Nearly a week has passed since reports of the Sony-Disney stalemate first surfaced, and every day the news sinks in a little deeper: Spider-Man is officially gone. Well, maybe not gone, exactly, but as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned, Spider-Man might as well have just faded into dust ... for real this time.
In case you missed it, Deadline reported last Tuesday that Sony Pictures and Disney had reached a standstill in their negotiations on reaching new terms in their joint custody of the Spider-Man character. Essentially, Disney—the company creatively responsible for putting together these latest Tom Holland–led Spidey films—wanted a bigger piece of the future films’ profits, and Sony swatted it away, loath to share its biggest moneymaker. (Combined, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home have made almost $2 billion worldwide.) So after two solo films and three appearances across the Avengers films, Spider-Man will no longer fight alongside the heroes of the MCU.
The initial shock of the breakup didn’t seem real for Marvel fans at first (who, of course, immediately formed an online angry mob to #BoycottSony), especially after Disney had finally managed to round up all of Marvel’s IP after obtaining the X-Men and Fantastic Four in its acquisition of Fox. But Marvel Studios super-producer Kevin Feige—whose future involvement is reportedly at the heart of the stalemate—spoke for the first time in the wake of the news to Entertainment Weekly at Disney’s D23 Expo this weekend:
I’m feeling about Spider-Man gratitude and joy. We got to make five films within the MCU with Spider-Man. ... It was a dream that I never thought would happen. It was never meant to last forever. We knew there was a finite amount of time that we’d be able to do this, and we told the story we wanted to tell, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
As Feige suggests, perhaps the partnership was too good to be true. Homecoming and Far From Home were two of the best Spidey films to date, but from a business perspective, Sony was never going to agree to increased profit-sharing—let alone the reported 50-50 split Disney was demanding—and, from a workload perspective, perhaps Disney and Feige just have too many other projects to worry about.
So now that of all the angry tweets have been fired off—LOL, just kidding, I’m sure there will be more—and no one has come forward to tell me that this was all just a sick joke, it’s time to really dig into the implications of this divorce. Because the future of Sony’s Spider-Man and the Spidey-less MCU has never seemed more wide open, and there have never been more questions looking ahead.
Does the MCU history still exist in the next series of Spider-Man films?
Perhaps the biggest and most awkward narrative question moving forward for Sony is how it’ll address Spider-Man’s past as he cuts ties with a cinematic universe that encompasses more than 20 films worth of plots, characters, and relationships. Since his first appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker has been deeply intertwined in the growing mythology of the MCU. Marvel was smart in how it approached a character experiencing his third reboot on the big screen in less than a decade, holding off on killing Uncle Ben again and inserting Tony Stark as the seminal father figure instead. When Parker meets Tony Stark in his first scene of Homecoming, Stark even cuts him off as he starts retelling how he got his powers, as if to say: Look, we know the story already.
That scene sets the tone for how the Spider-Man character would be positioned in the MCU as the newest and youngest member of the Avengers. Stark serves as a role model throughout the subsequent films, as he supplies Parker with better technology and teaches him what it means to be a superhero. And after he died at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man was the one chosen to lead the final film of Marvel’s Phase 3 and close out the Iron Man era. Far From Home is about how Peter handles Stark’s death and how he steps up to defeat Mysterio without the help of the Avengers, but its main purpose was for Iron Man to pass the torch to the next face of the MCU.
All that being said, it realistically won’t be very difficult for Sony to ignore most of Spider-Man’s ties to other Marvel characters. It’s a shame that Happy will never get a real shot at love with Aunt May, but beyond that, Iron Man is Parker’s only significant remaining tie to the MCU, and he’s already out of the picture, anyway. But, there’s perhaps a more important question in this vein …
… Did the Snap still happen?
It might be easy to cut out a few cameos or MCU-related references from the script, but moving past the most significant event in the Marvel universe—you know, the time when that scary purple guy killed half of all life—might be a little trickier. Far From Home opens up with a perfectly cheesy Midtown High School tribute to Tony Stark, as well as an explanation for what happened to all the students who stuck around after the snapture. The film’s story and setting are heavily dependent on life after Thanos’s snap, and the pressure created from such a universally traumatic event all lands squarely on Spider-Man’s shoulders. One of the most defining traits of the MCU’s massive catalog is consequence, and how events and choices spill into the subsequent films and influence characters’ future decisions. But now it’s unclear whether future Spider-Man movies will be afforded that same amount of depth—does divorcing from Marvel mean divorcing from all references to its history? If an event like the Snap is wiped away, the future Spider-Man films will certainly lose some gravity—and also be forced to do a lot of retconning.
