If you haven’t heard already, which would be surprising if you are on any form of social media, the deal between Sony and Disney to include Spiderman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has ended. Unless any remaining negotiations bear fruit, Spidey will no longer appear in any Marvel produced movie or added in as part of plans of the overall MCU.
The division of rights to the various Marvel (comics) characters has created a hit and miss library of titles. Some are great or enjoyable while others miss the mark so much it becomes its own joke. Spiderman movies themselves always have trouble with the third movie. Tobey McGuire’s Spiderman 3 is roundly despised by fans, while Andrew Garfield’s never made it to production. Now Tom Holland is suffering his own Spiderman 3 curse.
It would be hard to say any addition to the existing MCU was more beloved than Tom Holland’s Spiderman. He encapsulated everything great about both Peter Parker and Spiderman. With the acquisition of Fox, Disney, and thus the Marvel Studios, finally had rights to include all their comic book properties in a single cinematic universe and fans were ecstatic to imagine the possibilities in future movies. To lose Spiderman right now is not only disappointing but it represents a fiduciary failure on the part of both Sony and Disney to the fans that made the current iteration of Spiderman such a financial success.
Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Studios era of superhero movies, and while not all of their releases were the greatest movies ever made, it gave viewers something that other superhero films hadn’t managed before: a thru line, i.e., Agent Coulson and Shield. This may seem small in the beginning of Phase 1, but it’s vital to the success of the MCU. Before The Avengers, Coulson was the expanded MCU in each of these films (sans Captain America: The First Avenger which has Fury instead). It told fans that no matter how different the titles were in tone and style, they existed together. They could influence each other while remaining separate and distinct titles.
This is what comic book creators understood all along. Fans love not only seeing their favorite characters having their own adventures, but working together or fighting each other. The interconnectedness of the Marvel Universe was brought to the big screen as a core component of the MCU. When they did that, Marvel Studios made a promise to fans that even when the characters were alone in their own movies, they would have the consequences of the whole universe to deal with. It made their stories bigger and rewarded fans for experiencing the entire catalogue of movies.
Sony made this promise too when they allowed Spiderman to enter the MCU. Spiderman was no longer separate from the rest of the superheroes out there, and that meant Tom Holland’s Spiderman can’t exist outside of all the other properties of the MCU, which Sony doesn’t own. And this relationship was more than profitable for Sony, with Spiderman: Far From Home grossing $200K more than any other Spiderman movie in worldwide box office sales.
But fans expect Sony and Disney to honor the promises they made when they brought Spiderman into the MCU. The promise that Spiderman wasn’t alone in his universe. The promise that this high school kid with amazing powers would always have mentors and support from outside his tiny world and they would help shape the man he became. The promise that Spiderman would live up to the legacy that the expanded universe gave him, because his character cared as much about the world he lived in as we fans do.
Tom Holland’s Spiderman is the MCU’s Spiderman. No matter how many contracts or movie attempts Sony might make after this, they can’t produce the Spiderman that fans adore without the MCU, because too much of Tom Holland’s Spiderman comes from his relationship with Tony Stark and Happy and has been shaped by the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.
Any new Spiderman movie not within the MCU must be rebooted to an isolated sandbox universe that will not be Tom Holland’s Spiderman, even with Tom Holland still in the role. It will feel smaller. It will feel emptier. It will feel wrong.
Normally I would argue that while the fans are a big part of the world a fandom creates, ultimately the creator has the right to do with it as he or she wishes. Upsetting fans is never smart, but that choice is up to the creator. Creating in a shared or expanded universe requires creators to share some of their creative responsibilities with the others so that the universe feels cohesive and consistent.
But I’m going to argue that Sony and Disney have to come to an agreement because in this case they have a responsibility to the fans. The creators want to keep them together. If they didn’t have plans for Spiderman’s future in the MCU, they could have kept him as a friendly neighborhood Spiderman in Far From Home. Instead they pushed him front and center as Tony Stark’s successor. The fans want him to stay. The creators planned for him to stay. Only the corporations are acting like children fighting over a favorite toy.
Sony and Disney could have kept them separate and reboot the Spiderman franchise as they always had, but instead they promised fans the franchise would be bigger and more expansive than ever before and the MCU would be better for it. It brought certainty to the Spiderman franchise, knowing that the character wouldn’t immediately be reboot again because Peter was now a part of a world that would miss him. Failure to honor that promise would irreparably damage Tom Holland’s Spiderman and the MCU.
Eventually the MCU would be able to cover up the wound losing Spiderman would create in their world thanks to the addition of the X-Men, Deadpool, and Fantastic Four franchises, but the inconsistencies will always be there. As any creator of speculative fiction will tell you, the first rule of creating your world is it must remain consistent or your audience loses their suspension of disbelief.
Spiderman won’t recover as well as the MCU. A Tom Holland Spiderman who isn’t the Tom Holland Spiderman we already know will never feel correct. It will always be compared to the MCU’s Spiderman and in doing so drag the viewer out of the tiny world Sony will put him into. Worst of all, it will require a reboot of the series, and I can’t say I trust Sony not to kill Uncle Ben in an origin story again. Spiderman’s origin is so ubiquitous at this point that rehashing it will only detract from whatever movie they might do and make fans long for the MCU all the more.
Companies know what fans want and are banking on outrage against one or the other to leverage terms favorable to their side. But Spiderman isn’t leverage anymore. The MCU isn’t leverage anymore. The moment they combined those two they gave them both to us. They are ours, and we need to demand that both Sony and Disney act like adults and work this out to the benefit of them both.
Don’t let them think one side will get away without consequence. Both are to blame for this situation, and as fans we now have the responsibility to fight for the world they created even if they won’t.