Wednesday, August 21, 2019

R.I.P. Spider-Man

"Mr. Stark, I don't feel so good..."

This week Sony (my wonderful former employer), who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, announced that it's ended its deal with Disney/Marvel Studios. This unprecedented agreement allowed Marvel to make movies starring everyone's friendly neighborhood web-slinger, while Sony would share in the bulk of the box office profits.

Under this arrangement, Marvel Studios pumped out two massively successful films: Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home. The two movies grossed $880 million and $1.1 BILLION respectively. 

As you would expect, both Marvel films made far more than any of the ones put out by Sony. Which makes their decision to end the relationship all the more puzzling. Especially since all Sony had to do was sit back and relax while Marvel did all the heavy lifting, then rake in the profits.

What the hell are they thinking? Does Sony CEO Tony Vinciquerra really believe he can do a better job than Marvel Studio's golden boy Kevin Feige? Given the state of the Spider-Man franchise before the Marvel deal, that seems highly unlikely.

I was all set to denounce Sony for being the dunderheads they are, when new information came to light. Apparently Sony's arrogance wasn't to blame for the deal falling through it was pure, unadulterated greed on Disney's part (color me shocked— shocked, I tell you).

It's complicated, but under the current deal, Marvel Studios receives a 5% cut of the profits from the box office totals of any Spider-Man movie's first day of release, along with all merchandising profits. Sony, who owns the rights to the character, gets all the rest. 

Disney decided that just wasn't a big enough piece of the profit pie (no doubt because kids don't buy toys anymore) and demanded a new deal one in which they'd receive a whopping 50% of the box office gross. Sony apparently thought that was too much, and told them to get lost. 

It's hard to say who's in the right here. Disney/Marvel are the ones who handle the production of the films. Surely that entitles them to more than 5% of the first day's gross. On the other hand, demanding a jump from 5 to 50% does seem a bit bold.

By now this latest iteration of Spider-Man is inextricably linked to the MCU. He's played a large role in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Conversely, Tony Stark and his supporting cast are all major characters in the new Spider-Man movies. The films share a perfect symbiotic relationship. So what does this news mean for Spider-Man and the MCU? 

Unfortunately no one knows at this point. There are several possible scenarios, none of which are particularly appealing. Supposedly current Spider-Man actor Tom Holland has two more films left in his contract, meaning Sony will likely be reluctant to recast the role. They may opt to do a soft reboot though, keeping Holland but removing the character's connection to the MCU.

I doubt that will happen though, since Far From Home ended on a cliffhanger, in which Peter Parker's secret identity was made public to the world by Mysterio and J. Jonah Jameson. That plotline deserves exploration, and Sony would have to be stupider than I think they are (which is saying something) to just throw it away.

The other option is for Sony to keep Holland and the secret identity storyline, but excise any and all references to Tony Stark, Happy Hogan and all other MCU characters. Conversely, the MCU will no longer be able to feature or even mention Spider-Man. He'll be Chuck Cunninghamed, as if he never existed in that world at all.

Sigh... I'm actually kind of disappointed by this news, as I liked Tom Holland's young, fresh-faced version of Spider-Man. His energy and youthful optimism was a welcome addition to the MCU. At first I wasn't crazy about the fact that he was basically Iron Man Jr., but eventually I warmed up to the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark. But it looks like that's all been flushed violently down the crapper.

As always, it comes down to contracts, rights and corporate greed. This is why we can't have nice things.

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