And yet, here we are.
Learning on Tuesday that Sony had ended their profitable and creatively successful partnership with Marvel Studios and that Spider-Man would no longer be part of the MCU and vice-versa, was incredibly disheartening to me.
It's easy to be jaded now, with the staggering amount of superhero films we've had that are not only successful but also satisfying. But prior to 2012, we'd never had a good third superhero film before. Superman III (1983) was a dud for Christopher Reeve despite two excellent prior entries, Batman Forever (1995) destroyed a lot of the goodwill earned by Tim Burton's uneven but entertaining films and X3: The Last Stand (2006) almost destroyed the franchise that had the most promising sequel of all of them, requiring a reboot five years later.
Sam Raimi's third Spider-Man film landed with a thud in 2007, having mishandled not only the main character but one of the most eagerly anticipated villains, Venom. They rebooted with Andrew Garfield in 2012, but, true to form, bolshed up his sequel so bad by trying to set up their own shared cinematic universe, they instead had to threeboot one of the most valuable and recognizable comics properties in the world.
Thankfully, someone at Sony had the sense to reach out to a studio that was doing it right, and in exchange for 5% of the profits, Marvel Studios lent ace producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige to serve as their chief creative influence. This also allowed MCU elements like Iron Man and Happy Hogan to appear in the Sony films and Spider-Man to show up in three MCU films: Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The mid-credit and end-credit scenes in the most recent Spider-Man movie promised huge changes ahead for both Peter Parker and the MCU, but unless something miraculous transpires, it appears these two storylines will be pushing on independently of each other, and that is just too bad.
I mean, I understand Sony's perspective; in renegotiating their agreement, Marvel had asked for a firmer partnership, agreeing to finance 50% of future Spidey films in exchange for 50% of the profits. Sony, who now have a much-loved actor in the role and certainly best iteration onscreen yet, have been slowly building their own cinematic universe around the villains of the Spiderverse (and the 900 other characters bundled with him!). Even the movies they make that aren't very good still make hundreds of millions of dollars (ASM2 made $709M, Venom made $856M), while Into the Spider-Verse made $375M...on an estimated budget of $90M and was a critical hit besides. At this point, Sony has to be thinking that 100% x $X x ∞ makes way more sense than 50% x ($X+Y%) x ?, right?
It's going to be harder on Marvel than Sony. The MCU is now unable to use the one character who is, more than any other, the face of Marvel in their own movies. Worse still, they lose Peter Parker, the face of youthful optimism and compassion in a set of films where almost none of the other heroes have any compunction against shooting, maiming or stabbing bad guys.
Still, the timing works out all right for Marvel. If they have to move on sans-Spider-Man, they have run his initial story arc through to a dramatic and emotionally satisfying conclusion. I'm pretty sure they can still continue exploring the arc introduced in the final end credits scene with Nick Fury and...uh...those other guys. (Seriously, go see this film already if you haven't - it's great, and all the speculation over this corporate business is going to ruin a delightful surprise for you!) Plus they still own 100% of all the merchandising and toy rights as I understand it, so there's that.
Other nerds have speculated that future movies won't be able to use the high-tech suit designed by Tony Stark, but I disagree. There is no narrative need to explain where the suit came from, and besides, in the PS4 videogame, Peter Parker builds something almost as high-tech pretty much by himself and has done so in the comics as well. And frankly, if they ended up saying that both Stark suits got wrecked in FFH and Peter went old-school in the next movie (and back to a brighter colour palette!) that would be a-okay with me. I still think there is more drama to be wrought from pulling the fabric mask on and off anyhow, and I love when he pulls it half-up to eat or drink in the comics.
I will miss the potential relationship between Aunt May and Happy Hogan, but the dialogue in Far From Home revealed that this has by no means a sure thing either. The supporting cast is all still on hand, and there are more than enough villains to go around. It will be weird not having them deal with "the blip" that affected the rest of the MCU after Endgame (and called out in FFH), but since none of the core characters were really impacted by it, that's just one more thing that no one needs to talk about in a two-hour movie. Is such maneuvering stupid and unnecessary? Absolutely. But is it insurmountable for a studio whose executives are transfixed by literally billions of floating dollar signs? Not in the slightest.
I still think Sony should go back to the table and work something out with Disney and Marvel though. This maneuver has not only cost them the goodwill of a lot of movie fans, but the uproar actually negatively impacted the Sony stock a little. From a business perspective, turning your back on history's most successful producer (23 films with no bombs and overall BO gross of $22.5 billion) has to feel a little iffy, especially when you consider this is a studio whose only other major franchise is Jumanji. Men In Black International took a pounding this summer, and no one is sure what the turnout will be on next year's Ghostbusters reunion. Was a counteroffer ever made on the 50% figure? Isn't that how these sorts of things work?
Nothing is assured for Sony. They have Tom Holland under contract for at least one more film (and maybe two-no one seems able to say for sure), but they don't have the director locked in yet, they don't have the writers on a contract [UPDATED: apparently Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are now on board], and let's face it, Sony doesn't have a good track record at this stage of the game. Are they prepared to re-cast the Webslinger for the fourth time this century if Holland decides these guys are clown shoes? I mean, a new face never hurt James Bond that much, but still, things go pear-shaped in the new arrangement and it's back to the drawing board, I am pretty sure the damages will be profound and long-lasting, and many a Sony exec will be shown the door in the aftermath.
Some have proposed that Disney simply buy Sony Pictures outright, and they could maybe do it, but their acquisition of Fox earlier this year still required government approval due to anti-trust regulations, so that doesn't seem awfully likely. Besides, no matter how well they've handled them thus far, I don't like the idea of a single corporate megalith owning the IP to all the cool nerdy stuff, it's more than enough for Disney to have Star Wars and Marvel (now including the Fantastic Four and X-Men!) in addition to their own huge stable of characters.
Until Sony drops the ball again, however, I think the MCU has seen the last of Peter Parker and his wall-crawling alter ego, and that's a sad thing for us fans. The Marvel universe is a better one with him in it, and the completeness and synergy created made both sides more appealing, more engaging, more interesting, and perhaps most importantly, less confusing than they will be from now on.
The good news is that we will still get one more Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland and that cast, so it will at least feel familiar. I don't think they will have access to the effects, costuming, and production design of Marvel, so they probably won't look as nice. I can only hope they don't try to cram all the world-building they want to do into the next film at the expense of the story and end up with a trailer for the next movie instead of a complete story that they could build upon at their leisure.
Meanwhile, the MCU is shaping up to be a very busy place over the next little while, and fans are so likely to be distracted and delighted that it is possible that Spider-Man in that context will end up being like that good friend in elementary school who moved away during the summer. You start out thinking, "It would have been cool to have him here," but those occasions come less and less often, and you only rarely wonder wistfully about what might have been.