What the Marvel/Sony deal could, does and should mean…

Marvel Entertainment released a press statement today, confirming that, after a long series of negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment, who own Spider-Man’s live-action rights, the character was finally to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside characters such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

First, it’s been confirmed that this Spider-Man will be a new incarnation, which will likely require a recasting. The top names reported are Logan Lerman – Sony’s second choice after incumbent Andrew Garfield – and Zac Efron, though America’s Matt Smith, Donald Glover, is a popular choice as well. If Glover were cast, it’s possible Sony would have chosen to start a new Spider-Man series with the Miles Morales identity rather than Parker. Personally, I find that unlikely, since it’s probably a soft reboot with little continuity than the basics, and that would mean the new Spider-Man will still be Parker. Which isn’t to say the series won’t develop into Morales being involved, but that’s only likely to happen once the new Parker’s already established. If Morales were to be featured eventually, I wouldn’t say no to Glover being cast. But I would protest to him being cast as Parker, because he’s much more suited as an actor to Morales. He’s a much more interesting character, and Glover’s probably a decent actor, so it would be a shame to miss that opportunity for combination by wasting the potential just to cast Glover as the de facto Spider-Man, rather than a character far more suited to him. Regardless of who’s cast as Spider-Man, there are a lot of actors capable of doing it. Someone we’ve seen before isn’t necessarily a stunt cast, but could help ease the transition to a new version. And a name we haven’t heard before could work, but Sony might not expect the audience to accept a completely new face. SPE Motion Picture Group President Doug Belgrad said,

“This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future”,

implying Parker will still be the cinema version of the character.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll have to experience his origin story for a third time. The press release states the new Spider-Man will first be seen in a Marvel Studios production as part of the Cinematic Universe. The implication seems to be that he’ll debut in the solo release of another character. The next MCU release, Joss Whedon‘s Avengers: Age of Ultron, has finished principal photography, so it’s likely this appearance will be in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely‘s Captain America: Civil War. Leaked Sony emails reveal negotiations were already in place for Spider-Man to appear at that point, given his significant role in the comic book storyline Civil War. As these negotiations have finalised, it’s likely to still be the case, especially as it isn’t too late to rewrite the screenplay. Black Panther’s already been confirmed to debut there as well, as it was speculated that the character’s presence was a Spider-Man substitute. Would there be space to add Spider-Man as well? Maybe not and maybe so, but if it turns out to be true, it would be interesting to see how accurately it follows the source material. From what I hear, Civil War‘s major event is Spider-Man revealing his secret identity to the press, which would be a difficult event to reverse if Sony change their mind. What is confirmed about this release is that it’s going to happen before the 28th July 2017, which means, if not Captain America: Civil War, it would be either Jon Spaihts‘ Doctor Strange or James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Making his debut Doctor Strange would be a good idea, as Benedict Cumberbatch would already have attracted audiences, and that would provide maximum exposure. I honestly can’t see it being Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which takes place throughout the Milky Way and far from Earth. I like to think they won’t come to Earth because we already lots of other characters for that. Doctor Strange would be the most effective, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 would be the most unlikely, Captain America: Civil War would be the most likely, but there’s still the possibility of a post-credits cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If the MCU Spider-Man’s pre-established, he’ll have already experienced his origin story. But there should still be one for clarity’s sake, and a post-credits sequence would be the best opportunity for that. We’d be able to see it, it would officially introduce the character, but it wouldn’t take up any unnecessary time in his solo release.

Which is what the 28th July 2017 date’s now reserved for, shunting future MCU releases along futher into the future. There was a five year wait between Sam RaimiIvan Raimi and Alvin Sargent‘s Spider-Man 3 and Steve VanderbiltAlvin Sargent and Steve Kloves‘ The Amazing Spider-Man. Following Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner‘s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there’s now a five year wait again. As it happens, we’ve only discovered this with two of those remaining, so that’s something. Plus, Marvel Studios are very efficient at manufacturing an assembly line of releases, and two years seems like a good length of time before releasing it, because that’s the average between announcement and release.

What’s pleasing is that Spider-Man‘s being produced by Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal. They tend to be the equivalents of each other in their respective companies, and actually having a face to the discussions is comforting. I already know them, and respect them, and the fact that this blog post is even being written is testament to their ability to work together.