Of course, this is all speculation, and it really depends on what the two studios allow each other to do moving forward. It’s certainly possible that Sony will have to carry on and revise Spidey’s history—or even start from scratch again. Then again, maybe “no more MCU” is purely a future-facing thing, rather than something that would affect Spider-Man’s already established past.
How will this affect Sony’s future Spider-Man films?
While it’s disappointing that we’ll likely never get to see Spider-Man team up with Wolverine on the big screen, on the bright side, we’re now due for a lot more Spidey in the immediate future. The character might have played an important narrative role in Marvel’s future plans, but Spider-Man is not nearly as integral to Disney’s business as he is to Sony’s. And now, instead of addressing the events of the MCU, future Spider-Man films can focus on his own self-contained universe.
Sony already has plans set for enriching the Spider-Verse, with a Venom sequel directed by Andy Serkis in production, along with several upcoming spinoffs that’ll introduce characters like Morbius, Kraven the Hunter, Silver Sable, and Black Cat. (According to Deadline, there’s also “a Sinister Six film that got shelved,” but more on that later.) The Venom sequel will properly introduce Woody Harrelson’s Carnage, another guy with a symbiote problem that’s one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains in the comics.
On top of all that, Sony could eventually double-dip with Spider-Man and use Miles Morales after the Oscar-winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to do a live-action film centered on the beloved Spider-Man of the Ultimate universe. Miles was already mentioned in one of Homecoming’s deleted scenes, as his uncle Aaron (played by Donald Glover) calls him while he’s stuck to his car after being interrogated by Spider-Man. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Miles gets the full treatment.
And as for Spidey himself, Tom Holland is reportedly signed on for two more films. Whether or not he’ll stay on after that is still up in the air. Not too long ago, Holland said he would play Spider-Man until “[he] can’t walk anymore.” We’ll see whether he still feels that way under new management.
What Spider-Man stories can Sony turn to next?
Sony might be locked out of the many lucrative crossover story lines that Disney has in its treasure trove of Marvel comics, but there are still plenty of Spider-Man stories at its disposal. It’s been teased on and off for years in both Sony’s and Disney’s Spidey films, but now is a better time than ever to build toward that aforementioned Sinister Six movie.
The Sinister Six is a group of Spider-Man’s greatest villains who all banded together to eliminate their common enemy. The original six members were Doctor Octopus, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, Sandman, and Vulture, but the group has been tackled by so many different comic book writers over the years since being introduced in the 1960s that pretty much anyone is fair game. In a post-credits scene in Homecoming, Michael Keaton’s Vulture discusses getting revenge on Spider-Man with a man with a scorpion tattoo, alluding to the villain Scorpion. Along with them, another Spider-Man villain named Shocker was introduced in the film as one of Vulture’s henchmen. Then there’s Glover’s Aaron Davis, who becomes the Prowler in the comics. And of course, Far From Home added Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, who may or may not be dead—he is a master illusionist, after all. Throw in the yet-to-be-added Kraven the Hunter, and you’ve got your six villains.
Again, it remains to be seen whether Sony will be able to keep characters that were introduced in the Disney-Sony films—especially given that all the Homecoming villains got their technology from the aliens that attacked New York in 2012’s The Avengers—but if they can’t, you could still throw in Morbius, Carnage, or even Venom to get to the desired number. There are still plenty of Spidey villains that Sony can use to build toward an ambitious crossover event of its own.
How will this change the trajectory of the MCU?
Since Far From Home served as the final film of Marvel’s Phase 3, the timing of the announced breakup allows for the smoothest possible transition for Marvel moving forward without Spider-Man. Even before word came out about the studio standstill, Marvel had finally unveiled its plans for Phase 4, and Spidey was noticeably left off a slate that was more focused on new title characters and the various TV series set to come from Disney’s upcoming streaming service. At least for the short term—and this was probably planned by design in the event of this all happening—the loss of Spider-Man shouldn’t have any significant consequences.
The bigger question that remains is: Who is Marvel’s next Iron Man? Far From Home answered this question directly, with the clear answer being Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. But now that Peter Parker is gone, too, Marvel will have to reselect the next hero to lead the squad into the new era. Captain Marvel seems to be a likely candidate, coming off of the MCU’s second-most successful origin film to date behind 2018’s Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa is possible as well, with Ryan Coogler’s sequel on the way in 2022. The young Peter Parker is perhaps Marvel’s most relatable and popular character, so it’s certainly a blow to Disney to lose not only such a valuable piece of intellectual property, but also a young star who could help keep the superhero craze alive for years to come.
On the other hand, Jon Snow just joined the MCU, so I don’t think anybody at Disney is sweating.
But most importantly, does Uncle Ben have to die again?
If we really end up having to do this again, could Uncle Ben maybe just survive for once?