Film News

Unpacking Sony’s New Spider-Man Plans – Everything We Know About Sinister Six & This Mystery Film About a Female Superhero

UPDATED 8/10/2014 – There has been some question raised as to which female characters Sony actually has the rights to.  I updated that section of the article accordingly.

Well, I hope you’re happy with yourselves, Warner Bros., Marvel Studios, and Fox.  Because of the way you’ve been dragging your feet in this area we may end up with Sony being the first ones to deliver us a female-led superhero movie since Halle Berry’s Razzie award-winning Catwoman.

What do we know?

Some people at Sony told, off the record of course, Deadline.com that they had hired Lisa Joy Nolan to write a script centered around a female superhero from the Spider-Man universe.  As with all of the Amazing Spider-Man film properties, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach will serve as producers.  The project is broadly targeting 2017 for release.

Wait – who’s Lisa Joy?  Never heard of her before.

Joy started off in Hollywood writing a couple of Pushing Daisies episodes before moving on to writing and producing for Burn Notice, and more recently serving as co-creator and an executive producer for HBO’s upcoming adaptation of the old Michael Crichton property Westworld.  She just also happens to be Jonathan Nolan’s wife, making her Christopher Nolan’s sister-in-law.

How long do these things normally take?

The fact that Sony has hired someone to write a script means they are closer to making a superheroine film today than they were yesterday, but how close are they, really?  After all, it took 5 years from the moment Nicole Perlman first started her work on the Guardians of the Galaxy script to the moment of its release.  At least her script got produced; that’s more than Joss Whedon can say for his 2007 Wonder Woman script, which clearly never got made.

However, if Deadline is right about that 2017 release window then Sony must have this on the fast-track, making it a real priority.

Screw Sony right in the ear

These are the same people who hired a cabal of writers to orchestrate a Spider-Man cinematic universe that flamed out so spectacularly out of the gate with Amazing Spider-Man 2 that its direct sequel has been delayed 2 years, and no one seems to have any idea what’s happening with that solo Venom movie (officially, it’s still in development, Alex Kurtzman scripting and potentially directing, with Carnage apparently added to the film’s cast of characters).  We are (as of right now) scheduled to get a Sinister Six movie in 2016

Going Down Here, Up Everywhere Else

Spidey has been on a downward trajectory ever since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 earned $891 million worldwide in 2007, bottoming out domestically with ASM2‘s $201 million and leveling off internationally (ASM2′s $505 million vs. ASM 1‘s $495 million).  Of course, ASM2‘s $705 million worldwide haul was good enough to help Sony turn a profit in the most recent fiscal quarter, but Spider-Man is the fifth-highest-grossing film series and the most successful comic book franchise of all time.  So, its fiscal standards are set higher than most.  It’s still technically growing overseas while declining at home:

Sony has blamed the domestic downturn on competition (The Dark Knight Rises stealing Amazing Spider-Man 1‘s thunder, Captain America: Winter Soldier doing the same to ASM 2).  Others can accurately point out that maybe it’s a matter of quality (Amazing Spider-Man 2 earned the worst reviews in franchise history), and yet others can also simply say there have been too many Spider-Man films in too little time with too little differentiation between the Sam Raimi films and the new ones.  There are also continued whispers of studio tampering, the uneven qualities of Marc Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man films not being the fault of a novice director struggling to maintain a consistent tone but instead of producers forcing story elements and cuts on him.

The need to freshen the brand

amazing-spider-man-2-green-goblin

Sony knows they need to change things up at least a little.  If the overall knock on Marc Webb’s Spider-Man films has been that they’re too similar to the Raimi trilogy, Sony has certainly taken a step in a new direction as Drew Goddard’s Sinister Six promises to be unlike any Spider-Man-related film we’ve ever seen before.  If done right, it will be like The Dirty Dozen just with comic book supervillains instead of WWII era ex-soldier convicts.  Now, they are at least considering a superheroine movie.

Those are both good moves.  It’s just too bad that Sony is the one making them.  I say that partially for somewhat simplistic reasons.  I have not particularly liked either of the new Amazing Spider-Man films, and I enjoyed Spider-Man 3, just for all the wrong reasons.  Although those films share no commonalities in cast, writing, or directing, they were all produced by Avi Arad, a longtime Marvel Comics higher-up who left the mothership over a decade ago to oversee all of the Spider-Man films.  The fact that he’s still involved with all of these movies going forward leads me to revert to a knee-jerk response that his movies might simply not be for me, much in the same way some people reject Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (e.g., too joyless, needlessly somber) or all Michael Bay films (e.g., can’t tell which robot is which).

However, beyond my personal opinion of Sony’s recent Spider-Man films I also don’t know if the Spider-Man universe is really a good fit for a Dirty Dozens-like team-up about the villains or a solo film about one of the superheroines.

Working against the Sinister Six

As you’d expect, someone’s already done a list of 10 reasons why this movie is a bad idea:

  1. Didn’t Spider-Man 3 Already Have Too Many Villains?
  2. Are villains like Kraven the Hunter or Vulture even movie-worthy?
  3. Why are these particular villains the members?
  4. What are their goals?
  5. What about the Green Goblin knowing Spider-Man’s identity?
  6. Will Doctor Octopus be reduced to a lackey?
  7. Doesn’t Mysterio deserve his own movie?
  8. What about other interesting villains?
  9. Where would the Spider-Man franchise go from there?
  10. Do people want to see a Spider-Man film with little to no Spider-Man in it?

