Saturday, September 21, 2019

Spider-Man Belongs in the MCU

I wanted to write on this topic a couple weeks ago, but didn’t find the time for it. Consequently, while this may be a little late to the party, I am still of the opinion that it is important to keep this discussion going until we have either received confirmation from Sony that they are releasing Spider-Man 3 outside the MCU (meaning that it has actually been released without a Disney/Sony deal in place) or received confirmation from both studios that a new deal has been reached. It seems like every week something else is floated as a rumor; most recently, the rumor that Apple wants to buy Sony Pictures (which would cause the Spider-Man rights to revert back to Marvel).

I am not an insider. I don’t have any sources feeding me information. I’ve just been watching and reading the same news as everyone else, including tons of “insider leaks” and rampant speculation. So I am not going to talk about any deals that “may be on the table.” Instead, I want to talk about why I think Spider-Man (specifically the Tom Holland version of the character) needs to stay in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First, however, I think it’s important to lay out the facts as they seem to stand.


When Disney Studios and Sony Pictures came to the sharing agreement that saw Spider-Man debut in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, it appears that the deal only covered 5 movie appearances. Marvel Studios would be able to use Spider-Man in 3 of their own movies, and Sony would release 2 solo movies set within the MCU. Disney would receive 100% of the profits on its own movies. Sony would pay production costs for its movies, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige would produce and oversee them, and the studios would split the profits (95% to Sony, 5% to Disney).

This agreement proved to be a roaring success, as the 5 movies in which Spider-Man appears earned a total of over $8 billion, with Spider-Man: Homecoming as the only one in the group not to cross the $1-billion mark.

This is where the studios’ attitudes toward the deal start to diverge. Sony Pictures released Venom last year with an excellent box office of over $856 million (the critical reception was mixed, but…). Sony looks at this and sees that it has 2 potential billion-dollar franchises in Spider-Man and Venom. And mathematically, if 1+1=2, then $1-billion-Spider-Man + $1-billion-Venom = $2-billion-Spider-Man-vs.-Venom. And for a studio that has been in financial trouble for a while, I think we can all agree that in their position, that sounds pretty enticing. Unfortunately, that would be impossible under the current sharing arrangement with Disney, in which Spider-Man is in the MCU, while Venom is not.

Disney Studios, on the other hand, had 3 MCU movies come out this year in Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, all of which crossed the billion-dollar mark, grossing over $5 billion. However, Disney received less than $4 billion from those 3 movies due to the Sony agreement. Their creative assistance earned over $1 billion for Sony this year on Spider-Man: Far From Home, while they received “just” $56 million for their efforts.

Captain America: Civil War: $1,153,304,495
Spider-Man: Homecoming: $880,166,924
Avengers: Infinity War: $2,048,359,754
Venom: $856,085,151
Captain Marvel: $1,128,274,794
Avengers: Endgame: $2,796,274,401
Spider-Man: Far From Home: $1,127,766,196
Movies listed in release order. All figures taken from BoxOffice Mojo

So, again, I think we can all agree that in Disney’s shoes, we would also feel justified in wanting a larger share of the Spider-Man pie moving forward.

This, I think, is why the two studios appear so unwilling to cooperate in signing a new agreement.

Spider-Man Should Not Leave

I tried to be as fair and impartial to both studios as possible above. I don’t think there’s any reason to point fingers or vilify one studio or the other for making decisions that they think are in the best interests of their own company.

That being said, I do not think that Sony’s decision to pull Spider-Man out of the MCU is in their best interest. It certainly isn’t in our best interests as fans!

Sony’s argument (the one I read into this decision) is based on a false premise: it assumes that the Spider-Man and Venom facing off in this hypothetical movie are the same Spider-Man and Venom who appeared in the previous billion-dollar movies. Unfortunately, removing Spider-Man from his MCU origin would result in a vastly-different character.

For good or for ill, this Spider-Man’s origin and motivation are tied to Tony Stark at least as much as to Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben certainly started him down the path to being the hero before Captain America: Civil War, but it’s been Tony Stark pushing him since then. Tony’s death in Avengers: Endgame was the driving factor in Peter Parker’s arc through Spider-Man: Far From Home, regardless of whether you think that was a good decision or a bad one. Even if Tom Holland is still playing the role of Peter Parker in this hypothetical Spider-Man vs. Venom movie, excising his MCU roots would result in a completely-different character. And that character is not the one who just appeared in 3 billion-dollar blockbusters in less than 16 months!

