Why Recasting Spider-Man is a Good Idea
There's one way Sony can fill this Spider-Man-sized hole in their shared cinematic universe, and that's dropping all pretense that these spinoffs are part of the MCU and recast Spider-Man. Sony could perhaps go for an older, even slightly darker, iteration of the wall-crawler; perhaps one similar to Andrew Garfield's. That would suitably differentiate their version of Spider-Man from the MCU's. Where Tom Holland's Spider-Man would interact with MCU heroes like Iron Man and Doctor Strange, Sony's iteration would romance the Black Cat, clash with Venom, and struggle to survive the threat of Kraven the Hunter.
It's not like Sony are unaware of this potential. This year's animated movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even sets the precedent; it establishes the idea that Spider-Men exist in countless realities, and introduces different versions of Peter Parker. Viewers don't seem to mind one bit.
Warner Bros. is taking a similar approach with the Joker. There are no less than six different Joker-centric films in various stages of production, with both Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix tapped to play the Clown Prince of Crime. The studio clearly believes that, so long as the different iterations of the Joker are distinctive enough, viewers will be fine with seeing multiple portrayals of the same character on the big screen. The same is true of the Flash; although Warner Bros. initially worried about the possibility of brand dilution, pulling Harley Quinn from Arrow after they decided to push ahead with Suicide Squad, the studio seems to have relaxed a lot. Ezra Miller's portrayal of Flash is very different to Grant Gustin's TV version, and the average viewer isn't even bothering to compare them.
In just the same way, if Sony cast the right actor as Peter Parker, they should be able to generate the same kind of positive buzz and push ahead with a far stronger franchise.
Is Sony Allowed to Recast Spider-Man?
But there's one snag; it's entirely possible that Sony isn't allowed to recast the role of Spider-Man. It all depends upon the studio's deal with Marvel Studios. If Marvel Studios is making solo Spider-Man films, is Sony prohibited from direct use of Peter Parker? Would they be able to cast a Spider-Man who serves as a secondary character, rather than the star of a film? Naturally, the full status of the deal is a closely-guarded secret, so there's no way to know for sure. But even if the contract is silent on this matter, that doesn't mean Sony will want to take the risk and damage the goodwill.
It's also very possible that Sony actually wants their spinoffs to be loosely set in the wider MCU. By that reading, they're hoping their films will profit from the overarching Marvel brand, and that cameos and subtle nods will be enough to satisfy general viewers. There's certainly precedent for this idea; after all, the Marvel TV shows remain successful in spite of the fact their tie-ins will only ever be subtle and one-way. Every loose connection is celebrated by viewers with real delight. If Sony does intend to take this approach - and the ambiguous and confusing comments to date definitely leave that possibility open to the studio - then recasting Spidey is out of the question.
Right now, Sony's approach appears to be to hint that their spinoffs are set in the wider MCU, without making it explicit. It's an understandable approach, as it hopefully allows the studio to benefit from the hugely successful shared universe. But, in the long run, it's a self-defeating one; it impoverishes the characters and concepts Sony hopes to explore, removing some of their best character dynamics and most compelling arcs. Sony would be wise to ditch the MCU, and to bring in their own version of Spider-Man to serve as a foil for this world of Spider-Man villains.
- Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018