IImagine if Lord of the Rings was like Marvel. Frodo, Bilbo and the elves could frolic happily in the Shire and take on the big bad Sauron. But due to complicated legal machinations by lawyers in the late ’90s, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and the Lonely Mountain would have to exist in their own entirely separate film and TV universe, while Gollum could end up completely written out. Only if various suits met to make deals allowing all of the above to appear together could they do so – otherwise the two would never meet, and all that.
That’s the problem faced, for all intents and purposes, by Sony and its Spider-Man universe, which announced this week that proposed Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web movies will be pushed back to October 2023 and February 2024, respectively.
You might not know what Sony’s Spider-Man universe is unless you’re involved in the film industry or keep a close eye on that sort of thing. In short, these are all the Marvel characters that Sony has the screen rights to as they’re connected to Spider-Man in the comics. Sony retains the option on these as it bought the rights to the masked wallcrawler in 1999, long before Marvel Studios (which makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe films) was just a nascent concern. Sony struck a deal to allow Marvel to use Spider-Man in the MCU, and the two studios co-produced the excellent recent trilogy of Spider-Man films starring Tom Holland in the title role, the latest of which, Spider-Man: No Way Home, featured older villains from Sony’s own Spidey films. So yes, it’s complicated.
To be honest, you don’t really need to know anything. Because if you’ve ever watched a “Marvel” movie that doesn’t seem to include any familiar characters and has a weird ersatz air to it, it’s probably one of Sony’s movies (with the honorable exception of the first two Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man movies in the early 2000s). Venom (2018), despite featuring Tom Hardy in the title role, was a financially successful but tonally odd misfire, while last year’s sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage only slightly improved things. . This year’s Morbius, starring Jared Leto as Marvel’s little-known “living vampire,” features a plot in numbers, listless dialogue, and some of the worst superhero CGI in living memory. When Leto turns into a terrifying anti-hero, it’s like a three-year-old just took over directing the movie and added a dodgy TikTok filter.
It would all make more sense if Spider-Man himself appeared in these films. But so far, we’ve only seen a brief cameo from Holland in the post-credits scene of Venom 2, followed by Michael Keaton’s Vulture in Morbius. If there isn’t some sort of plan for Spidey to get more involved, surely Sony would be better off a) reselling its screen rights to Marvel, or b) making a deal to allow Marvel to overseeing the Spider-Man universe movies, so they can be produced to the same standards as the rest of Marvel movies, and we can all sit down to watch Thor kick Venom’s ass, or The Hulk kick the bejesus out of Morbius. It’s also worth pointing out that Sony produced the beautiful, Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018, and has a sequel coming in 2023, featuring an entirely different wallcrawler (Miles Morales) . Everyone loved that movie, so why not build a comic book mega-saga around it instead?
Forgive me, but the alternative, a succession of increasingly pointless Sony Spider-Man Universe spin-offs featuring lesser-known comic book characters who really need a lot of love and creative genius to convince the public to invest time in it, really can’t bear to think about it. Looking at Morbius, it was never quite clear if the good old stake in the heart would finish off this non-supernatural and much less fun kind of vampire. But it was abundantly clear that the cinematic mini-saga he was a part of desperately needed to get out of its misery.