STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Are We Heading To An Endgame? Part Three

2022 was a tumultuous year for the comic book film. In this four part series, William Gatevackes takes a look at the past, present and possible future of the genre. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

Sony

Ah, Sony. Poor, misbegotten Sony.

Both Disney and Warners have done some boneheaded things with their comic book properties, but at least they did them with style and elan. Sony’s mistakes are just sad. Pathetically sad.

You might take umbrage at the word “mistakes.” They partnered with Marvel Studios, right? Spider-Man: No Way Home almost broke $2 billion dollars, right? How can that be a mistake? Allow me to explain.

Lest we forget, No Way Home almost didn’t happen, at least not under Marvel Studios’ watchful eye. Remember, back in 2019 the partnership came close to ending after Marvel Studios asked for a bigger share of the profits. It was so dire press releases were sent making the break all but official. Only massive backlash from the fans and the personal involvement of Spider-Man actor Tom Holland made the parties change their mind. The studios renewed their agreement for at least one more movie with appearances from Spider-Man and other Sony Spider-characters in other MCU films and MCU characters appearing in Sony films.

Yes, Sony almost ruined a relationship that brought Spider-Man into the billion-dollar grosses club. Why would they do anything that dense? Because they think they can do as good a job as Marvel all by themselves and the other Spider-Man adjacent characters are as film worthy as the MCU characters.

Venom
Image courtesy Sony Studios

They are wrong on both counts, but you can see why they might think the latter. Venom, while absolutely lambasted by the critics, became a smash hit. The character’s inexplicable popularity carried over from the comics to the big screen, with his debut film making most 8 times its budget back. It’s sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, was also a hit (albeit with better reviews) and there will be a third Venom film coming in the future.

The success of Venom surprised me. The main popularity of the character in the comics, at least initially, came from his connection to Spider-Man. The Spider-Man adjacent character that would have the best chance to be able to stand on his own, I thought, was Morbius. A scientist with a rare blood disease who finds a cure that unfortunately turns him into a vampire? How can you screw that up?

Sony’s response to this- “Hold my beer.”

I don’t think Morbius is as bad as its 16% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes might indicate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good. But it’s more boring and listless than a Plan 9 From Outer Space-type debacle. Others might disagree–like the people who made the film an Internet sensation.

This is another one of Sony’s sad mistakes. The studio saw all the memes and jokes being made about Morbius and decided to rerelease the film. Whether they thought all the sarcastic posts calling Morbius the greatest movie ever were true or they thought the film would do better numbers with an influx of cash from all the people who would come out to hate watch it, the ploy failed. It bombed a second time.

And this was a character that I thought could work without a connection to Spider-Man. That’s the thing: Spider-Man does have one of the best supporting casts, and one of the best rogue’s galleries in comics. But they are only great in the sense how they relate to Spider-Man. Green Goblin is great because he is Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker’s best friend. The Lizard is Curt Conners, a friend of Peter Parker’s and Spider-Man’s that once saved Aunt May’s life. These elements are a large part of what makes these characters interesting.  Take Spider-Man out of the equation–and in some cases try to make the villain a hero–and you’ll fall flat on your face.

Image via Marvel Comics

Let’s take a look at Kraven the Hunter as an example. Kraven was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #15 as a big-game hunter hired to capture Spider-Man. He fails and Spider-Man becomes his white whale–the one “beast” he cannot subdue. This culminated in “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” the seminal storyline where Kraven finally wins, defeats Spider-Man with a tranquilizer gun, buries him alive, and assumes his identity. Spider-Man eventually digs himself out but Kraven considers it a victory. Having nothing left to live for after his great triumph, Kraven commits suicide.

Cheery, isn’t it? Well, it was the late 80’s, you know. But it was a good story, well written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck. Besides, Kraven didn’t stay dead (although his resurrection came around two decades after “Kraven’s Last Hunt”), but that storyline showed how the character really shined in his dynamic with Spider-Man.

And, quite frankly, comic book Kraven is a dick. While he has been portrayed at times in a heroic light, he has mostly been an arrogant asshole who would kill members of his own family if he thought they didn’t live up to his twisted sense of honor. Even him being a big game hunter doesn’t play as heroic in these days. Once, tracking and shooting an elephant was the height of machismo. now, it just means that you are…well…a dick.

I think the makers of the upcoming Kraven the Hunter (10/06/23) film know this, because in referring to his role as Kraven, Aaron Taylor-Johnson said that his Kraven was a “conservationist” and an “animal lover.” Yes, Sony is taking a character whose best story was designed by his obsession with Spider-Man and taking Spidey out of it, and whose comic book costume’s main feature is a vest made out of lion’s head and turning him into what they hope is an audience friendly animal loving conservationist. Sign me up.

The same also applies to the next live-action Spiderverse movie Sony has planned as well. Madame Web (2/16/24) is based on a lesser-known Spider-man supporting character, a mutant who has telepathic and precognitive abilities.  She is also portrayed as a septuagenarian suffering from myasthenia gravis who is blind and constrained to a chair with a web like series of tubes leading to it that keeps her alive. In the film, she will be played by 33-year-old Dakota Johnson, who, in paparazzi photos taken on the set, appears to be 100% mobile and be able to see perfectly.

The age differential between the film and comic book Madame Web let fans to come up with a theory that the film will be a time travel romp where Madame Web and three other women with spider powers will be going back in time to insure Peter Parker gets born.

