[Feb 9 2015 Update: Spider-Man DID join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.]
Before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hit theaters this summer, Sony was pushing the brand harder than ever. There was an overwhelming marketing campaign that began early and plans were laid out for a followup in 2016, preceding a pair of spinoffs based on Sinister Six and Venom. Sony was building their own little Marvel Cinematic Universe and it was exciting and intriguing...
And then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hit theaters and everything changed. It didn't see the box office numbers Sony wanted (lowest in the franchise) after paying an insane sum of money in marketing; it earned mixed responses from fans it was the lowest quality Spider-Man film to date by every critical metric. Spidey was now bottom of the barrel among the Marvel-branded theatrical releases and was beat by Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Marvel Studios' Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy - all three of which set multiple box office records and earned high praise in comparison.
In the weeks following, the future of the franchise quickly came into question. The Amazing Spider-Man 3 lost its release date, and writer/producer Roberto Orci left the project, speaking of an uncertain future for the property. The current plan is for Drew Goddard's Sinister Six to come in November 2016 but what comes next, we don't know. We don't even know if Sinister Six will still actually happen or if it will be directly connected to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 since recent rumors from two months ago described Sinister Six as a potential "soft reboot" of the franchise while also claiming the plans for Alex Kurtzman's Venom were canned.
That news came around the same time as another report claimed Sony and Disney were each brainstorming ideas of how they could work together to come to some sort of agreement that would benefit them both, a deal that would involve Spider-Man joining the mainstay Marvel Cinematic Universe - a way to repair and bolster his brand appeal.
Skip forward a few weeks and a lot of big announcements came from Disney-Marvel and WB-DC, each laying out plans for 2-3 films per year for the foreseeable future. Even Fox chimed in with the surprise announcement that they have second Marvel film for 2016 in the long-awaited Deadpool spinoff starring Ryan Reynolds. For fans who wanted to see Marvel get back some control of Spider-Man or at least put the character to better use, there was sadly no such announcement from Marvel Studios among their Phase 3 plans. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige however, was asked by fans at their grand unveiling event about Spider-Man potentially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he wouldn't confirm or deny - essentially leaving the possibility open.
So, now we're at a point where of the 40-50 DC and Marvel licensed live-action films hitting theaters in the next six years, Sony's lineup is the least exciting relative to the competition, and going by this year's box office results and the downward trend of the Spider-Man franchise as of late, it's the least bankable as well. And "least bankable" doesn't bode well for Sony Pictures whose parent company reported over a billion dollars in losses in the last fiscal year.
This is why the seemingly fan-inspired idea of Marvel and Sony working together to share Spider-Man actually makes sense and why it wasn't a surprise to see leaked emails from the massive Sony hack indicate Marvel had very much wanted to include Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War since he's as an integral figure in the comics storyline. They also wanted to launch a new trilogy of Spider-Man films based within the MCU with Sony maintaining "creative control, marketing, and distribution [rights]" according to emails sent between Sony high-ups as recently as weeks ago.
Sounds too good to be true, right? The talks "broke down" so here we are with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) lined up to take the spot Spider-Man held in the comics. But that doesn't mean Spider-Man has no chance of joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Phase 3. According to the same leaked email exchanges between Sony, Disney and Marvel decision makers, Sony has a summit planned for January where they'll regroup in the new year to plan out what's next for the Spider-Man brand.
Right now the plan is for Sony to focus on spinoffs for Sinister Six, Venom and female characters from the Spider-Man comics though none were named. Or at least, that was the tentative plan until their privacy was blasted onto the internet thanks to hackers...
That hack, along with handling of The Amazing Spider-Man rebooted series, has Sony HQ in Japan reportedly unimpressed. According to Latino-Review, they want change and want this property to be "quality." They're allegedly still game to chat with Marvel to try and make something work. But even if they aren't, they might be after talking about it seriously during that summit next month.
Since Sony is the studio with the least confidence and clarity when it comes to its upcoming comic book movie projects out of the 'big four' (the others being Fox, Marvel and WB), and given the lack of enthusiasm for the rumored ideas they have for Spider-Man spinoffs (remember the ridiculous Aunt May movie rumor?), nothing Sony can do on their own with the series in its current form is as exciting or has more potential than having him show up on screen with The Avengers. And now Sony is legitimately competing against the idea since actual internal discussions on it leaked.
Even if another Amazing Spider-Man can improve upon the last one, can it compete against what the Marvel, X-Men/Fantastic Four and DC universes are planning?
From the studio that messed with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man plans to the point of Venom being shoehorned into Spider-Man 3 and then Spider-Man 4 being scrapped entirely during pre-production only to have the series rebooted immediately, comes Sinister Six starring a goofy Paul Giamatti-controlled Russian Rhino robot and an underdeveloped Green Goblin with a bad case of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. Pass.
Give Andrew Garfield Civil War. Send Peter Parker home. It's not too late.
Update (essentially, part two of this story): Spider-Man Can Still Join 'Captain America: Civil War'
Sinister Six is currently scheduled for November 11, 2016.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on July 28, 2017, Black Panther on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 on May 4 2018, Captain Marvel on July 6 2018, Inhumans on November 2 2018 and Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 on May 3 2019.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie and TV news!