Spider-Man is one of the most popular and adored superheroes worldwide, amassing nearly $4 billion worldwide in his five cinematic adventures, alongside a slew of popular television series, video games and the near-never ending success of Spider-Man merchandise. However, due to the wall crawler's cinematic rights being held by Sony Pictures, many fans reluctantly believed for many years that we’d never see Peter Parker share the screen with his fellow Marvel heroes, such as Iron Man and Captain America. But now, with Spider-Man: Homecoming having swung the character back into the hearts and mind of moviegoers, it’s important to examine just how this Sony/Marvel dead came to be, and how Spider-Man was finally integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Since gaining the rights to the character in 1999, Sony Pictures had maintained a firm grip on Spider-Man ever since, producing the widely popular Tobey Maguire series of movies, and even after the critical failure of Spider-Man 3, and the breakdown of director Sam Raimi’s relationship with the studio, Sony were able to stave off any potential concerns, with the rebooted ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ series, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield. However, this is where the cracks began to show. For example, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed to live up to the commercial success of its predecessors (grossing little over $700m worldwide, compared to its predecessors $758m gross with a much smaller budget), and failed to impress critics and fans alike. In addition, it appeared that the Sony Executives (after 15 years at the helm) had began to run out of ideas with the character, and were simply treading water, while also promising a slew of spin-offs and standalone projects, including Sinister Six, Venom and the dreaded Aunt May prequel film.
While Raimi’s Spider-Man series (alongside Bryan Singer’s original ‘X-Men’ trilogy) were very much at the forefront of the superhero movie genre in the early 2000s, the subsequent years became dominated by a new player in the genre, as Marvel Studios began to produce films themselves, as opposed to licensing characters to other studios as they had done with the aforementioned franchises. Beginning in 2008 with the release of ‘Iron Man’, the MCU evolved into Hollywood’s most successful franchise, grossing over $11 billion (as of the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). With Sony’s success with Peter Parker stagnating, and Marvel becoming the gold standard of superhero movies, rumblings began in late 2014 about a possible deal between the two companies.
In November 2014, several high-profile Sony Executives’ email accounts were hacked, with the contents of said emails being leaked. One of the major developments of the Sony Hack was the debate over the future of Spider-Man. Several sources indicated that Sony was evaluating whether to proceed with the series’ third reboot in less than a decade, after supposedly firing Andrew Garfield following an alleged dispute with-then Sony chief Kaz Hirai, and the possibility of bringing Sam Raimi back to return the series to prominence. However, the most notable of the leaks came in the form of discussions between Amy Pascal (co-chairman of Sony Pictures) and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. It was revealed that Feige (a former executive producer on the Spider-Man films) had sent messages prior to the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2, offering his constructive criticism towards the film, stating that “There are too many story lines and we need to choose which ones we are focusing on and lift out the other ones”, and proposing changes to the film’s story, with a heavier focus on Peter and Harry Osborn’s friendship, and simplifying the subplot involving Peter’s parents. While many of Feige’s suggestions were not acted upon, it established a known link of communication between the two studios.
According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Feige later approached Pascal and Sony with an offer; “have Sony pay for the movie, distribute the movie, market the movie. Just let us make the movie and incorporate him into our universe” Originally, Pascal was apprehensive about losing full control over the property, and still discussed the possibility of a new rebooted Spider-Man trilogy; but later formally agreed to Feige’s proposal, just as she was ousted from her role as co-chairperson in early 2015.
With the future of Spider-Man now under the guidance of Marvel, the studio wasted little time integrating him into their colossal shared universe, appearing briefly in 2016’s epic ‘Captain America: Civil War’, where he fought alongside Tony Stark and a team comprised of War Machine, Black Panther, The Vision and Black Widow. This giant team-up movie gave us the first on screen glimpse of the moments envisaged by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in 1962, reimagined for the modern age of the genre. Marvel Studios’ rendition of Spider-Man very much grounds itself in the contemporary, but with one eye back to the character’s heritage, returning Spider-Man to his roots, in many ways. For instance, while the sleek-Stark Tech suit we see Spidey wear in the film fits with the hi-tech aesthetic of many superhero movie costumes, the costume has a distinctly classic feel to it, harking back to the original designs by Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr., incorporating small stylistic elements such as the much smaller logo, and the much smaller eyes (in contrast to the Amazing Spider-Man’s Mark Bagley inspired design), reminds us the Spider-Man who saved the day long before Tobey Maguire swung onto our screens back in 2002.
In many unique ways, Marvel have brought Spider-Man back to his roots, and this is noticeable in Homecoming, also; with the inclusion of under-arm webbing on the costume, as well as grounding this incarnation of Peter Parker in high school, a period of which both previous series’ have quickly sought to move on from, and yet, is such an iconic period of the character’s legacy. The Spider-Man we became familiarised to in Civil War, and came to adore in Homecoming stands apart from that of Maguire or Garfield, and not to the disservice of their performances, but in the reinstatement of the coming of age nature of the character which many fans, particularly those who grew up relating to the everyday, young-adult struggles of Peter Parker, have come to identify with the character.
And it’s very much a testament to Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal, and everyone involved in bringing both Sony and Marvel together, and working together in order to finally bring us a cinematic Spider-Man who leaps from the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, but still lands in present-day Queens, New York; straight into the modern-day world of The Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s because of this, that we’re able to finally say that Spider-Man is truly home.