Marvel Studios' The Avengers: Age of Ultron has been cranking up the marketing machine with less than two months to go before its theatrical debut, yet people have been talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a completely different reason in the last few weeks. Confirmation that Sony has struck a deal with Marvel to allow Spider-Man to take part in the MCU sent the Internet into a frenzy, as fans discuss which actor would be right for the part and who should take the director's chair.
The plan is to introduce the new incarnation of Peter Parker in an MCU film (believed to be next year's Captain America: Civil War) before giving him a solo vehicle in July 2017. Nothing official has been confirmed regarding when we'll see the new Spider-Man for the first time, but with Cap 3 directors Anthony and Joe Russo signing a first-look deal with Sony, all signs are pointing to May 2016.
THR is reporting that the filmmakers (who broke into the mainstream with last year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier) are now locked into a three-year, first-look deal with Sony Pictures. The contract kicks in during April, which not-so-coincidentally is when the brothers will commence principal photography on Civil War.
Now, one may look at this development and view it as nothing more than the Russos calling Sony home in between their Marvel gigs, but quite frankly, they may not have that much free time on their hands that they can go off and make a different movie. As Joss Whedon steps away from the Avengers film series, there have been persisting rumors that the Russos will be called upon to guide the two-part Avengers: Infinity War into theaters; and the first of those installments will be released in 2018 (i.e., at the end of this Sony contract).
What does this have to do with Spider-Man? Well, even though Disney/Marvel can include him in MCU productions, Marvel Studios does not actually own the film rights to the character. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the studios' collaboration was that Sony continues to "finance, distribute, own, and have final creative control of the 'Spider-Man' films." Obviously, Civil War is not directly a Spider-Man film, but perhaps Sony will still have a hand in producing any MCU title that includes Your Friendly Neighborhood.
Likewise, Marvel's plans for Spider-Man go well beyond a Civil War cameo and a new series of standalone films. As the studio progresses through Phase 3 (and the end of some high profile contracts), they will be looking for new faces to lead Earth's Mightiest into battle as veterans like Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans possibly step away. It's all but a given that Spidey will be a part of Infinity War, and if the Russos are calling the shots on that one, the partnership with Sony is beneficial as well.
Something else to keep in mind is that a couple of months ago, leaked emails from the Sony hack showed that the Russos had reached out to then Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal with an offer to produce new Spider-Man movies (kicking out franchise producers Avi Arad and Matthew Tolmach) under the Sony banner. It's unknown if this was part of the official agreement between the two studios, but the timing of this first-look deal makes it seem as if the Russos will be involved with the MCU for years to come.
Granted, nowhere do the Russos or Sony executives mention terms like "Marvel" and "Spider-Man" in their statements, so this is purely speculation on our part. However, with the way the schedules line up, the Russos will be in this sandbox during the next few years, or, the entirety of their contract with Sony. It certainly looks like Spider-Man was the driving force behind the contract.
Captain America: Civil War will be in theaters May 6, 2016. The first MCU solo Spider-Man movie hits theaters July 28, 2017.