And before any of you comic fans say that maybe Johnson is playing the Julia Carpenter version of Madame Web, Julia Carpenter is the character actress Sydney Sweeney is playing in the film, so, Johnson is playing the original. To make matters worse, the film is being written by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, the same pair that brought you Morbius. Oh, joy.

I know some of you might consider this me picking at nits. But if you have to change almost everything about a character just so it fits into your movie universe, you don’t really have a great character to fit into your movie universe.

Of course, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe isn’t all that great to begin with. It is a convoluted mess which has ill-defined rules and parameters. I mean, there has been more crossovers with the MCU that there has been within its own shared universe. Not that the crossovers made any logical sense.

First, Tom Hardy’s Venom was transported to the MCU during the mid-credits scene of Venom: Let There Be Carnage. He sees as news report about Spider-Man and how he killed Mysterio and decided that Venom will have to keep an eye on Peter Parker. That was exciting! Tom Hardy’s Venom facing off against Tom Holland’s Spider-Man? I don’t even like Venom that much and I would be hyped to see that.

Too bad that “looking into Spider-Man” thing only took Eddie as far as the hotel bar he was staying at (and only one movie). Because during the mid-credits scene for Spider-Man: No Way Home, Venom is zapped back to his own home, leaving a drop of the symbiote behind. Yes, these scenes weren’t done to set up a battle between the Tom Holland Spider-Man and Tom Hardy Venom. No, it was to provide the MCU with a Venom of its own so Sony can keep their version and not share their profits with Marvel. That kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.

Second, was the crossover that happened in the mid-credits sequence of Morbius. Michael Keaton’s Vulture, created and originated in the MCU, finds himself on Morbius’s earth after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. He meets up with Morbius, in full Vulture regalia, and explains that his teleportation had something to do with Spider-man, then suggest that he and Morbius team up to do some good. Morbius says he is intrigued.

Not to nitpick, but there isn’t really an in-continuity reason for the Vulture to be in Morbius and, presumably, Venom’s Earth (there is a line of dialogue in Morbius that refers to an incident in San Francisco, which is where Venom was set). The spell at the end of No Way Out was supposed to return the villains from other earths that knew Spider-Man’s identity back to their Earths, because that is what drew them to the MCU.

Technically, Venom shouldn’t have been brought over, but there is a theory on the Internet that all the Venom symbiotes across the multiverse have a hive-mind sort of thing, and Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock could have been connected to Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock and…well that’s good enough for me to stop thinking about it.

But Vulture, who did figure out Spider-Man’s secret identity, always lived in the MCU. He shouldn’t have been teleported anywhere. I mean, I won’t go into how Vulture got his flight gear teleported over, because since it was made from Chituari tech, which wasn’t available on Morbius’ world, so he couldn’t have made it there. But his appearance in this new universe defies explanation.

Image via Marvel Comics

Well, except one. Sony really, really, really wants to make a Sinister Six film. They will already have three members with Venom, Morbius and Kraven. Vulture makes it four without Sony have to introduce him into their continuity. That leaves two to go and the long-planned film that closer to be a reality.

Sony seems to be mortgaging that Spider-Man fans would rather see a Sinister Six film than have a continuity that is easy to understand and makes sense. That might not be a bet that pays off.

But the question is, how does this all connect? When the MCU started, you knew they were all in a shared universe. Here, everything is vague. We have no idea where Sony is going with this, what their long or short term plans are, or what the eend goal will be. It seems that they are keping things purposely unclear so they are not nailed down to anything and can move in whatever direction the fans want. That is a horrible idea.

It might not be all bad for Sony. It has one bright and shiny star its galaxy, and two more that have potential. The star, of course, is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and its sequels Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. The first film won a well-deserved Oscar and if its sequels are half as good, it will be better than most comic book films out there.

But Sony also has two intriguing properties that lend themselves well to Sony’s inability to use Spider-Man in their character’s backstory. First, El Muerto, whose film will be coming in Jnuary 12, 2024. Rapper Bad Bunny will play the character, who is a superpowered luchador that fights crime. The character has made all of two appearances in the comics, so he will be a blank slate Sony can mold whichever way it wants to bring it to the screen.

And Bad Bunny is a wrestling fan and has acquitted himself quite nicely in a few wrestling appearances he made in the WWE. So, there will be a certain sense of authenticity you wouldn’t normally get from another actor in the role.

Hypno Hustler
Image via Marvel Comics.

Next is Donald Glover’s Hypno-Hustler. Hypno-Hustler is a Spider-Man villain so obscure that he makes Madame Web appear as famous as Taylor Swift. Created in 1978 during the dying days of disco, Hypno-Hustler is a musician who can hypnotize people with his guitar. He uses this to hypnotize people at his shows so he can steal from them.

Definitely one of the goofiest characters to ever come from Marvel, it could play well if they let Glover’s comedic sensibilities go to work on the film. And like El Muerto, he has not made a lot of appearances. In his 45 years of existence, Hypno-Hustler only has appeared in 44 comic book issues. And a lot of those appearances was as background filler. There is not a lot of lore for Glover to be beholden to.

Conclusion

The smart move would have been bringing Marvel Studios on all the Spiderverse films, but that would cut into Sony’s profits. Instead, Sony is stuck trying to spin thread into gold without any idea on how to do it. Their track record in quality hasn’t been good with their live action releases, and it doesn’t look like it is going to improve in the near future.

Next

I’ll take a look at the films coming from non-Marvel or DC heroes. Can they save the comic book film? You can read that final part here.

Avatar für Bill Gatevackes
About Bill Gatevackes 2035 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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