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Making Sense of Sony’s Plans for The Amazing Spider-Man Universe in the Wake of News of Venom & Sinister Six Movies

Last month, Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal told a group of investors, “We are going to access Marvel’s full world of Spider-Man characters, so be on the lookout for new heroes and villains.”  Based upon prior rumors, it was widely assumed this meant Sony would finally fully commit to a solo movie for Spider-Man villain Venom, a project trapped in development hell ever since Spider-Man 3.  Beyond that, we weren’t sure mostly because it’s not really clear which Marvel characters Sony has the rights to as part of their Spider-Man film rights package.  The Sinister Six?  Felicia Hardy?  Spider-Woman?  Green Goblin?  Morbius, the Vampire?  Even Man-Wolf?  

Well, we still don’t actually know who they can use, but we know who they are choosing to use: Venom and the Sinister Six.

According to THR, Sony has hired a (kind of) all-star collection of screenwriters to form a “franchise brain to expand the universe for the [Spider-Man] brand and to develop a continuous tone and thread throughout the films.”  The writers are Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon and Drew Goddard, and they will “work on a large-scale story that will encompass several films.”  Kurtzman, Orci, and Solomon will write a Venom movie, which Kurtzman will also direct; Goddard will write and potentially direct a Sinister Six movie.  Pinkner will…um, that’s not entirely clear beyond assisting Kurtzman and Orci complete a script for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 in time to make its announced summer 2016 release window.

Who Are These Guys?

Other than Solomon, they pretty much all have a common experience of working on JJ Abrams’ Alias.  Kurtzman, Orci & Pinkner have shared credits for Alias, Fringe, Amazing Spider-Man 2 (and 3) while Kurtzman & Orci are also behind Sleepy Hollow, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Transformers.  Goddard has both Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Cabin in the Woods) and JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost) connections.  Goddard made his directorial debut with Cabin in the Woods, and was recently hired as showrunner for Netflix’ forthcoming Daredevil series.  Solomon wrote both Bill & Ted movies, the first Men in Black, and was a credited writer of Now You See Me.

Venom?  You Mean That Weird Black Goo from Spider-Man 3?

Yep.  Venom was that weird extraterrestrial black goo about which absolutely nobody in Spider-Man 3 seemed sufficiently alarmed.  It turned Tobey Maguire into a Fall Out Boy-emo type who will John Travolta strut his way down a sidewalk (but get laughed at), pull a Jim Carrey from The Mask and do a big dance number at a night club, and top it all off by throwing in a side helping of spousal abuse.  Then Topher Grace was infected with venom at which point…please don’t make me keep writing about Spider-Man 3.  The point being it was a famous villain from the  comics which director Sam Raimi had repeatedly said he was reluctant to use in the movies because he didn’t completely understand the character.  Yeah, that’s probably still true.  Here’s arguably one of the better moments for Venom in the movie:

However, though not particularly well-received Spider-Man 3 was actually the highest-grossing film in the franchise to date.  Sony put a solo film centered around Venom into development, only to drag their feet over the years after they realized the true depths of the creative failure of Spider-Man 3 and the related damage done to the popular perception of Venom.  Incidentally, Fox was put in the almost exact same position with their hopes for a solo Deadpool movie after X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Venom as he appears in Spider-Man: The Animate...
Venom as he appears in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The symbiote first appeared in the comics in 1984 mostly as a way of providing Spider-Man with a cool new black costume.  Eventually, it was revealed that this mysterious black goo which had attached itself to Peter Parker was a symbiotic, sentient alien which needed a host to survive.  It grants its host super strength and shape-shifting capabilities.  As depicted in Spider-Man 3, its first host was Peter Parker before transitioning to Eddie Brock, a rival journalist who took his new powers (which included all of Spider-Man’s powers since they’d been absorbed by the symbiote) and christened himself an anti-hero named Venom.  This version of Venom actually attempts to save people sometimes, but also repeatedly tries to kill Spider-Man, thus the “anti” part of “anti-hero.”  Eventually, Eddie Brock had to part ways with the symbiote as it was becoming increasingly bloodthirsty and controlling.  It has since jumped to multiple other hosts, again emerging as an abusive figure to its next host, Mac Gargan.  As of late, Venom’s host is Flash Thompson, in more of a mercenary role controlled by the government.  In total, counting Peter Parker there have been four individuals to serve as primary host for Venom, and three who were only bonded temporarily.

So, who would they pick for a solo movie?  Eddie Brock is the most likely, even after the Topher Grace version of the character.  However, how do you do a movie about Venom without Spider-Man since it is through exposure to Spider-Man that Venom gains most of his abilities?  Also, who could be used as his adversary?  Carnage?  And can they really do a live-action version of Venom that doesn’t look a little goofy?  You are presented with all of the same problems with it now that Sam Raimi and company were with Spider-Man 3.  Is it simply too big of a stretch to expand the cinematic universe of Spider-Man to include an extraterrestial black ooze?  Or do you simply just say Oscorp created it?

Who Are the Sinister Six?