In addition, there are all of the other character moments which have been tied into the MCU continuity. The relationship (or not) between Aunt May and Happy Hogan is just one example of how closely this franchise is connected to the MCU. At the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter has been set up to take the place of Tony Stark as Earth’s resident tech genius, complete with a pair of glasses that grant him access to advanced spy technology. Peter and most of his friends are still dealing with the aftereffects of having been blipped out of existence for 5 years. Every Spider-Man suit currently in use was either created by Tony Stark or created using Stark technology! If the Spider-Man franchise attempts to continue outside the MCU, all of these character motivations would have to disappear, along with all of the Stark tech equipment.

I saw a rumor (I don’t know if I believe it) that Tom Holland is the only actor in the Spider-Man franchise who would actually be obligated to appear in Spider-Man movies produced by Sony alone. If that is the case, and Spider-Man’s entire supporting cast would have to be recast, this would no longer even have the veneer of continuing the narrative that started in Captain America: Civil War and has continued on through 5 movies, culminating with his secret identity being exposed at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home. It would be a completely new take on the character, with new friends, a new love interest, and new antagonists. And we all remember how well Sony managed the last time they tried to produce a Spider-Man movie on their own…

Don’t get me wrong: the next Spider-Man movie needs to see Peter Parker step out of Tony Stark’s shadow and establish himself on his own terms as a hero and as a person. But this can’t happen if the movie has to pretend that Tony Stark never existed. That would be like trying to step from the dock into a boat… without a dock.

Simply put, Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man belongs in the MCU. He was introduced there. His character is inextricably linked to Tony Stark. His entire life to this point has been shaped by the events of the MCU. His story needs to continue within the context of the MCU. Take him out of the MCU, and I do not think Sony can count on Spider-Man 3 being a commercial success – certainly not the one they are hoping for before throwing him and Venom into a movie together!

What Happens Now?

At this point, it looks like either the negotiations have completely stopped, or they never stopped. Either the studios have both decided to move on, or they are moments away from reaching a new agreement. Either Disney is content to wait for Sony to sell off its movie division (at which point the Spider-Man rights will revert back to Marvel Studios), or there’s an offer on the table giving Disney everything they asked for.

Who knows?

Personally, I think that both sides need to come back to the table and do whatever they need to do to negotiate a new deal. Don’t wait for Sony to either implode the franchise on its own or sell itself off, neither of which is really good for the fans. I think it would be possible to find a way to keep Spider-Man in the MCU while both companies get part of what they want. Here’s my proposal:

  • Sony agrees to let Spider-Man stay within the MCU

  • Disney agrees to work Venom into the MCU retroactively, and allow future Venom movies (and other “Venomverse” projects) into the MCU

  • Sony agrees to give Marvel Studios creative control over any MCU-set movies they produce

  • Disney agrees to work at least one Sony-produced MCU movie into their release schedule every year. For Spider-Man movies, both companies agree to a 70/30 sharing arrangement, with Disney paying 30% of production costs and receiving 30% of profits. For non-Spider-Man movies, the numbers from the previous arrangement remain in force (Disney pays none of the costs and receives 5% of profits). Any year without a Sony-produced MCU movie will have at least one Disney-produced movie featuring a Spider-Man character – and Sony will receive 5% of the profits for that movie instead.

  • Sony will be able to use MCU characters (including Spider-Man) if they ever choose to produce a live-action Spiderverse movie, with Marvel Studios only overseeing as much of the project as is necessary to keep the multiversal concepts consistent with what has already been established in the Doctor Strange movies and the MCU-set portions consistent with the rest of the MCU. On such a movie, Disney would only receive 5% of the profits, based on the original agreement.

  • Any non-MCU movies using Spider-Man characters are completely independent from Marvel Studios and without any sharing with Disney

Considering the less-than-favorable critical reception of Venom, and that Kevin Feige did not have the same creative control over it that he had over the other MCU movies, incorporating Venom into the MCU retroactively may be a major concession on the part of Disney. However, if this is what it takes for Sony to agree to bring Spider-Man back, they need to do it. This way, both sides are getting some of what they want, but neither side is getting everything they want. I don’t think this covers everything that the agreement would need to cover, but I think it hits the main points. And ultimately, I think the fans would win because we’d get good movies. And it would #SaveSpiderMan in the MCU.

Do you think Spider-Man needs to stay in the MCU? How do you think a future Disney/Sony deal should go? Let me know in the comments!

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