The Spider-Man Custody Battle

Sarah Posted by Sarah at August 21, 2019 15:22:47 August 21, 2019 15:22:47

The most surprising entertainment marriage of the decade is the union between Sony and Marvel, who have co-produced Spider-Man together since rebooting the character in 2016 with Captain America: Civil War. Their marriage was medieval in that it was entirely about property acquisition, giving Marvel one of their marquee heroes back and building Sony’s most successful modern franchise. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, but alas. It was not to be. Like Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine before them, Sony and Marvel were destined for a bitter end, full of recrimination and regret. Their marriage is on the rocks, divorce seems imminent, and caught between them is Spider-Man. The rights belong to Sony, the question is if joint custody is at all possible.

This story has been all over the map since it broke late yesterday afternoon. Deadline
had the first report, stating that the deal was dead, with Sony quitting the negotiations table after Disney asked for a ludicrous 50% stake in future profits. Then i09 offered a slight revision, citing a source at Sony who claimed the deal was still in talks and the question was really about whether or not Kevin Feige would continue to receive producer credits on Sony movies. Then The Wrap came in hot with word from Disney’s side that they consider the “matter closed” (The Wrap’s report is written in conjunction with notorious superhero scooper Umberto Gonzalez). AND THEN The Hollywood Reporter echoed that sentiment from Sony as well. Finally, Jeremy Renner offered his two cents and I have not stopped screaming since:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jeremy Renner (@renner4real) on

Here’s what I can tell you based on years of backlot scuttlebutt—Sony and Marvel, as corporate entities, have never really gotten along. However well the creative teams work together, and that is debatable, and however much mutual admiration exists between Feige and Sony producer Amy Pascal, the vibe between the two studios has never been good. Based on a steady diet of stories of discord, I never expected this deal to be extended past its initial sell-by date, which with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home this summer, was imminent. Despite their mutual success over the last three years, I never once thought Sony and Marvel would agree to keep working together.

It seems counterintuitive from a fan’s perspective, but when you think about it from the studios’ points of view, continuing a shared arrangement really doesn’t make any sense. Sure, it would be great for Spider-Man, and the MCU, to have Peter Parker around a little longer—fans love Tom Holland! He’s been a huge asset! But corporations do not care about your feelings, so throw that line of reasoning right out the window. Consider only what each side gets from this arrangement, and what they would want going forward.

For Disney, it’s money. They still own the Spidey merchandising rights, so they get the toy money—which is the REALLY valuable asset—whether they co-produce the movies or not. And under the current terms, they only get a negligible 5% slice of the Spidey pie. To put that in perspective, Far From Home has made $1.1 billion to date, which means Marvel gets $55 million. RDJ made more than that for Avengers: Endgame. They’re not even getting RDJ money out of this deal. OF COURSE they asked for a much bigger slice of the pie: to them, they’re doing all the work and not even making actor money for it.

But for Sony it’s not just about money, it’s also about CREDIT. Don’t get me wrong, they need the money, too. Sony doesn’t have a lot of franchises going right now. Far From Home is their most successful movie EVER, and their most valuable asset. Ghostbusters, Charlie’s Angels, and Jumanji are currently in wait-and-see status. Men in Black: International was DOA, so that franchise is indefinitely garbage. Spider-Man is their only reliable franchise revenue stream at present. They simply cannot afford to give up 50% of the profits.

And they want ALL the credit. I have heard repeatedly over the years that Sony chief Tom Rothman LOATHES the public perception that the success of Spider-Man is all down to Feige and Marvel. The resentment is real. Every assumption about the state of this deal must be filtered through the lens of this resentment. This isn’t just about dollars and cents. There are egos, BIG egos, involved. Rothman, and by extension Sony, want to appear in control of their own franchise, thank you very much. They are tired of the fans celebrating Marvel and merely tolerating Sony as the necessary evil to have everything they want. 

And it’s not totally unbelievable that they think they can handle Spider-Man without Marvel. They turned Venom into an $856 million hit. They won an Oscar for Into the Spider-Verse. They are currently producing Morbius, another Spider spin-off, without Marvel. The fact that Feige’s uncredited assistance has been cited for these projects is part of the problem. Sony doesn’t want to share credit anymore. One consistent element of these reports is that Sony wants to drop Feige as a credited producer. Kevin Feige reportedly loves Spider-Man a lot, and he is a relatively chill dude, so MAYBE he would go for that, just to keep his hand on the wheel. But why would Disney ever accept those terms? What’s in it for them, if not money, which Sony doesn’t want to share, and recognition/publicity, which Sony no longer wants to give? Feige has plenty to do at home. Why send him to play across the street when Disney gets nothing for it? 

All this leaves the future of Peter Parker uncertain. Assuming the deal is dead, there is no reason Sony can’t continue with the plot twist introduced at the end of Far From Home. However, there would be no more Avengers crossovers, and no more MCU characters popping into Spidey movies. Aunt May and Happy Hogan really are just a summer fling. The question is how tolerant Disney/Marvel will be of Sony continuing to imply MCU connections, even if they can’t share characters anymore. Will Disney let them imply the Spider-Verse is part of the MCU? Or will they insist on a hard Spidrexit? 

And with those MCU connections gone, will people even be interested in this version of Spidey? We know Spider-Man can work on his own, but THIS iteration of the character is entirely dependent on being part of the Avengers. Venom suggests people will still support it even without overt MCU connections, but we’ll see. No one really expected Captain America to pop up in Venom, but that has been an entirely reasonable assumption in the two solo Spidey movies. 

This could all turn out to be negotiating in the press, though the late-night finger-pointing is not promising. Neither studio has any real reason to compromise, except to make the fans happy, and they don’t give a sh-t about the fans. One cool trailer and all is forgiven anyway. And there is one last wrinkle to this mess—the state of Sony’s finances. Ever since Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida ascended to power in early 2018, there have been persistent rumors that Sony Pictures could be on the chopping block. Even if the Marvel-Sony deal dies today, who is to say that Disney doesn’t end up just buying Sony down the line? It’s a chilling thought, but not outside the realm of possibility. For now, though, it looks like Sony and Marvel’s joint custody of Spider-Man is dust.


 


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