Good news everyone. After all the worry that Spider-Man spin-offs Venom and Silver & Black (Starring Silver Sable and Black Cat) would not be connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Producer Amy Pascal says they are:
"Both movies will now take place in the world that we are creating for Peter Parker." Pascal explained. "They'll be adjuncts to it, they may be different locations, but it will still all be in the same world. And they will be connected to each other as well."
When asked if that meant that Peter Parker himself, Tom Holland, would appear in Sony's spinoff films, Pascal offered a pretty optimistic tease.
"There's always a chance. I think one of the things that Kevin has done with Marvel that's so brilliant, is bringing the fans along, and making each movie feel like a chapter in a book. That you have to read that chapter in order to go forward. And I think the investment that fans get to feel in being part of a larger story and understanding what's happening, is something that I know Sony would want to emulate."
Time to celebrate right? No, not quite. Judging by the look on Kevin Feige's face, this seemed to be news to him as well. And if Kevin Feige doesn't know about it, then it ain't happening in the MCU. Sure, maybe that was Feige's "Whoa, slow down, don't tell them what we have planned" face but, we've seen Feige pulling people's strings before. Every year he gives the same 'Maybe we will, maybe we won't' answer about putting Netflix characters into the movies. And every year sites post articles about his answer as if its that much different from what he said the year before. That's not what this was.
Let’s start off by being clear on what Amy Pascal said. At no point in that statement does Pascal flatly say that Venom, Silver & Black or any of their other planned spin-offs will be in the MCU. She said that Venom and Silver & Black run “adjunct” to Spider-Man: Homecoming. That's not a word that's really been used to describe the rest of the MCU whose motto has been "It's all connected". I don’t read that as those films are in the MCU but rather that Sony is trying drift behind the MCU and ride the waves without doing any work. Sony is in essence trying to build a "Shadow Universe" that follows alongside the MCU without actually being in the MCU.
Let's be honest here and call out what Sony is doing. Sony is unfortunately playing the same game Fox did with the X-Men. All throughout the development of X-Men: First Class, Fox refused to give a straight forward answer as to whether the movie was a reboot or a prequel. To this day there isn’t a straight answer to that. Just when you think you’ve locked down the X-Men continuity and timeline, they do something to throw you for a loop (Like throw a callback to X-Men: Origins into Logan). The benefit of this is short term. Fans will excuse the first few films because they can convince themselves what is and isn't connected. But the longer this goes on the more of a mess it makes of the continuity and fans will eventually get annoyed. Fox has so far been able to get away with this because
a) Most of their movies are critically praised
b) All of their movies revolve around extremely popular characters.
Sony isn't so lucky.
Out of the four studios making movies with comic book characters, Sony is the odd man out. Marvel Studios/Disney have all the Avengers in the MCU. The marketing machines of Marvel & Disney have made the Avengers more popular than they've ever been. Fox has the X-Men and just about every mutant ever created. Ironically, Fox is like Hydra. Even if one of their film franchises fail *cough* Fantastic Four *cough*, two more franchises can be spun up (Deadpool and soon New Mutants). Warner Brothers has all of DC universe. Even when they stumble, they'll always have other characters and opportunities to bounce back with. Sony only has Spider-Man. Now to be fair, Spider-Man is one the most, if not THE most popular superhero of all time. So Sony should be in a great position. But with every other studio making comic book cinematic universes, Sony wants in on the action as well. Problem is, Spider-Man is their one A-list character surrounded by a bunch of role players. This is where the lost art of developing solo standalone super hero movies involving characters from DC and Marvel bite Sony in the ass. Characters from Marvel & DC are typically written to interact with other characters in their respective universes on the pages of comics so it makes sense that cinematic universes would spin up. But that only works if:
a) A studio has enough foundational characters on which to build a cinematic universe
b) They have the willingness to plan out the universe.
Right now Sony seems to be lacking both. That’s why the deal with Marvel Studios to put Spider-Man in Civil War and to take over creative Control for Sony for Spider-Man: Homecoming was such a great break for Sony. Peter Parker was no longer on an island by himself. Fans finally get to see Peter Parker interacting with a larger universe and characters that he normally interacts with. We just talked about how the first appearances of Kingpin and Punisher were both in Spider-Man comics, yet both of those characters are back home with Marvel. And while there's no plan for Spider-Man to interact with those characters in Netflix, the possibility is still there where it wasn't before.
