The Rocky Road to 135 West 50th

Spider-Man is not on my “top ten favorite Marvel characters” list. Honestly, he’s probably not in the top fifty, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the significance of the character’s impact or the brilliance behind what is, in truth, a cultural phenomenon. It’s a personal thing; Parker just doesn’t speak to me. He’s the Charley Brown of the Marvel Universe and I prefer my heroes not to depress me in a way that can hit too close to home. (The terrible shit that happens to Logan? Way outside the boundaries of reality.)

There’s something about Marvel characters being used (often misused) by anyone other than their parent creators that seems inherently wrong to me so this morning’s announcement made me happy, despite my general indifference to the wall-crawler. And then I read past the headline of the press release. Be careful what you wish for.

In case you missed it, Marvel’s press release can be viewed here. The new deal, as I understand it, goes like this…

  • Marvel will assist Sony in producing new Spider-Man movies which will still be financed, owned, and distributed by Sony. Importantly, Sony will retain the final word on creative decisions.
  • Marvel is now permitted to use Spider-Man in movies made by Marvel. In fact, the next time we see Spider-Man on film will be a Marvel movie (Captain America: Civil War is the internet consensus and my guess as well). Additionally, characters owned by Marvel may show up in Sony-distributed Spider-Man flicks.

I’ve got to say, I’m underwhelmed. This is far less than I’d hoped for after months of rumors about a brewing Marvel/Sony deal. I don’t care about the Fantastic Four at all, but you know what? I trust Marvel Studios to make a FF movie that pulls me in, which is why I count myself among the crowd that desperately wants to see all of Marvel’s properties returned to them. The new status quo is progress, but it feels like a stop-gap. Marvel’s basically agreed to help Sony make better Spider-Man movies in exchange for the privilege of borrowing the character. I can’t help but think that Marvel’s in too strong a position for this to be the last word on the matter.

My biggest concern is that this arrangement smacks of the classic “too many cooks” conundrum. As far as I can tell, the times that Marvel’s stumbled have been the result of creative differences which bled into the work. Now you’ve got two production teams collaborating on movies which Marvel may treat as cannon for their cinematic universe (this is speculation on my part, but I think it’s plausible). Two production teams means double the personnel, double the entrenched positions, and double the egos. What are the odds of the next Spider-Man feature truly living up to the quality we expect from Marvel? And with Sony retaining final creative control who’s to say they don’t just burn every bit of input from Feige and his team and do what they want anyway? Of course they’d be fools to do that, but don’t forget that these are the same people who forced Sam Raimi to pinch off Spider-Man 3: Emo Parker vs. Skinny Brock.

I’ve been proven wrong too many times to be willing to close the book on this one, but color me unimpressed. Marvel’s got that Disney money now, why not just cut Fox a big, stinky, ten-figure check and call it a day? I know it’s a shit-ton of money, but they’ll make it back within a trilogy and Fox can use the cash to invest in some decent network security.

I haven’t purchased a ticket to see a Spider-Man movie in theaters since 2004 (mercifully I was given my ticket to Spider-Man 3), but I’d wait in line to see what Marvel could do with that character and I bet there’s millions of other folks who would do the same. Here’s hoping that Marvel’s playing the not-too-long game.

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