Full confession: As far as superheroes go, Spider-Man is my favorite. Always has been, always will be. I identified with the brainy, shy Peter Parker in a way that I didn't with any other comic book character as a kid. He forged himself upon my heart at a young age because he was just so cool, but also just so real. He was smart - like me! He was shy - like me! And he believed, always, in the power of heroism - like me! He was my guy, my tribe, my person, and many of Spidey's most devoted fans would agree.
Which is why it kind of kills me to witness what has been happening to our beloved wallcrawler for the past few years. And some recent rumors that have surfaced have only made it worse.
Yesterday came the news that Sony and Marvel have almost certainly been in talks regarding the rights to Spider-Man. Drew McWeeny of HitFix broke the rumor that seemed to confirm what I've been saying for weeks. And then the rumor was updated with the caveat that Sony would be open to a deal with Marvel only if its upcoming [Sinister Six](movie:1274281) movie flopped. That was understandable, given Sony's reluctance to let go of its most profitable (read: only) franchise.
But more rumblings have surfaced that don't bode well for the future of our webhead. It appears that while Sony isn't willing to relinquish control of the character, neither does it have any clue what it's doing with him, either. At all.
Shedding a bit more light on the story from yesterday, Badass Digest's Devin Faraci said he's been hearing a lot of chatter about the future of Spider-Man - not just one story, but three different ideas that Sony has. Seriously. Three. And all of them fall squarely in the realm of "What are you even DOING, Sony?!"
- Sony is going to soft reboot Spider-Man with The Sinister Six, having a new actor playing a Spidey who works with the villains The Dirty Dozen style to take down a larger threat.
- Sony is going to put Spider-Man on the shelf for four or five years and see if they can develop any of the side characters into their own franchises.
I've also heard that Venom is functionally dead again.
Okay, look. I know that everything that's been circulating the past few days is merely rumor at this point, but it all lends support to the fact that Sony Pictures is in a behind-the-scenes financial panic these days. This isn't news to anyone in the industry here in LA, but an open secret that everyone knows.
For the last few years, fans have been saying that Marvel should reacquire the rights to Spider-Man, not simply because of the opportunity that it could create in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but because they feel that only Marvel can do him justice. If you break down Spidey's history in Sony's hands, well...fans aren't wrong.
In 2002, the first of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy hit screens, back in the innocent days when superhero movies were still seen as risky. And audiences loved it. It was a fantastic movie that finally captured the superhero we all knew and loved, colorful and entertaining and well-rounded. And 2004's sequel, Spider-Man 2, was even better received, both by critics and audiences, and even now considered by some to be the best superhero movie ever.
And then...and then Spider-Man 3 happened. Spider-Man fans have long tried to block the last of the trilogy from their minds, a form of pop culture PTSD. It was a muddled mess with too many storylines, too many villains, and, oh God...Emo Peter Parker™.
Want to know the fastest way to find a fellow Spider-Man fan? Simply whisper "Emo Peter Parker" in a crowd of people and see who immediately gets a pained expression on their face. You'll share a brief glance of commiseration, then look away awkwardly, unable to meet one another's eyes. Because both of you know. You know.
...it was a dark time for us.
Still, Sony forged ahead with plans for a fourth Spider-Man film, but then it all just went to hell. Fan reactions were mixed: Maybe a fourth film would have redeemed the franchise from Emo, but maybe it would have just made it worse. But then we learned the true story behind what had happened to the third film and cancelled fourth film: Avi Arad.
The current Spider-Man producer and former Marvel President had basically strongarmed director Sam Raimi into shoehorning Venom into the film to cater to fans (who had been perfectly happy with the first two films Raimi made and trusted his judgment). We already know it did not go well. The power play continued into the development process of Spider-Man 4, where Raimi and Sony executives repeatedly clashed over Sony shooting down all of Raimi's casting choices, and Raimi hating the script, wanting to make a simpler movie that fans would actually like this time - like his first two films. In the end, they couldn't come to an agreement, and so Raimi took his Spider-Man toys and got the hell out of the sandbox, leaving Sony in a bind they should have seen coming.
The studio's solution was to reboot the entire Spider-Man franchise from the ground up, leaving fans going, "Wait, what? A new Spider-Man movie? Already? Didn't one just happen like...a few years ago?" Andrew Garfield was recast in the role, and he was a great choice, but the damage had already been done. Fans weren't into seeing another Spider-Man origin story when they felt like they just watched one.
[The Amazing Spider-Man](movie:45497) and its follow-up this year, [The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593), have done alright in theaters, but have struggled mightily compared to every other superhero franchise. They've been critically panned (particularly the sequel), and audiences haven't flocked to them the way they did Sam Raimi's trilogy.
I myself have enjoyed them. I don't hate them vehemently as seems to be the trendy thing to do among fans. But I do think Andrew Garfield is being utterly wasted. It's a shame. Some fans hate his portrayal of Peter Parker, claiming he's not enough of a loser, that he's less awkward and more angsty, but fans need to understand that has very little to do with Garfield's abilities, but the scripts and direction he's been given.
Regardless, I'm totally okay with his portrayal. It's not the classic Peter Parker he's modeled after, as Tobey Maguire's portrayal was, but a more updated, modern version of Peter Parker. Frankly, I really appreciate that. I already saw the classic version of Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's trilogy - give me one I haven't seen before. And as Spider-Man himself, he's a vast upgrade to Tobey Maguire.
The mess has only continued. A few months ago, we got word that [The Amazing Spider-Man 3](movie:671279) would be pushed back to 2018 with no explanation as to why, though fans assumed it was to make room for Sinister Six or [Venom](movie:372411).
But now Sony it has a problem on its hands: Its only viable franchise isn't even that viable in comparison to other films in its genre. It has a leading man and long-time Spider-Man fan in Garfield that audiences now associate with the role, but who has been completely wasted in the last two films. They have an ambitious expanded universe in the works, but it's become increasingly apparent that Sony announced it prematurely without having a clear plan. The studio doesn't seem to have much faith in Sinister Six, Amazing Spider-Man is on hold, possibly indefinitely, and Venom, the one movie fans actually did want, is apparently dead.
You can't arrive at your destination if you don't know where you're going, and right now, Sony is panic-flailing in circles with a broken compass and half an outdated map. It's clear it has no idea what it's doing and lacks the unified vision for Spider-Man and strong leadership that any studio needs to navigate the very complicated waters of an expanded universe.
Avi Arad and the rest of Sony Pictures, I beg of you, as a fan of comic books, as a fan of Spider-Man, as a lover of the comic book movie resurgence, please just give the rights back to Marvel. Give him back to Marvel's care, back under the strong direction of Kevin Feige & co. You were handed the keys to a movie Ferrari. You have the rights to one of the world's most iconic characters with his rich, ready-made backstory, a character with a built-in brand, a character that is already beloved by fans of all ages and demographics and you still don't know what to do with him.
With great power comes great responsibility. You of all studios should know that. You had twelve years to get it right, and you couldn't.
So please. Work out a deal with Marvel Studios. Hand him over completely or at least accept a joint partnership.
Because you obviously don't know what you're doing with him. Marvel would.