Spider-Man: Where To Next?

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Seismic news hit the web yesterday when it was revealed that Marvel and Sony had struck a deal to allow the inclusion of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man in films set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What does it all mean though? Well, we're glad you asked.

Good question. It’s seemed for a while that Marvel has been frustrated that they don’t control all their crown jewels (not that they’ve done a bad job with what they have had). Over the last few years, rights to the likes of The Punisher and Daredevil have reverted to the company, but Spider-Man, X-Men and possibly even The Fantastic Four are so lucrative for Sony and Fox that there’s next to no chance that the Disney-owned company will ever regain full control.

So this is the next best step – a deal that allows Sony to retain creative control over Spider-Man when the character comes under the auspices of its banner, while giving Kevin Feige and his merry band the freedom to reformat the character to their own satisfaction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By officially attaching the character to the phenomenally successful Marvel brand, Sony will also be hoping that the stigma of the two Amazing Spider-Man movies (which, it should be noted, grossed almost $1.5 billion worldwide combined; that’s a stigma most franchises would kill for) will be removed.

There had been talk about inserting Stark Tower into a shot of New York for the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, so this has been mooted for quite a while. That would have been an Easter egg, though, a nod to the fans. Thanks to the accursed Sony hack attack, we know that Marvel and Sony had been in talks about properly integrating both universes for some time, but that they hadn’t come off. When Empire spoke to Feige just before Christmas, he told us, “we’ll see what happens and how things keep going”, which indicated that he wasn’t ready to give up the fight.

Certainly, the situation seems to have accelerated within the last few days, as Sony chief Amy Pascal stepped down at the studio. Pascal’s presence as co-producer on the new Spider-Man movies is significant, and will surely soften the blow of her departure. It's worth nothing that former Sony big cheese Matt Tolmach also wound up as a producer on the last two Spider-Man movies.

Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel did well at the box office, but they were not critically well-received, and are films whose reputations have diminished since their initial release. Sony’s much ballyhooed plans to build its own mini Spider-Man Cinematic Universe around the webslinger faltered after The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with plans for Drew Goddard’s The Sinister Six and Alex Kurtzman’s Venom pushed back and delayed and put on hold. Rumours even swirled at one point of an Aunt May origin story, implying that they were largely making it up as they went along.

Then, as football fans are wont to say, it all went quiet over there. Meanwhile, envious eyes must have been cast towards Marvel, who turned the extraordinarily risky Guardians Of The Galaxy – a movie, we cannot stress enough, which featured a talking tree – into the film of the summer. Seemingly, they can do no wrong.

This isn’t entirely about money. Of course, that helps – Captain America: Civil War, with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark facing off against each other, was such a formidable proposition that Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice had already blinked first and moved off the May 6 date the two shared in the US. But add Spider-Man, even if only in a supporting role, and the box office betting starts at a billion dollars.

This is also about storytelling, though. You may scoff, of course, but Kevin Feige and company must have been looking at what Sony were doing with their figurehead and thinking, ‘we can do better’. This will give them a chance to do just that, and fit Spider-Man into Phase II and beyond.

This is interesting not just because of who’s involved, but who’s not involved. Feige and Pascal will produce, but conspicuous by his absence from the Sony/Marvel press release was Avi Arad (pictured), the man who used to be Feige’s boss back in the days pre-Iron Man and pre-Marvel Studios. When Arad left Marvel, he continued to work on the Spider-Man movies, but his involvement with the character seems to have come to an end.

Ol' Webhead will show up in Captain America: Civil War, a decision that makes more sense than just blundering randomly into Doctor Strange. Then we’ll have the first ‘new’ solo Spidey movie in July 2017, a move that has prompted Marvel to push back some of its Phase 3 movies. We’d be stunned if the wallcrawler didn’t play a major part in Avengers: Infinity War Parts I & II in 2018 and 2019. Which brings its own complications, but more of that later…

There aren’t many left, to be fair. Fox has the X-Men movies and Fantastic Four, of course, and last time we checked, Universal had the rights to the notoriously difficult to crack Namor, aka The Sub-Mariner. We can’t imagine that Marvel will be bending over backwards to get the fishy racist back into the fold, but the X-Men and the FF are a different prospect entirely.

Fox, of course, are going all out at the moment to create their own X-Men movieverse, with three films due next year (Deadpool, Apocalypse and Gambit), and they might not need Marvel at the moment. However, though X-Men: Days Of Future Past was the biggest X-movie to date, Fox heads could be forgiven for thinking that they could add an extra few hundred million onto the gross of any of their movies if, say, Tony Stark showed up for a scene or two. And an Avengers vs X-Men movie could use up all the world’s money. So don’t rule this one out, even if tonally the MCU and the X-movies couldn’t be further apart.

Then there’s the continuity issue. One reason why it is believed that the MCU Spider-Man will see a new actor don the red-and-blue is because Marvel is keen to establish the character’s history within the MCU. They don’t want any of the baggage of the Marc Webb Spider-movies crossing over into their world – no Jamie Foxx as Electro, no Sally Field Aunt May, no Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. We'll kinda miss Paul Giamatti's demented take on The Rhino, mind.

