Spider-Man Survived Thanos, But Got Caught in Hollywood’s Web

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Spider-Man Survived Thanos, But Got Caught in Hollywood’s Web

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Spider-Man is your friendly neighbourhood superhero, and he’s meant to rescue us ordinary folk, not the other way around. Even so, I woke up today to see #SaveSpiderMan trending worldwide on Twitter. At first, I dismissed it as a promotional activity, but the panicked tweets soon alerted me to the fact that the webslinger had come up against a foe whom he could not triumph. Since Tom Holland’s version of the character made his debut in 2016’s Civil War, Spider-Man has gone toe-to-toe with Captain America, fought through Mysterio’s fog of illusion and deception, and survived being turned into dust by Thanos, but none of this prepared him for his worst enemy yet: Studio executives.

The panic to #SaveSpiderMan was sparked by a fallout between two Hollywood megastudios: Sony and Marvel. The former owns the right to the character, as well as the rights to financing the movies and reaping the profits, while the latter gets to integrate one of their most popular characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Disney, Marvel’s parent company, offered to co-finance future Spider-Man films with Sony and share in the profits, Sony refused outright, leading to Disney, and by extension Marvel, to walk away from the negotiating table short one wisecracking arachnid superhero.

But who is the real winner here? Fighting over Spider-Man might be a path to mutually assured destruction for Sony and Marvel. Marvel loses its most bankable property for future projects, and Sony will have to now churn out a Spider-Man film without the added draw of MCU characters crossing over, and more importantly, without the Midas touch of Marvel president Kevin Feige.

The panic to #SaveSpiderMan was sparked by a fallout between two Hollywood megastudios: Sony and Marvel.

Sony wresting back control of Spider-Man from Marvel is a Pyrrhic victory, one which not only diminishes the combatants, but also the bystanders. For the fans who have made Tom Holland’s Spider-Man the most popular incarnation of the superhero, the prospect of a Spidey-free MCU is as appetising as a burger without the meat. Something about Holland’s portrayal endears him to the audience, as evidenced by his latest outing in the role in Spider-Man: Far from Home becoming Sony’s highest-grossing film ever, raking in over a billion dollars and dwarfing anything featuring the previous Spider-Men, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. The break-up of Holland and the MCU is hardest Hollywood split we’ve had to get over since Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Naturally, distraught fans did what comes naturally to them in 2019 – file a petition to keep Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU on Change.Org.

Negotiations between the studios haven’t concluded yet, but at this point, Spider-Man swinging out of the MCU is all but confirmed, online petitions notwithstanding. The actor with the stamp of approval from Stan Lee himself, and the love and support of millions of fans, who was supposed to carry the MCU after Iron Man and Captain America’s exits, might now soon follow them out. To compare, imagine if Virat Kohli retired from cricket alongside his predecessor MS Dhoni. The Indian team would be a rudderless ship, which might be the fate awaiting the MCU without a hero who was shaping up to be one of its cornerstones.

If there is a single positive in this tangled web (excuse me), it’s that there are still two Spider-Man movies slated for release in the coming years, and they’re likely to retain Tom Holland. How Sony manages without Marvel, and the seemingly inextricable bonds this version of Spider-Man has to the MCU, is yet to be seen. Jon Watts, the director of Homecoming and Far from Home – the two Spider-Man films that have been released so far – is less likely to return than Holland, raising more doubts about whether the franchise will be the same after this behind-the-scenes upheaval. But Sony also released the excellent Oscar-winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse last year, proving that they are capable of using what is arguably Marvel’s most-loved character with weaponised efficiency.

For us, today has been a cruel lesson in how the studio’s obsession with fattening their own purse can wreak havoc upon even the best-laid plans. It was a reminder that we, the fans, don’t call the shots; that’s left to stuffed suits in polished boardrooms. They wield the power of life and death over our favourite characters and properties. Our lot is to hope that Sony, and the other studios, remember the line made famous by Spider-Man himself: “With great power comes great responsibility.”