In general, Spider-Man has some of the best villains in all of comics, but they’re also some of the most thoroughly comic book-y villains (powers via freak accidents) who consistently present challenges to film adaptations.  Comics are overrun with super villain team-ups, but whereas something like Flash’s enemies getting together is always endearing for how mundane their goals are or the Suicide Squad sparkles with anti-heroism and dark humor the Sinister Six seem like a “Let’s kill Spider-Man because we’re evil!” kind of group.   That’s not very compelling for a movie.

Working for it

Drew Goddard.  He’s writing and directing, and as a Joss Whedon alum who worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel and directed Cabin in the Woods he deserves some respect.  Plus, he is reportedly as big of a Spider-Man comic nerd as they come.

Which Superheroines does Sony have the rights to?

Well, we’ve already met one of them: Felicity Jones’ pre-Black Cat version of Felicia Hardy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  She barely has any lines, and she mostly just helps Harry be a bad guy, but she’s there.  Here’s what Indiewire had to say about a potential Black Cat movie:

Black Cat

fekicity-jones-black-cat

Of the many franchise hints in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, the one people seem to gloss over is the introduction of rising star Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy. Fans know this to be the alter ego of criminal Black Cat, who has alternated between hero and villain during her 35-year-old history. Black Cat has had a full comic book career as a cat burglar and occasional superhero, and it would be yet another stab at DC if Marvel was able to grant this character her own adventure film while DC continued to ignore the commercial viability of a well-made “Catwoman” movie.

Beyond that, the truth is we don’t 100% know which characters Sony owns.  One source says one thing, and another says something else.  However, the Deadline report specifically named Silver Sable, Black Cat, Stunner, Firestar and Spider-Woman as candidates for a superheroine movie.  If you cynically believe that all of this information was handfed to Deadline by Sony largely for PR reasons then those specific characters must be ones Sony definitely has the rights to unless Deadline really was just speculating on its own in that area.

The biggest variable in all of this is Spider-Woman,  First of all, there have been a ton of different versions of her.  Second of all, despite her name she’s more of an Avengers character than a Spider-Man character, although the comics have recently introduced a version of Spider-Woman who is a female clone of Peter Parker and thus more intriciately connected to that side of the Marvel universe.  Some say Sony doesn’t have the rights whereas Indiewire recently claimed otherwise:

Spider-Woman

In the tricky game of rights roulette, Sony actually owns the film rights to all Marvel characters with the prefix “Spider-”. That includes this frequent Avengers member, who rarely, if ever, interacted with Spider-Man in the comics. Bearing little resemblance to her male counterpart, Jessica Drew (the most prominent of several characters bearing the Spider-Woman moniker at Marvel) was in fact a spy who had just uncovered the fact that she had been brainwashed, her past missing, a kind of female arachnid Jason Bourne, then, though the earlier comics featuring her character focussed on supernatural enemies, leaning towards horror and suspense. In recent years she’s represented more of a common costumed crimefighter, potentially enough to convince Sony that this is a character worth using, and not just a dumb brand extension

Conclusion

In all the recent hub-bub about the need for a female-led comic book movie not once when I was pondering a Wonder Woman, Black Widow, or Captain Marvel movie did I ever consider a Spider-Woman movie.  It just never occurred to me because all of Sony’s characters are so uniquely linked to Spider-Man.  Plus, Black Cat is such a blatant Catwoman rip-off that she seems to always take second position in my mind.  Now that Sony appears to be headed that direction I applaud their efforts while also finding myself annoyed that they are the ones going all in on this when I’d much prefer it come from one of the studios whose comic book movies I actually like.  However, the fact that I am relatively unfamiliar with the superheroines of the Spider-Man universe is kind of exciting to me.  I can go and read more about them now, or I can stay totally away and let a feature length film be my introduction much in the way that Marvel introduced me to Iron Man and Thor.  It’s a familiar position to be in, really, but the fact that the characters in question are female is completely new.

Sinister Six is due out 11/11/2016, this mystery (Black Cat?  Spider-Woman?) project some time in 2017, and Amazing Spider-Man 3 some time in 2018.

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5 comments

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for linking to my “10 Reasons Why ‘The Sinister Six’ Might Be a Bad Move for Sony’s Spider-Man Franchise” post. Like all comic book fans I want to believe these studios will make great comic movies, and we’ve been REALLY lucky over the past 10 years or so with a lot of great ones. My main concern is that Sony is looking at Disney’s, WB’s, and Fox’s attempts at “ensemble” superhero movies and assuming the only way to do Spider-Man is by following suit… instead of just embracing what makes Spider-Man great in the first place.

    Thanks again!

    1. No problem. You put together a fantastic list, and it was a great resource to me when writing the article. On the point about the world-building all the heavies are throwing together to catch up to Marvel, I am reminded of a recent Nerdist Writer’s podcast panel interview with Wolverine creators Chris Claremont and Len Wein. They were asked how they dealt with trying to tell a story in one of their comics while also having to honor whatever larger story arc Marvel was building through different books, and they both quickly replied, “That way madness lies!”

      Marvel Studios’ model is brilliant….but they have Kevin Feige and, to a lesser degree, Joss Whedon. They have someone capable of masterminding the whole thing to ensure that they always remember to first make the best individual movie possible. Even then, they did a crappy job of that with all the Avengers set-up in Iron Man 2. Even Guardians of the Galaxy strains every so slightly to stop everything and explain the Infinity Stones, although they made it work fairly well.

      Fox is trying to catch up with their team of Bryan Singer and Simon Kingberg (and Mark Millar), and WB is 100% backing Zack Snyder. Sony I already talked about in the article.

      But the key goal should always be to simply make the best movie possible, and they forgot to do that with Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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