The Fantastic Four’s situation could also bear close monitoring. If Josh Trank’s super-serious reboot of the FF doesn’t hit big at the box office when it opens this year, then we could see a situation where Fox let the rights revert back to Marvel. Or they might be much more open to a co-operative arrangement. Time will tell.

Therein lies the rub. Speculation is that Marvel/Sony won’t be going down the origin movie route again for 2017, as three 'hey, did you know Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider?' movies in 15 years might be pushing it slightly. Instead, we’ll see the character arrive fully formed, as if he’s been firing webs out of his arse for years, in Civil War. The word is that Marvel prefers their Peter – and, according to Doug Belgrad, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, this Spider-Man will be Peter Parker and not Miles Morales, the current Ultimate Spider-Man – to be youthful and in high school, which rules out Andrew Garfield.

We love Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man – he’s a great actor, he genuinely adores the character, but he was let down by the material in both films. And, as talented as he is, and as youthful as he is, at 31 pulling off a high-schooler (stop sniggering, you mucky-minded devils) may be even harder to swallow (seriously, stop sniggering) than it was back in 2012. It looks like Garfield may have swung his last web.

Names we’ve seen bandied around on Twitter’s wishlist include Logan Lerman, who auditioned for the role last time, Donald Glover, who’s publicly expressed a desire to play the role, and Nick Robinson. The actor, not the BBC’s Political Editor.

Watching Peter Parker and Spidey go toe-to-toe with Iron Man, the Hulk and the rest is a mouthwatering prospect, but we would hope that he won’t dominate. If this had happened, say, five years ago, there’s a chance that any Avengers movie or Civil War might have become Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, but Marvel has worked diligently to build up its other heroes, so that shouldn’t be the case now. Iron Man, Cap, even Thor are box office behemoths to rival, and even surpass, Spidey, so hopefully the studio won’t upset the balance to accommodate their new asset.

We’re fascinated to see how he’s going to fit into Civil War. Will it be a couple of scenes, or does he have a major supporting role? We’ve already heard how Tony Stark’s role was expanded when Robert Downey Jr. expressed serious interest in coming on board – will the same now happen for Spider-Man? Have writers Christopher McFeely and Stephen Markus been slaving away on different drafts of their script, one with Spidey, one without?

In a team dynamic, Peter – never a natural leader – would probably take a backseat to Steve Rogers and others, and watching how the powerful, but not cosmically so, Spider-Man fits into a world populated by living gods should be fun. Also, if he is a teenager in a world of men twice his age, that will be an interesting wrinkle. Seriously, stop sniggering.

It’s a very long story, but we’ll try to cut it relatively short. In a nutshell, Peter decides to man up and aligns himself with Tony Stark, who wants all superheroes to register themselves and declare their identities to the public. Despite some nice new Spider-threads courtesy of Stark, Peter’s outing does not go well – other heroes tell him to talk to the hand, J. Jonah Jameson sues him for falsely selling all those Spider-Man selfies to the Daily Bugle, bad guys make his worst fears come true by targeting his loved ones, endangering his beloved Aunt May’s life. The whole thing was erased from Marvel continuity when Peter made a deal with Mephisto in the controversial One More Day storyline.

We suspect that Peter Parker’s secret identity will come into play somewhere. In the MCU thus far, secret identities are few and far between. Tony Stark flirted with hiding in plain sight as Iron Man until his ego took hold, Bruce Banner is well known as The Hulk, Steve Rogers is an icon, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff are on the public record as S.H.I.E.L.D., or former S.H.I.E.L.D., agents, and Thor is, well, Thor.

But that’s beginning to change, slowly but surely. In the upcoming Netflix series, Matt Murdock will be at pains to make sure nobody finds out that the blind lawyer dude is also the vigilante known as Daredevil, while we’d be surprised if Ant-Man ended with Scott Lang known to the world. Peter Parker clings to his secret identity the way a spider clings to the inside of a bathtub, being constantly afraid that his enemies will get to him him by targeting his loved ones. And while we don’t expect events in Civil War to play out the way they did in the comic book, we’d be surprised if that didn’t come up at some point.

Of course, if this is a new Peter Parker, introduced for the first time in the MCU, will his unmasking have the same impact that it would if we’d been with the character for two or three movies? Or is Marvel hoping that Spider-Man comes with such inbuilt story baggage that his fear of being unmasked comes as a given?

We’ve seen this question occupy many people on Twitter today. Our best guess is that, if Marvel and Sony go for teenage kicks, that Peter Parker simply hadn’t become Spider-Man on that fateful New York day. He might have been doing whatever it is fourteen year olds do. Or his laundry. One of the two.

Over-egging the pudding, of course. Captain America: Civil War already has more characters than The Polyphonic Spree has members, and we hope that Spider-Man doesn’t upset the balance. Then, of course, there’s the slim chance that Marvel’s plans for the character might not actually work. If people react poorly to his Spider-cameo in Civil War, then will they want to see him in his own movie come 2017? There's already been a fair amount of cynicism online about another Spidey movie so soon after the disappointing reboots, but with Feige and Marvel on board this time, we suspect that they'll do things with the character that we haven't seen before.

Spider-Man, back ‘home’, and done right. Get the right director on board (we recommend giving Mr Samuel Raimi a call; he seems to have unfinished business with the character), and the right actor in the home-made duds, and this could be huge.