Here We Go Again: Sony Reveals Ambitious Plans for a ‘Spider-Man’ Cinematic Universe
When The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went down, it took Sony’s ambitious plans for an expanded Spidey universe down with it — including projects like super-villain spinoff Sinister Six. Thanks to a deal with Marvel that allows the beloved hero (and a few of his Avengers pals) to swing between the two studios, the franchise is getting back on track. While the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming proves the value of Marvel’s involvement, it’s also emboldened Sony to start spinning yet another ambitious web. Venom and Silver and Black are just the beginning.
In an illuminating feature on Sony’s renewed efforts to build a Spider-Man extended universe, Variety uncovered several new details about the studio’s plans. Perhaps most significant is the implication that as long as Marvel is involved with Spider-Man, we probably won’t see Tom Holland’s spandex-clad hero appear in Sony’s various spinoffs. As of now, the only projects officially in development are Venom and Silver and Black, but according to Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch, we can expect even more spinoffs to be announced in the coming months.
Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) is directing the Venom movie, which is set to star Tom Hardy as the titular villain. As with previous iterations, the film will follow Eddie Brock, a reporter who develops a dangerous bond with an alien symbiote. Fleischer describes Venom as more of an antihero and says the story is similar to that of Jekyll and Hyde, while Panitch points to David Cronenberg and John Carpenter as influences. (Josh Trank also likened his Fantastic Four reboot to Cronenberg’s iconic body horror, so make of that what you will.)
Gina Prince-Blythewood (Beyond the Lights) is at the helm of Silver and Black, a project she intriguingly compares to films like Thelma & Louise and Midnight Run. The film unites Spider-Man characters Silver Sable (a mercenary) and Black Cat (a jewel thief) for a story about “two damaged women who are at war with each other but need each other to survive.”
Both films are notably darker than Spider-Man: Homecoming, but Panitch says, “That’s precisely the point.” And that’s where another significant detail comes in. Per Variety:
The studio isn’t tasking any single exec or producer with building the web of “Spider-Man” characters. Instead, it wants each picture to have a distinct style. That means the characters might be featured in R-rated outings or in lower-budgeted offerings.
When explained this way, it sounds more like what Lucasfilm initially intended with the Star Wars Story standalone films than an actual cinematic universe. But no one person is steering the ship or creating a roadmap for the franchise, which doesn’t exactly seem like the most creative or financially sound idea. Even a writers room, like the one assembled by Akiva Goldsman for the Transformers franchise and its upcoming spinoffs, would be beneficial for such an ambitious plan.
Variety also notes that Sony is “circumspect” about Spider-Man appearing in any of these spinoffs, at least for the time being — which is to say that as long as their deal remains in place, Marvel has a pretty big say in what Spidey does and where Spidey goes. Essentially, Sony is building an entire Spider-Man cinematic universe without the central figure that ties all these characters together.
There are some interesting details in the Variety feature, like Prince-Blythewood’s character-driven approach to Silver and Black or the potential for fan-favorite villain Kraven the Hunter to appear in the franchise at some point. But the biggest takeaway from the piece is that maybe Sony hasn’t learned too much from their previous struggles to craft a Spider-Man universe.
Following the infamous Sony hack in the lead-up to the release of The Interview, internal emails revealed the studio’s attempts at salvaging Spider-Man via various spinoff ideas — those ideas were ambitious, but they were also weirdly disjointed; evidence that Sony was desperately grasping at straws from every direction to course-correct the franchise. With Marvel’s help, Spider-Man is firmly back on track, so why does it feel like Sony is still grasping?