This morning I learned that the once-preposterous mythical Marvel Studios/Sony Spider-Man agreement had been reached, the result of which is that Spider-Man is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Fans have cheered this news. Me, not so much. Allow me to explain.
Me & Marvel
I wasn’t a Marvel comics nerd growing up. I casually knew about Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man, but I never read the comics. The comics I grew up with were the Beano and the Dandy. I used to love the 90s Spider-Man cartoon though, and as a result Spider-Man was certainly the Marvel character I was most familiar with growing up, and so I’m quite familiar with Peter Parker’s origin, his villains, his stories.
My uncle was a big Marvel fan, especially Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. He had original Spider-Man comics. My Grandmother threw them out years later because they she thought they were worthless. That’s kind of funny and sad.
In recent years, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe going from strength to strength, I’ve begun to be more interested in the pantheon and I’ve read a few major arcs, like Infinity Gauntlet. I realised recently that the reason I’m drawn to this stuff is the same reason I was drawn to ancient mythology growing up. The conflict of capricious Gods and heroes. Superhero comics are very much a modern evolution of mythology.
In the light of all the crazy characters and stories in the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man now seems the least interesting of all of them. Peter Parker is a teenager, part of his wide appeal is that he has familiar young adult problems to contend with on top of his superhero exploits. He struggles with the responsibilities of family, work, and relationships, all whilst being a hero. That’s fine. But he’s essentially good, and essentially incorruptible. He has to be, he’s a cipher for the young comic book reader. As I’m looking at this from an older perspective, I’m less drawn to that kind of story.
Anyway, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is perfect for me, because instead of having to dive deep into the ludicrously complex continuity of the comics, I can just keep up with one movie at a time, knowing they’ll draw from the best stories for each character, and create something new from it. It’s been fun to approach it from this angle.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
The MCU is structured around phases. Phase 1 was largely about establishing characters, with origin stories for Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, all leading up to The Avengers. Phase 2 was a little more conservative, almost a way to test the potential longevity of their MCU characters, with sequels for Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. They did step out into uncharted territory with Guardians of the Galaxy of course, and the results speak for themselves.
One reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe has worked for me thus far is that it has carefully built its own A-tier, using the characters they had to hand. This is what The Avengers is. The core has been so well established, and now Guardians has proven that audiences are trusting enough to show up for whatever trip Marvel wants to take them on.
If we can go back to the start of all of this, it’s kind of amazing that they ever made an Iron Man movie in the first place. I knew a little about Iron Man from a shitty cartoon in the 90s, but he didn’t have the same level of awareness with most movie-goers. Before the comic book movie gold rush kicked off in the 2000s, Spider-Man was probably the most well-known Marvel hero, followed by Fantastic Four, Hulk and the X-Men. It was exciting to see Marvel elevate Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, through their movies, to the same level of awareness, if not higher.
In hind-sight, the success of these films isn’t all that surprising. Iron Man is fun, colourful, technological action movie with a cocky but likely protagonist. It had a swagger to it right out of the gate. Thor has elements of straight-up epic fantasy and fish-out-of-water comedy. With Captain America, The First Avenger is a great World War II movie, and The Winter Soldier is an incredible modern spy thriller. They built up enough goodwill by making great, fun movies with substance and an authenticity that is infectious.
This past summer, with Guardians of the Galaxy they were able to repeat this success on something so wacky and weird as a supersaturated space-adventure starring a talking raccoon and a Space Tree as main characters, based on a comic book that’s only as old as the first Iron Man movie, and with almost no direct connection to any of the previous movies. This is impressive.
As a result of Guardians success, producer-mastermind Kevin Feige was able to nail down probably the most ambitious and bold strategy for a movie franchise in history. Announcing literally nine movies, including four new properties, in one event, was maybe the craziest thing that’s ever happened in big budget action movie history – and this is forgetting the seven TV shows now in production or pre-production.
The expanding TV wing of the MCU, along with the Phase 3 slate of movies, shows Marvel trying to explore the notion that not everyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an Avenger, and that’s fine. As important as Dr. Strange is, he’s really his own thing and not so much a front-line superhero. The Guardians of the Galaxy are out there in the Marvel cosmos, Earth’s problems are not theirs. The Defenders will be street-level heroes like Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
With the Phase 3 announcement, Marvel also confirmed the arc for the first three phases of MCU as a whole, the story that everything is building up to: Thanos, the Mad Titan, and his quest for the Infinity Gauntlet. You know, where he collects the all-powerful infinity stones, becomes omnipotent and literally destroys half the population of the entire Universe in an instant. That sort of thing.
This crazy plan obviously has a ton of moving parts to it. Marvel Studios have proven themselves smart enough to be able to think on their feet. Things can be shuffled and re-structured as needed, stories can be changed to fit around scripts, actors, directors, whatever else needs to happen to get these things on the big screen in the best shape possible. At least it seems that way, I suppose we have to see how Ant-Man actually turns out.
Nevertheless, despite all of their careful planning up to this point, by revealing so much of the plan ahead of time, the potential for this to disintegrate into a gigantic mess is at an all-time high.
