How Sony Ruined (And Then Saved) Spider-Man

In 2014, Sony ruined Spider-Man, but over the past four years they’ve completely fixed the character and the brand. There was a point not many years ago when the idea of more of the web-slinger was a nauseating concept, the most popular superhero in the world an emblem of corporate meddling. Now, in 2018 alone, there’s been three movies centered on a wide range of Spider-Man characters, a record-breaking video game, and so much more to come. How did Sony fix Spidey?

The whole notion of Sony owning the movie rights to Spider-Man is somewhat archaic. They acquired them in the late-1990s when Marvel ran a literal going-out-of-business sale, and as long as they make a movie every five years, will keep ahold of them. That’s made Spider-Man movies often less exercises in bringing the hero to the big screen in the best way possible and more high-stakes keepaway, with Sony holding one of Marvel (now part of Disney’s) favorite toys in near perpetuity.

Related: How Marvel Studios Really Works

This led to a lot of bad decisions, and in an era where Marvel and DC are both enacting sprawling shared universes that pit long-standing icons against lesser-known discoveries (the trailers for the last two Avengers movies have elicited excitement from the promise of a team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man respectively), caused many fans to demand Spider-Man’s rights go back to the House of Ideas. However, it turns out that may not actually have been the best solution. Following utter disaster in the early 2010s, Sony has managed to turn Spider-Man around. Here’s how it happened.

How Sony Slowly Ruined Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ending

You can spot fundamental flaws in Spider-Man from the very start of the deal – Sony’s use of the PlayStation 2 font for Spider-Man‘s logo reeks of corporate synergy – but the rot really started to set in with Spider-Man 3. During development, there was a key production divide – producer Avi Arad wanted Venom as a villain, director Sam Raimi Sandman and Green Goblin – leading to an overstuffed, ill-focused film. While blame doesn’t fall fully on either side (even without Venom, Spider-Man 3 is still questionable), it showcased a lack of creative drive. This left behind a quagmire for Spider-Man 4 to wade through, with even more villains considered and thrown out, before the entire project stalled not due to any desire to avoid the mistakes of the past, but those rights; Sony had to make a movie every five years to keep control of the character, and the 2012 expiry was approaching.

This is where The Amazing Spider-Man came in. Conceived in 2010 as a low-budget, character-focused take on the character that mixed the proven Dark Knight realism and the teenage stylings of Twilight (500 Days of Summer‘s Marc Webb was hired to direct), it promised a totally new imagining of Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield was a cool Peter Parker whose focus was as much on high school and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy as it was fighting supervillains. However, that track wasn’t followed. At some point, the mystery over the disappearance of Peter’s parents became the predominant thread, and then the success of Avatar made Sony chase 3D. Eventually, the increased scale of the project pushed up the budget and its mainstream angling; it was a mild-grit retelling of what Raimi had done ten years earlier.

However, the real damage done to The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was by a movie that released just a couple of months before it debuted. The Avengers changed the game, with MCU Phase 1 suddenly viewed as the model for building a viable long-term franchise. And so for the sequel, Sony aimed to jump-start its own competing shared universe; a movie already taking on a lot – full arcs for Electro and Green Goblin, as well as an adaptation of The Night Gwen Stacy Died – now had to set up Sinister Six (including Rhino, Doc Ock and Vulture teases) and make Oscorp a viable S.H.I.E.L.D. The result was a terrible film that managed to smash all of its spinning plates; the villains were compared to Schumacher’s Batman films, Gwen’s death elicited laughs rather than tears, and the notion of a shared universe was a cold tease. With bad reviews and worse box office performance than a time travel X-Men story and a comedy about a talking raccoon, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a resounding failure. After half-a-decade of muddled ideas, everybody soured on the very idea of Spider-Man.

Related: Every Superhero That Was Supposed To Release In 2018 (But Didn’t)

The final nail was the 2014 email leak, which revealed that planning for the Amazing Spider-Man shared universe was a mess, with clones expected in the direct sequels and an Aunt May prequel pushed. All of Sony came across poorly, but the handling of its major franchise was the sorest point; the executives were people who only vaguely understood Spider-Man or what made him beloved, and had a cynical view on how to transfer that into a profit margin. At this point four years ago, Peter Parker was dead.

Key Release Dates

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019

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