Amazing-Spider-Man-2-Official-High-Res-Banner-570x301

As anyone who’s seen the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 knows, Sony is not nervous about nor reluctant to reveal just how many villains they are throwing at Spider-Man in his next cinematic adventure.  The sequel is introducing two 100% definite villains (Electro, Rhino), three characters who may or may not become villains (Harry and Norman Osborn, Adrian Toomes), and one potential morally compromised ally (Felicia Hardy, if rumors are true).  On top of all of that, Gwen Stacy is as good as dead.

Basically, everything that’s been coming out about this movie, be it substantiated or rumored, paints the picture of a Spider-Man 3-like disaster of creative overreach.  However, the solace we could take was that they cut Mary Jane from the film because they realized that was going to be too much, and Sony was now giving them one more sequel than we originally guessed (Amazing Spider-Man 4 to be released in 2018).  It indicated a larger narrative arc.  There have been more than a couple of interviews where Paul Giamatti has pretty much guaranteed as much, arguing his Rhino is a small presence in The Amazing-Spider Man 2 but will come back in a big way later on.  This all seemed to be building toward Spider-Man’s villains banding together as the Sinister Six in the end to take him on as a collective unit, sort of like an inverted version of  Joss Whedon’s The Avengers with Spider-Man in the role of Loki and the Sinister Six evil versions of the Avengers.

Picture of the original Sinister Six in the se...
Picture of the original Sinister Six in the series, a group consisting of Spider-Man villains in The Spectacular Spider-Man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first Sinister Six was introduced in the comics in 1964, consisting of the Spider-Man villains Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and Sandman.  They basically started because Doctor Octopus was sick of getting his ass kicked by Spider-Man and figured there’d be strength in numbers.  Since their original introduction, their membership has repeatedly shifted, losing some people (Kraven, Sandman) and gaining others (Hobgoblin, Gog).  It gets even more complicated from there, with splinter groups (e.g., Hobgoblin’s Sinister 7, Sandman’s Sinister Six) and new variations (e.g., the Sinister 12 consisting of Green Goblin, Vulture, Sandman, Electro, Chameleon, Lizard, Hydro-Man, Shocker, Hammerhead, Boomerang, Tombstone, Scorpion/Venom).  The current version of the group in the comics consists of Otto Octavius (in the body of Spider-Man) leading Electro, Sandman, Chameleon, Mysterion, and Vulture.  Across the history of the group, Sandman has been the most ambiguous member, sometimes betraying them to Spider-Man because he’s just not that evil whereas others actually enlisting Spider-Man’s assistance.

My Spidey-Senses Are Tingling.  Is This All Just a Big Mess?

Possibly.  The facts are these:

In June, Sony announced via press release that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is scheduled to be released June 10, 2016, and then surprised everyone by announcing that The Amazing Spider-Man 4 is scheduled to be released May 4, 2018.  This was the first anyone had heard about there being 4 movies instead of just a trilogy.  And by anyone that includes both The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 director Marc Webb, and Peter Parker himself, Andrew Garfield.  In Comic-Con interviews, Webb copped to having been left in the dark on the whole thing, commenting that perhaps story elements beyond Spider-Man could fill up Amazing Spider-Man 4.  Then earlier this week Garfield confirmed he’s not contracted for a fourth movie and thinks it will have nothing to do with him, leading some to speculate whether they’ll have to recast the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man after the third movie and yet others to argue that Amazing Spider-Man 4 was never going to be a proper Spider-Man movie at all.

Now, we know that separate projects about Venom and the Sinister Six are in development, with an eye toward a shared cinematic universe ala Marvel.  Here’s our guess as to what’s happening: Venom will get a solo movie released in one of the off years between Amazing Spider-Man sequels, and the anti-heroic Venom and Spider-Man will have to put their differences aside to combine forces to defeat the Sinister Six, who will not actually be getting a solo film of their own but will instead be the focus of Amazing Spider-Man 4.  Sony will not re-cast the role of Peter Parker but instead merely sign Garfield for this proposed team-up movie, much as Marvel did with Robert Downey, Jr. for The Avengers 2 and 3.  That’s our best guess right now.

There’s a lot to mull over.  We just hope they actually know what they’re doing.  Frankly, around here we are of massively differing opinions on the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield version of Spider-Man to begin with (she loved it/I kind of hated it).  All of this news of Sony attempting to jump into the shared cinematic universe game, much as DC is doing with building toward Justice League and Fox is doing with X-Men and maybe even Fantastic Four, is exciting.  However, maybe your excitement ultimately depends upon whether or not you even liked The Amazing Spider-Man, and if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer looks amazing to you or overstuffed with too many villains, a laughably emo-like Harry Osborn, and special effects which occasionally look only marginally better than a Playstation 3 game.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will make its international debut in territories like the UK in mid-to-late April before making its domestic debut on May 2, 2014.

What about you?  What camp are you in – excited by all of this or nervous/pessimistic?  And are you actually kind of cool with what they did with Venom in Spider-Man 3?  How do you think Sony will pull this all together?  Let us know in the comments section.

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