With the X-Men movies still going strong over at Fox, there’s a huge gap in the MCU, and it’s clear they’re looking to plug that down the line with the Inhumans. It looks like Phase 4 might be heavy with Inhumans. If you’re planning an Inhumans movie for 2019, and are seeding elements of your Inhumans back story into a TV show and movies in the same universe in 2014, obviously you have to keep track of a lot of threads to make that stuff work for audiences when the movie actual drops.
This is by far the most visible Marvels’s far-out planning has ever been, and it reveals a bit of a vulnerability. What if all the groundwork for Inhumans doesn’t pan out? They’re playing a riskier game than ever.
Spider-Man hasn’t been doing too well at Sony. In the run-up to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was by all reports (I didn’t bother to see it) a complete mess, Sony announced they were going to create their own Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, and announced a bunch of sequels and spin-off movies. The problem is fairly obvious of course, there’s not really enough to Spider-Man and his assorted allies and villains to justify an expanded universe like this.
When Amazing Spider-Man 2 dramatically underperformed last year (when the best-performing superhero movie franchise in history falls behind a movie about a motley crew of losers nobody’s ever heard of, in space, you’re in trouble), Sony seemed to enter panic-mode. With the hacking leak at the end of last year, we learned that a ridiculous secret meeting between Marvel and Sony took place to try and bring Spider-Man under the MCU umbrella. This was the kind of stuff fanboys have dreamed about for years, but knew was impossible.
Well, not impossible it turns out, because it actually literally happened. The news came out today that an agreement has been reached: Spider-Man will be a part of the MCU moving forward, and Sony will make solo Spider-Man movies in collaboration with Marvel.
What Does This All Mean?
How the addition of Spider-Man to the MCU will play out is not entirely clear as yet, but it does seem to have had a couple of effects already. First of all, a new solo Spider-Man movie is now being pencilled in for 2017 (likely a reboot) on the date Thor: Ragnarok was due.
Naturally, this creates a domino effect, as Thor: Ragnorok, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans are each kicked one release date down the line. Since the Avengers dates are considered immoveable, this has resulted in Captain Marvel, leapfrogging Infinity War Part 1, and Inhumans leapfrogging part 2 altogether and ending up in a new July date.
Who cares, right? Just movie dates. Well, Thor: Ragnorok was teased by Kevin Feige is being the the most universe-shifting movie for Phase 3 (as Winter Soldier was for Phase 2), but now it’s in November, rather than the summer. That’s a little odd, but not too crazy.
We don’t yet know what shape the Infinity War event is going to take, so it’s far too early to be concerned. But it’s a fair observation that if Captain Marvel was supposed to lead into part 1, that won’t be the case now, and Inhumans no longer leads into Part 2. There’s a rather iconic showdown in the comics between big bad Thanos and Inhuman king Black Bolt, that seems likely to be off the table for now.
I haven’t really enjoyed the Spider-Man films to date, so I’m a little nonplussed at how casually they seem to have shoved everything else out-of-the-way to make room for him. I’m not excited about seeing another Spider-Man movie, no matter how good it is. Captain Marvel though? Yes please! Black Panther? Sure! Inhumans, absolutely.
On the plus-side for some Marvel fans, Spider-Man is a big part of Civil War, so he’s probably going to show up in Captain America: Civil War. Of course, we already know Iron Man and Black Panther are also in Civil War. At some point that movie could be in danger of not being a Captain America movie anymore if they don’t handle it right. Do they have to introduce and establish Spider-Man as a side-character during that film, or can they just pretend he was swinging around between films? It seems really clumsy to shoehorn such an important character into an already ambitious film.
Spider-Man is obviously a big gun in the world of Marvel. You don’t just put him on the field as a rookie. Spider-Man has been an Avenger, he’s A-tier, and I worry how much room there is for him, not just in Civil War, but going forward. Are they seriously planning to drop a few of their Avengers to make room not just for Dr. Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, but also now for Spider-Man as well? Or is the rest of Phase 3 going to keep crossovers to a minimum so we don’t burn out?
The upcoming Netflix shows, starting with Daredevil and leading to The Defenders, feature street-level heroes, and will be set in New York. New York is Spider-Man’s stomping ground. Does that mean the Defenders won’t get to deal with anything too big, because that’ll be Spider-Man’s deal?
By the way, watch the Daredevil trailer, it’s real, real nice.
Well, I suppose they could just play to the suspension of disbelief they’ve relied on so far. Yes, it’s weird that Iron Man wouldn’t show up and help out Cap in Winter Solider, or vice versa in Iron Man 3, but I suppose we let it slide because they’re solo movies. Still, there’s a bit of an uncomfortable overlap this time. Kingpin is in the new Daredevil series, but he’s also been a major Spider-Man foe.
Time will tell with all of this, and Marvel have given me nothing but reasons to trust them with their movies. I don’t trust Sony, but if Marvel are letting them in on the secret formula, I don’t suppose they could do too much damage. And if Marvel are careful and considered with their approach, I suppose a little web-slinging here and there can’t go amiss.
I guess what I’m really upset about is that this probably means we’ll never see Spider-Woman on the big screen. Jessica Drew is cooler than Peter Parker ever was. Oh well.