only made it two films before being shut down after a deeply troubled sequel.

At this point, fans were growing frustrated with Sony's management of Spider-Man, and rightly so.

Don't get me wrong, Spider-Man 2 is sensational and last year's animated Into the Spiderverse (2018) is UNBELIEVABLE! However, while Feige and Marvel Studios have created and sustained a thriving Marvel Cinematic Universe built on narrative consistency, Sony has struggled to build a consistent Spider-Man franchise that has lasted more than a couple films, and they've had multiple cracks at it in the last 20 years.

Therefore, anyone who says that we should give Sony a chance needs to remember, we already have. Twice!

I am not saying that Sony can't make a good Spider-Man film. We all hope they do and blow us away with future installments. However, given their track record, it's easy to see why fans aren't that excited that Peter Parker is going back to live with Sony. And if anyone wants to try and argue that Venom (2018) is proof that Sony has gotten their act together, they'll have to work a LOT harder to convince me that Peter is going back to a good home.

Better since the days of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man? Absolutely. But better for the character than Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, and Tony Stark? I'm having a hard time getting on this train.

In 2016, with the MCU's Captain America: Civil War, Kevin Feige had made a pitch to Amy Pascal, the then head of Sony, to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. The deal was that both studios would co-produce future standalone Spider-Man films, while Sony would reap most of the box office haul. Disney/Marvel Studios would profit off of merchandise and toy sales.

This was the arrangement that lasted through Spider-Man's five appearances in the MCU, including two standalone films.

And then Spider-Man: Far from Home crossed the billion-dollar mark. That's when Feige and Disney/Marvel Studios approached Sony about negotiating a new deal that would see the two studios co-finance/produce new Spider-Man films and then split box office profits 50/50. Sony rejected this deal, and both studios parted ways.

So here we are today, and who's to blame?

Personally, I don't care. There is plenty of greed on both sides and finger pointing to go around. I completely understand Disney/Marvel Studios wanting to renegotiate their box office take, and I respect Sony for not wanting to give up fifty percent of their most profitable franchise.

These are businesses, not charities.

Money does matter, but sometimes fans just want a good story and to spend time with their favorite characters. They expect those responsible for Spider-Man's fate to do what's right for the character, and right now they aren't convinced that a Spider-Man apart from the narratively consistent MCU, Avengers, and Tony Stark's legacy is.

What happened in 2016 with Spider-Man coming into the MCU was a momentous act of creative good will, collaboration, and love for the fans, who had been begging to see their favorite characters (ALL of them) together in a cinematic shared universe. I will praise Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige for coming together to bring Peter Parker in to play with the Avengers and carry on the legacy of Tony Stark. This creative partnership was exactly what fans wanted and had been asking for from the cinematic parents of their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Tom Holland and director Jon Watts are still contracted for two more standalone Spider-Man movies. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the deal breakdown between Marvel Studios and Sony, those films will not be a part of storylines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So what does this mean?

Is Tom Holland's Peter Parker going to disappear from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and future MCU stories without even a narrative mention or explanation? It'll be like he's getting Thanos-snapped a second time, but this go-around, the dusting will include all memory or mention of his existence.

We'll see if Sony and Marvel Studios can come to an arrangement to at least allow the MCU writers to explain why Peter Parker isn't around anymore and why he can't be called upon for future Avengers assignments.

On the Sony side of things, Tom Holland's Peter Parker will continue as the hero of future movies, likely involving Venom, Carnage, and members of the Sinister Six. However, given their link to the MCU's Tony Stark, I wonder if we'll ever see the MCU Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) or Vulture (Michael Keaton) in that lineup.

  • Will Peter be allowed to talk about Tony Stark or his time with the Avengers in future Sony films?

  • Will the Thanos snap/blip be mentioned in future Sony storylines or be ignored altogether?

  • What characters can actually crossover?

  • What events, if any, in one cinematic universe will impact the other?

  • Is this a continuation storyline that just doesn't talk about major MCU plot points?

  • Is this a complete Sony reboot of the character with the same actor?

There's still a LOT of story questions and creative ramifications to this split. We'll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Maybe both sides do come to an arrangement to keep the marriage alive. Let's nope.

Right now though, this feels like an ugly divorce that benefits no one except two independent parent, not the kid (in this case Peter Parker) or fans, who just want to see their favorite characters taken care of and raised right.

Yesterday, I focused solely on the negatives of this story, which is something I try not to do.

I've had some great conversations with friends about this topic, even some who disagree with me and argue that I've been too harsh on Sony. Their points are taken and I appreciate those who brought their opinions to the table. But I ultimately stand by my frustrations based on my views as a storyteller and a fan.

Storytellers, like fans, are passionate people, and when decisions are made that don't serve our favorite stories or betray the characters we've come to love, we get upset.

Fans don't want to see the Sony/Disney/Fox versions of their favorite characters or storylines. They just want to see their favorite characters interact on the screen in a shared universe that most resembles the one they love from the comic books.

I, like most, would hate to go back to the days when different studios owned different Marvel characters, who they refused to let play together on screen.

It's true that Disney owns a massive chunk of media and IP, managing a lot of the entertainment being produced today. Not everything Disney/Marvel Studios touches turns to gold, and I don't want them to own everything. But when it comes to Marvel Comics, I'm okay with one studio controlling the canon of characters and storylines we see on screen. This is what fans want, and we've seen what happens when this is the case. There's a reason why Avengers: Endgame is now the highest grossing movie of all time.

Spider-Man will always make money at the box office, and I'm confident that Sony will make successful future Spider-Man films. I only hope they serve the story and its characters the way the MCU has for the last decade.