• Joel Ryan

Making Sense of the Sony/ Marvel Studios Spider-Man Split

If you've skimmed social media at all in the last few days, you’re probably already aware of the big comic book news that Sony and Marvel Studios have failed to come to terms on future film rights and profit sharing on the world's favorite web-slinger, meaning, moving forward, 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 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. Y

es, Sony and Amy Pascal deserve some credit for the shared vision 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 inevitably enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe 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 panned by critics and fans alike. Though Sam Raimi had plans for a fourth film that would pit Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man against the Vulture, rumored to be played by John Malkovich, Spider-Man 3 would be the end of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man universe.

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

At this point, fans had voiced frustrated with Sony's management of Spider-Man, and perhaps 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 thrilled that Peter Parker is going back to live with its Sony parent. The marriage between Sony and Marvel Studios seemed to be the best for everyone, the kid included.

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 re-negotiating a deal that would see the two studios co-finance/produce future Spider-Man films and 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 see their favorite characters treated right on screen. 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 separated from the MCU, Avengers, and Tony Stark's legacy is right.

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 credit 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 mention or explanation? Will it be like he’s been Thanos-snapped a second time, but this go-around, the dusting includes 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 aftermath of the Snap be ignored altogether?

  • What characters can 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 hope.

Right now though, this feels like an ugly divorce that leaves the kid (in this case Peter Parker) and fans feeling broken and cast aside.

Writers, 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 comic book characters done right.

I, like most, would hate to go back to the days when different studios owned different Marvel characters, who couldn’t play together.

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.

We shall see.


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