That being said, Sony still own the character’s cinema rights, and will be financing and majorly controlling future cinema releases for Spider-Man, which is slightly worrying. Sony aren’t as big a company as Disney, and from the way the agreement’s worded, it sounds as if Disney legally can’t fund any Spider-Mans because of Sony’s ownership. If Disney fund it, that gives them a right to grossing shares, and that changes their agreement. The last thing that needs to happen at this stage is for Marvel to violate that agreement, even in a small way, because that would give Sony the power to revoke their agreement. And the fact that Sony still own the character is quite disappointing, but then that’s how it would inevitably turn-out. Spider-Man’s the highest-grossing fictional character, and the MCU’s the highest-grossing cinematic series. It makes sense to unite them. But it’s for that same reason that Sony wouldn’t want to just give up the character, so them coming out of negotiations still owning him makes sense, even if I wish they’d just leave it alone and let Marvel use him how they want without having to stick to any guidelines. It’s this same agreement that says Marvel can’t fund it. And even worse, there’s Sony’s ability to overrule Marvel on any decisions made regarding the character. How Marvel expect to ingratiate the character into their own continuity while also letting Sony have the final say on that character’s releases’ creative decisions is worrying. Can this really work? I don’t know. But I’m just hoping it does. Generally, I think, since Sony need this investment, but Marvel are better at handling their properties, Sony’s only interest will be in making money. So that should mean that the only decisions they’ll be overriding are ones they think will compromise a Spider-Man‘s grossing. But given Marvel’s also a part of it, I can’t see them making the kind of decision that would do that. Hopefully, this will be a case of Sony letting Marvel do their own thing, but overruling them whenever they consider it necessary. And that kind of relationship works for me. If Sony are wise, they’ll use their major creative control to let Marvel do what they know they should.

Interestingly, the agreement specifies that Sony will only have that control over the new Spider-Man series. What that sounds like to me is that whenever Spider-Man appears in a non-Spider-Man, Marvel can use him how they like. So when Spider-Man appears in his debut, which will be part of another series, Marvel have full control. The solo release will then be controlled by Sony, but if Spider-Man then goes on to feature in Avengers: Infinity War — Part I, Sony won’t be involved in that. Which also works for me. A character in the MCU is two things – their own character, and crossover potential. Marvel are likely to care about the crossover potential more than that character’s own solo outings, which makes their compromise more satisfying than it could have been, and also more realistic.

The release also states other MCU characters will appear in the Spider-Man series. How this works between Sony and Marvel is anyone’s guess, but it could be the reverse of what we already have here. Meaning that if Sony wanted to include Antony Stark in Spider-Man 2 (which would be a good move, he’s the MCU’s highest-grossing individual character), he’d only appear on Marvel’s terms. I don’t really see that being a problem, since this agreement has already happened, and I believe in the combined power of Feige and Pascal. They’re like the Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet – put them together, and you unlock literally endless possibilities.

Spider-Man 3 — review

Adapted by Alvin Sargent, Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi from Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee.

 

What made Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 so great was Peter Parker’s character development, and how that transcended the story to become relatable for all of us, while also running parallel with other characters, who were experiencing their own equivalent. It also felt natural, with everything a discrete progression in line with what Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man of these years in Parker’s life being what will turn him into the man he’ll be for the rest of his life. And so, because Sony weren’t sure whether Spider-Man 4 would happen, Spider-Man 3 was written as the conclusion to a trilogy. In doing so, it attempted to wrap everything up rather than do what the previous two had done, which was to just make an enjoyable story. Spider-Man 2 doesn’t completely wrap things up, but it could have made its duology. Spider-Man 3, however, rushed itself to include everything it wanted to, even if most of those things weren’t needed at all.

The main thing about Spider-Man 3 is Venom, as he’s the person who takes Parker to the dark side. Venom then becomes Eddie Brock, who’s like a darker Parker himself. That formula was a good one to start with, and had the story been about Parker and Venom/Brock, it could have been an interesting character piece. But Venom’s relevance is as a manifestation of a person’s darker side. Curt Connors even explains that it amplifies a person’s traits, and so Parker becomes a vengeful vigilante, and learns that he isn’t above these people, who aren’t heartless. But that was already apparent from his relationship with Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2; what made Octavius such a popular villain is the way he was treated as a real person, and that’s what made Spider-Man 2 great for everybody, as did the way it balanced the light and the dark. Whereas Spider-Man 3 is almost trying too hard to be dark, and isn’t trying hard enough to be light. It’s almost as if Venom is bringing out the darker side of the trilogy itself.