But now Sony is stuck. If Homecoming is as successful as they're hoping it to be, that means their success is tied to the MCU. From a fan point of view it sounds great but business-wise, it ties their hands. At any point, Marvel Studios could walk away and leave Sony back on an island by itself. So, at some point, Sony has to take the training wheels off and survive on their own. That's where Venom and Silver & Black come in. Sony wants to prove they can make Spider-Man-related movies without the MCU. But they won't fully commit to that because they know that the MCU is why all the excitement is even here for a 6th spider-man movie in 15 years. Take Spider-Man out of the MCU and does anyone care about a Spider-Man movie much less one involving side characters?
Now I’m not saying that a movie with two female protagonists and a black female director can’t make it on its own. Gina Prince-Bythewood is the first black woman to helm a superhero film. The lack of female-led super hero films and female directors of those movies (Particularly women of color) means the field is wide open. Sure, part of Wonder Woman's success was that she's the most iconic female superhero of all time and there was a 40 year wait for a live action film. But it also proved what Hollywood should have already known: Films centered on women directed by women are a huge untapped market. If Sony puts money behind Prince-Bythewood in terms of budget (AND MARKETING), Silver & Black will enter into opening weekend with a swell of support before the first review even drops. And as films, movies like Silver & Black or Venom could be good stand-alone movies. The problem is, Sony seems to be confused by what they want to do with these films and how they want to present them. They're basically tying Prince-Bythewood's hands behind her back before her film is even cast. Think about it, even Suicide Squad knew they couldn't do a film full of Batman villains and not have Batman show up at least a couple of times. Pascal can't even confirm that Tom Holland's Spider-Man will show up at some point.
There are of course some obvious solutions to this. Sony could say these films are set long after a Spider-Man: Homecoming trilogy. A time jump would establish an older Peter Parker is Spider-Man that wouldn't interfere with the MCU but still be able to reference things for a loose connection. An even better option would be to “kill off” Peter in this universe and bring in Miles Morales. This solves a lot of problems right away. You can't make a cinematic universe with Spider-Man villains and bench players with no Spider-Man. But the beauty of Spider-Man is, anyone can be Spider-Man under the mask.
Miles taking over the mantle for Peter means that Peter Parker needs to be established which is already happening with Homecoming. They can easily run through a trilogy of films with Tom Holland while at the same time starting their own universe with Miles as the kid under the mask (Set Mile's movies up as happening after the trilogy). The MCU Spider-Man trilogy could come to an end with Peter being killed and a young Miles Morales witnessing it. Sony could up the ante then by bringing in Spider-Gwen. She’s popular, gives Sony another female character to play with and is from an alternate reality that gives Sony even more options. Miles & Gwen in a movie together would not only make bank but will ease some of the feelings of "Peter Parker over-saturation".
Sony actually has a lot of “outside the box” options that they could go with that don't require them to try grasping at the coattails of the MCU. The problem is, Sony has given no indication that they’re going this route and their history isn’t exactly inspiring confidence. (Hillary Clinton isn't the only one with hacked emails that make people think twice) What’s going to kill the "Cinematic Universe Fad" isn’t the “cut & paste” formula but rather poor planning. Sony hasn’t shown the patience or the planning to pull this off. Remember, Sony was also thinking about a “Ghostbuster’s Cinematic Universe” as well.
Just throwing a bunch of loosely connected ideas together doesn't make it a cinematic universe. There has to be a formula. Obviously Marvel Studios is a master of this with their long term planning and various "Phases" that all connect together. DC seems to be coming around to understanding that putting one person in charge at the top who can see all the pieces and plan out the general direction is the way to go. Even Fox seems devoted to sticking with the X-Men films moving up through the decades while being able to make movies like Deadpool that reference the X-Men but don't really tie in. Sony on the other hand just seems lost and at this point, I need for them to "Show not Tell" when it comes to their planned universe. They also need to realize that without a plan, Feige and Marvel Studios isn't going to let Sony use them for cover. The MCU is a carefully constructed brand and Sony won't be allowed to ruin that with poorly thought out plans.