Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spider-Man Joins the MCU!

When I reviewed 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, which restarted the superhero franchise from the ground-up a la Batman Begins after three previous entries, I likened it to hitting "reset" on a video game after losing only one life. It didn't make a lot of sense. Yes, 2007's Spider-Man 3 was pretty well lambasted by audiences and critics alike, but the Sony release still managed to score the highest global haul of that initial trifecta of films. Hardly an "abandon ship" moment.

Nonetheless, in a moment of creative panic spurred by the faintest possibility of losing their billion dollar baby to Disney if they waiting too long to get another movie made, they pulled the plug on the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire series, trading in for the Marc Webb-Andrew Garfield iteration. And while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 scored a not-inconsiderable $700+ mil worldwide last year, it was deemed a disappointment in relation to its not-insubstantial budget.

Cue the moment of panic and, yep, here's comes another reset. In news that hit last night and rocked the geek-sphere with the same kind of concussive force we saw three years ago when Disney swallowed Lucasfilm, the Mouse House and Sony have pacted for the kind of deal that fanboys and girls have been desperately hoping and clamoring for, all the while never actually believing it could happen: Spider-Man is officially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking his rightful place onscreen alongside the icons of the Avengers franchise.

I'm sure more details will be forthcoming in the weeks and months ahead, but the key takeaways from Marvel's press release are as follows:
  1. A recast, rebooted Peter Parker/Spider-Man will (most probably) make his first appearance in next year's May opener Captain America: Civil War, alongside Chris Evans as Cap, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther (also making his MCU debut). Spidey is a pivotal player in the "Civil War" comic storyline which this flick will presumably be taking some of its cues from, but I wouldn't expect his role to play out exactly the same way.
  2. The MCU Spidey will segue from his Civil War appearance into a solo film in 2017 (which is in turn pushing the planned slate of Marvel Studios projects back by six months). Of note here is that said solo film, while still a Sony release, will be produced by Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige alongside recently-ousted Sony prexy Amy Pascal. This in turn means that Avi Arad, whose creative stranglehold on the franchise arguably killed both the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Man series' has been kicked upstairs into a largely ceremonial "executive producer" role, wherein he'll quietly cash the checks and that's it.
  3. Andrew Garfield is out as the ol' webslinger. Given his longstanding love of the character, this one is a shame, but it's not altogether surprising. As you know, I enjoyed his take on both Peter Parker and his wall crawling alter ego quite a bit, more even than Tobey Maguire's. However, even if Feige and Team Marvel are down with Garfield, which I have no reason to think they aren't, including him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would mean, by extension, having to take ownership of the unwieldy mess of plot threads Amazing 2 left dangling. Think of it as fruit from the poisoned tree. I'm sure they much prefer a clean break over having to pick through the continuity flotsam of a failed series.
Now, do I think Amazing Spider-Man 2 so damaged the brand that another reboot was necessary? No, not at all. It's a perfectly decent flick, and let's not forget, it opened to more than $90 million last May, proving there's a sizable audience out there for any Spider-Man flick. If Sony had simply reconnoitered, recharged their creative batteries, and come back in a few years with another sequel picking up where they left off, I have no doubt the loyal fans would have been there. (Now, whether they'd have shown up for the planned supervillain showcase The Sinister Six? Who knows.)

Still, there's also no denying that giving Spider-Man, the world's most popular superhero by a wide margin, the imprimatur of instant credibility that comes with inclusion in the most successful superhero operation going, Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where even a talking tree can become beloved,  will pay dividends both backwards and forwards. It's good for Sony, because it lets them keep their series alive, and that in turn is good for Disney, which owns the global merchandising rights, and thus benefit from a healthy big screen Spidey. More info as things continue to develop.

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