[Feb 9 2015 Update: Garfield's out and Spider-Man is officially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.]
As if Sony wasn't already perceived as a mess by some moviegoers, the recent hack of their servers has shown that the studio is even more unsure of what to do with their Spider-Man franchise than was originally thought. In the past week, we've learned that Marvel Studios had discussions with Sony about using the Peter Parker character in Captain America: Civil War, with the intention of starting the series anew free of any connections with the previous films.
It's no secret that the old Web Head is at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the "big four" in the superhero genre (Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, Sony) after this summer's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underwhelmed both critically and commercially, scoring the lowest marks in the five films of the series. That was the main reason behind Disney's desire to bring in a new actor to play the character, should a deal take place. As it turns out, Andrew Garfield may be replaced even if the rights remain at Sony.
In a report by Mashable, it is revealed that the professional relationship between Garfield and Sony executives wasn't on the best of terms. You'll recall that shortly after The Amazing Spider-Man 2's release, the actor seemed to imply that studio meddling was the primary culprit for the final product not achieving director Marc Webb's original vision for the film, leading to the mixed response it received (sound familiar?). As you would expect, the Sony higher-ups didn't take too kindly to that assessment, regardless of the full context of his statement.
Furthermore, Garfield upset Sony's Tokyo bosses when he skipped out at a dinner event, giving the company less than an hour's notice that he wouldn't be attending (despite him being scheduled to sit with Sony executives). According to Mashable, this was seen as an affront by the powers that be at Sony, which more than likely put Garfield out of favor with them.
The final nail in the coffin for Garfield's version of the superhero seemed to be hammered in with this October 2014 email from Sony Co-Chairman Amy Pascall, where she is discussing the potential Disney/Marvel deal with Amazing Spider-Man series producer Matthew Tolmach:
"I love introducing [Peter Parker] in [Captain America] but I know it comes with so many things since we won't give them what they want what will we give them?"
The key word there is "introducing," which implies that a new take on the character would appear in Captain America 3. If Garfield wasn't on the outs, the phrasing of this message wouldn't make sense, since the new Peter Parker was introduced to casual moviegoers two years ago with the reboot. He would just need to be acclimated to the characters that inhabit the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, this doesn't mean that a deal between the two studios is imminent. Negotiating the Spider-Man film rights is something that would come with a lot of provisions (under the terms, Disney would be in charge of production, while Sony would maintain some creative, marketing and distribution rights) that would make an overnight agreement difficult to obtain. However, it would appear that Garfield is not part of the franchise's future, no matter who releases the next movie.
This isn't the first time we've heard about Garfield being replaced either. One of the many recent rumors regarding the series said that the impending Sinister Six adaptation would operate as a "soft" reboot and feature a new actor as Spider-Man. Garfield's performance as Peter Parker has been one of the more well-received aspects of the new films, so it is a little surprising that Sony would be so adamant about his departure. That said, the studio is entitled to make a change if they wish, especially if they no longer get along with the thespian in question.
Despite the opinions of the past couple of films, Spider-Man remains a viable commodity in the ultra-lucrative realm of superheroes. Not only is the character a cash cow for Sony, he's also one of Marvel's poster boys who remains a very visible presence in the comics. From that perspective, it's understandable why so many people would be interested in reviving something that's viewed as a dead franchise walking. If handled correctly, there are hundreds of millions to be made - potentially billions if Spidey joins forces with Iron Man and Captain America.
In the end, that's what this all boils down to. Sony is trying to make the best out of a bad situation. They mapped out an extensive "shared" movie universe for the property and for all intents and purposes it blew up in their faces. If nothing else, they've at least realized that they made a mistake and are in the process of trying to rectify it. There's still a lot to be sorted out here and a solution is far from being reached, but if everyone involved puts their heads together, the future of Spider-Man on film could be bright.
We'll keep you updated on the progress of the Spider-Man film franchise as more information becomes available.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.