So while Venom’s inclusion is based on recycled ideas, it would have still been a clever continuation of the trilogy’s dualistic themes. It could even ended with Brock becoming Spider-Man – that would have really added something to the story in motion and kept it new. But instead, Flint Marko’s Sandman’s added as well, and that’s the main problem with Spider-Man 3: it doesn’t know how to handle multiple villains. The same criticism is given of Akiva Goldsman’s Batman & Robin, which included Victor “Mr. Freeze” Fries, Pamela “Poison Ivey” Isley and Antonio “Bane” Diego. But multiple villains isn’t the problem with either Spider-Man 3 or Batman & Robin, it’s that neither can handle them. The Nolans’ The Dark Knight features The Joker, Two-Face and Salvatore Maroni, yet balances them in a way that makes it considered the best Batman adaptation. Multiple villains isn’t what makes Spider-Man 3 just not work, but the lack of cohesion in them.

Marko contributes absolutely nothing. He’s introduced completely separately to the story, just so we can see his family background and understand what kind of a person he is. And his transformation into Sandman also has nothing to do with Spider-Man. And ultimately, all he does with Spider-Man is just cause a few public disturbances. It’s explained that he killed Uncle Ben, but the way it’s done shows just how much of a retcon this is – that it was never a plan, and was only included just make the same point being made by Venom. And yet Venom gets much less screentime than desired because of it.

And yet, Marko isn’t even defeated. He just explains to Parker what happened, and Parker forgives him, like it was an accident. But it wasn’t an accident – he killed Uncle Ben because he has a really itchy trigger finger. And then Marko just goes away and is never seen again. When the tertiary villain isn’t defeated, clearly, he doesn’t need to be there. But instead, he makes a verbal point to Parker about forgiveness, even though this would have been much more subtle if the story had the confidence to stick with Venom, and what it meant for Parker rather than giving him a straight-out lecture. It’s as if the creative team had suddenly forgotten how to write Spider-Man and tried to compensate for it by being unexpectedly dark. But it isn’t really that dark, because Venom’s screentime is taken-up by a villain who’s only there because he was clumsily retconned into the trilogy in order to do exactly the same thing as the very villain he’s replacing.

And then there’s Harry Osborn. Great God, Harry Osborn. People say the worst thing about Spider-Man 3 is “emo Peter Parker” and his dancing, but it isn’t. Because at least there he’s being affected be Venom (of course, dark doesn’t equal emo, and emos don’t tend to dance to jazz music, but whatever). No. The actual worst thing about Spider-Man 3 is Harry Osborn and “that bit in the kitchen” in-which he dances with Mary Watson. It’s absolutely awful, because it’s totally out of character. I wonder if James Franco, a wonderfully charismatic actor, really hates Sam Raimi now. Probably not, to be honest, since Raimi himself admits Spider-Man 3 sucks. And if the director says that, there really is no hope for it.

Not to mention that Osborn has a horrible conclusion to his plotline. With Venom and Marko already pushing each-other out of the doorway to the story, Osborn is sidelined in the quickest (and unimaginable) way possible: he’s given amnesia. We begin with him chasing Parker through New York, even though he shouldn’t really hate him anymore. He’s discovered his father was Green Goblin, so it makes sense for him to understand why he had to die. But apparently not. Then he’s ejected into hospital with no memory of anything, until his butler reveals that Norman Osborn was killed by his own glider. Why he’s waited this long to tell him really makes no sense. And his butler knew all this time that Norman Osborn was Green Goblin? And he never said? So finally, he forgives Parker and sacrifices himself to save him by taking the bullet, even though the clear third option was just to take-on Venom himself. Or to maybe deal with Marko.

All of this happens in a very haphazard third act that looks more like fanfiction than anything else. Everyone’s teamed-up to stop Marko, though Marko himself has no qualification to be here and ultimately isn’t stopped anyway. I’d make some sort of conclusion about it, but the multiple plot arcs have no cohesion and there isn’t a through-line to anything. It really just isn’t very good.

 

Spider-Man 3: wrong choices and no cohesion 2/10.

Screenplay by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi and Alving Sargent