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This weekend, a very loose rumor circulated that Sony was canceling The Sinister Six as a potential spinoff to the troubled Amazing Spider-Man series. That would leave Sony with two (or more, or less!) direct follow-ups to The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as a spinoff featuring the character of Venom. It's unclear what would happen with those three other films. But The Sinister Six should have a leg up, given that much of the not-very-successful The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spent time teasing a villain free-for-all. Sony has made a number of dubious decisions regarding the Spider-Man films. Pulling the plug on The Sinister Six could very well be the worst.
The Sinister Six has been linked to a potential January shoot, to be written and directed by Drew Goddard. It was recently revealed that it would definitely hit theaters before the Alex Kurtzman Venom. And it has been suggested as an able replacement for The Amazing Spider-Man 3, that film in limbo following the dwindling box office numbers of solo Spidey adventures. You could see how Sony would be reluctant to take a chance on extending the brand with a comic book ensemble film featuring lesser-known b-and-c list characters, and villains at that.
Even by default, The Sinister Six is the best of all these ideas. But default isn't necessary. Six mastermind Drew Goddard is one of the hottest, most talented and most desired filmmakers in Hollywood. Like potential Venom director Alex Kurtzman, Goddard came up through JJ Abrams' world of Alias and Lost, becoming an in-demand scribe with scripts like Cloverfield. Unlike Kurtzman, who previously helmed the artificial drama People Like Us, Goddard has actually directed a good movie: his Cabin In The Woods is one of the most purely enjoyable cult classics of the last decade. Goddard's already had to cede the Daredevil Netflix series and the Matt Damon vehicle The Martian for a chance to make The Sinister Six. Clearly, someone's made him a promise.
Sony's got the chance to play in a sandbox that no one's ever seen before. The comic book movies have been so beholden to an already-established mythology that you'd think it were Scripture. But the Spider-Man villains have never really been star attractions in the comics, even though Spidey fights a diverse and colorful band of baddies every week. On one level, you'd be at a loss to think of how they'd function without Spider-Man as the focal point of the story.
On another level, there were the wonderful statements Alex Kurtzman recently said about the film, comparing it to The Wild Bunch and The Wages Of Fear. That's worth noting because the characters in those films are unsavory, but never flat-out evil. You side-eye them, but soon you root for them and their struggles. Decades of film have taught us that it doesn't matter if a protagonist is a saint or a sinner: audiences will cheer a character as long as they are good at their job.
Kurtzman's reference points also emphasize that this might not be a "superhero" film, per se, making it a difficult challenge for the studio. But they also illustrate that this could still be a genre film, specifically one that employs a large, skilled ensemble. Why couldn't it be a heist film? A con-man film? Spider-Man is usually confined to New York, but a team of villains could travel the globe. The Sinister Six are coming to New York, but first they have to go on an adventure that takes them to Egypt, Borneo, Shanghai, etc. Maybe they have to fight another classic Spidey rogue, one who is just far too demented for their crew?
They've also got a pretty good foundation thus far. A Venom movie would live or die based on its leading man. The Sinister Six would rely more heavily on writing and characterizations, and those haven't been the strong suit for this series. Raimi's villains were fully dimensional, redeemable figures, and you had the sense the movies actually liked and respected them: witness the sand formation sequence of Spider-Man 3. The newer films have been more callous and dismissive of their baddies, as Lizard was ultimately a monster and Electro a sympathetic loner-turned-special effect. But assuming the Green Goblin and the Rhino are two of the villains, Sony could employ blossoming leading man Dane DeHaan and beloved character actor Paul Giamatti, not to mention Felicity Jones' Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat. That's a great start already, leaving you only three more roles to cast.
Which opens the door to Spidey's wonderful coterie of bad guys. What about Quentin Beck, the bitter failed actor-turned-illusionist who turned his special effect-expertise into a preposterous criminal identity as Mysterio? The frustrated scientist Herman Schultz, who becomes a burglar after inventing vibrational gloves that dub him the Shocker? Ex-Nazi Fritz Von Meyer, who picks up beekeeping, only to be karmically ravaged by a batch of mutant bees and turned into the ethereal Swarm? Or perhaps Sergei Kravinoff, the big game hunter known as Kraven who seeks a challenge by hunting Spider-Man for sport, later taking his own life upon achieving his goal of shackling the wall-crawler? And then Dmitri, Kraven's half-brother with shapeshifting abilities known as Chameleon, who plots revenge so insidious it nearly destroys Peter Parker's life? These aren't just seat-fillers – there's meat on these bones, and several Spider-Man villains have arcs appealing to a strong actor. There's also a solid bench, given that ideally there would be sequels.
What does this mean for The Amazing Spider-Man 3? What about part four? And that Venom movie? Read on for what we think might happen to this universe.
As far as The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 4, It seem like the jury's spoken in regards to Marc Webb's vision for Spider-Man, bogged down in parental intrigue that interests no one. Andrew Garfield has tried his hardest, but he hasn't been able to make people forget Tobey Maguire. Webb's direction isn't entirely to blame, but this series went from an automatic $300 million plus in America under Raimi to barely hobbling to the $200 million mark with 3D prices. And it's not as if Webb's films spend less money – well, they do, since Amazing Spider-Man 2's reported price-tag of $250 million is lower than the alleged $258 million cost of Spider-Man 3. But that's nobody's idea of cheaper, particularly since Sony spent a raftload on promoting the latest film. Webb had a LOT of help to make a smash, and this movie wasn't that: unfortunately Spider-Man is too fragile a property to just dump one director for another, especially with the tight release date frame.
And the character of Venom is wardrobe: audiences have no warm feelings for when he showed up in Spider-Man 3 played by a jittery Topher Grace. Venom isn't nearly the pop culture sensation he was in the nineties, particularly given how Marvel Comics overdosed on the antihero in that decade, and have thus far kept him on supporting casts in recent years. Series producer Avi Arad has kept Venom a top priority at Sony, forcing him into Raimi's third film instead of Raimi's preferred villain combo of Sandman and the Vulture, and teasing his arrival in the new films. But it's not like there are stacks of great Venom stories waiting to be told. Once you introduce his murderous enemy Carnage, you've painted yourself into a storytelling corner where you have to keep introducing symbiote-based characters like a clown car.
If there's any truth to this rumor, then it could be one of many dominoes falling. The announcement of The Sinister Six and the Venom movie were borne out of confidence for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Since that confidence was unwarranted, maybe Sony is putting the kibosh on Venom too. Or maybe the studio is just flat-out giving Spidey a rest. Spider-Man was a big deal because we saw the earlier movies at a time when the schedule wasn't littered with superhero movies. Sony should probably let us miss him a bit so that we can actually want him back. Populating his universe with interesting stories independent of his appearance might be the best strategy. The Sinister Six gives Sony the best opportunity to achieve this.