Ever since all hell broke loose around the massive Sony leak, one of the biggest stories to rise out of the rubble was confirmation the company was actually in talks with Marvel to potentially let Spider-Man join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in all the excitement and the fan dismay over the way Sony has handled your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, there's an angle that may have been overlooked: Maybe it's a good thing Marvel doesn’t have the rights to Spidey?
Obviously, that mythical deal didn’t happen (yet) — though rumors abound that a version of Spider-Man could eventually show up in a film like The Avengers: Infinity War way down the line. So why might it be a good thing that Sony has the rights locked up tight, far away from Iron Man and Captain America? Because the lack of massively bankable characters is what has driven Marvel to make such darn good movies up to this point. Why mess with the formula?
Sure, there’s a part of us that would obviously love to see Spider-Man swinging around with the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and playing his key role in upcoming comic adaptations like Civil War. We’d also like to see a genuinely good Spider-Man movie, which hasn’t really happened since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 in 2004. But Marvel doesn't have unlimited production resources, and the idea that we'd get those films at the expense of the weird and awesome creation that the studio has put together over the past dozen or so films is something of a downer.
It's easy to forget that back in the mid-2000s, Marvel Studios was one heck of a risky proposition. After partnering with outside studios for years, the company finally decided that, if they wanted good movies based on their comics (and the winner's share of the box-office bucks that come with them), they’d have to make 'em themselves. There was just one problem: They’d already sold off any franchise with obvious big-screen potential, most notably Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
So Marvel decided to dig deep. The comic universe has always thrived on variety and a world populated with extremely interesting and damaged heroes, so they decided to apply that model to film. Iron Man and Hulk were arguably the most bankable heroes left on the bench, so Marvel pumped every dime it had into those two projects and prayed for a hit. Luckily for all of us, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau caught lighting in a bottle with Iron Man in 2008. More than $585 million later, we were well on our way toward The Avengers.
Since Marvel didn’t have the luxury of a sure-fire star like Spider-Man — who is currently the most lucrative comic-book character in existence, with more than $1.3 billion in licensing revenue in 2013 alone — they had to work with characters who might not have ever gotten a shot otherwise. Just think: If Marvel could have made splashy Spider-Man and X-Men movies, do you think we’d have ever gotten something as creatively quirky as Guardians of the Galaxy (or Ant-Man), or the risky period-set romp that was Captain America: The First Avenger? Maybe somewhere down the line, but a lot of the limited focus (and release slots) would almost certainly be eaten up by those larger properties.
Yes, Marvel would probably be making better movies than what’s out there now (especially on the Spider-Man front), but for me, I wouldn’t trade the epic Marvel Universe we have now for the chance at some better Spider-Man movies. Not by a long shot. The fact that Marvel didn’t have Spider-Man in its stable was the catalyst to bring characters like Iron Man and Thor to life, and gave Marvel the confidence to try something as seemingly insane as a film starring Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The only thing they could control was making the best movies possible, and since the characters were mid-tier, they had to be extremely good.
The pressure cooker worked, and now Marvel is worth billions.
But back to those lingering Sony rumors — what if Spider-Man was brought into the fold now, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe well established? Though Captain America: Civil War would seem like the most obvious entry point, considering Peter Parker played a key role in the comic arc, we’d argue he’d be an awkward fit at this point in the film continuity. Marvel has created a living, breathing world without Spider-Man. It’d be hard (and a bit awkward) to shoehorn him in this late in the game.
So, what about the latest rumor, which has Spidey finally showing up in the MCU’s version of Queens when the apparent faceoff with Thanos arrives in Avengers: Infinity War? Maybe, and yes, it would be awesome to have Spider-Man trading quips with Iron Man. But it begs the question — if Marvel takes over (or teams up) for some new standalone Spider-Man films, who gets bumped in the process? Captain Marvel? Black Panther? The Inhumans? Even a company as big as Marvel can only produce and release so many movies per year. Something would have to give.
We’ve had five Spider-Man movies in the past 12 or so years. If Marvel is going to invest in anything, we’d like to see it be the characters we know and love from the page who we’d never dreamed of seeing on the big screen just a few years ago. What comic fan in their right mind isn’t champing at the bit to see Captain Marvel brought to life in glorious live action? Or to walk the streets of Wakanda?
Marvel has gone from a Hail Mary pass into the heart of Hollywood to a billion-dollar business in less than a decade. The plan is working, and it’s given us more comic stories and variety than we ever could’ve dreamed of just a few years prior. Somebody is going to keep making Spider-Man movies, there’s no doubt about that. Will they be good? Maybe. Here’s hoping, at least.
In the meantime, let’s let Marvel just stay focused on figuring out how to bring everyone from Black Bolt to Carol Danvers to the big screen.