The great Woody Allen famously stated, intelligently, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." By that logic, the Movie Gods must have been rolling on the floor like audience members at a Richard Pryor concert the day Marvel President Kevin Feige took the stage at the El Capitan to meticulously map out the next five years of Marvel movies, stretching from May’s release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron to the conclusion of the two-part The Avengers: Infinity War on May 3, 2019. It’s an ambitious plan, with several interlocking pieces that easily could have been blown off course if something peculiar happened.
You know, like Sony finally deciding that they were willing to share Spider-Man with the MCU.
Initially, this news was cause for celebration! Marvel finally could use one of its most popular – if not THE most popular – superheroes in its sprawling assortment of cinematic adventures. Spider-Man was back home, after years of Sony trying (unsuccessfully) to mirror the MCU and create its own Web-based spinoff universe. News spread that a new version of Spider-Man likely would appear in Captain America: Civil War, setting up a solo Spider-Man movie set to reach theaters on July 28, 2017. But with great power comes great responsibility… and a great amount of really important questions.
Do you think that Marvel – mainly, Marvel President Kevin Feige – had two potential narratives in play behind the scenes at Marvel? We know for sure there was a Plan A, which looked exactly like the one Feige mapped out at the El Capitan that fateful day. But was there also a contingency Plan B, should Marvel’s efforts to secure Spider-Man ever came to pass? The arrival of Spider-Man as an asset to the MCU means Marvel Studios, as a whole, needs to shift gears. Did Feige already anticipate this next gear? Or are they heading back to the drawing board to make major tweaks to the storyline what would have brought them up to the Infinity Wars?
But adding Spider-Man shouldn’t cause problems, right? It should only benefit the MCU. Well, yes and no. Looking at the movies announced in Phase Three, Marvel Studios seemed to want to expand its scope. Doctor Strange was going to open doors to a supernatural realm. Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy 2 sequel were going to continue exploring the interplanetary corners of the MCU. Black Panther was perfectly positioned to springboard into the two-part Avengers: Infinity War story, with Inhumans landing near the end of that run. In contrast, Spider-Man is – and should continue to be – a hero grounded in the streets of New York City. While Marvel Studios by no means needs to do an origin story, ramping Spidey up to compete with the expanding worlds of the Avengers or the Guardians would be a mistake. For this reason, I almost think Spidey would be a great fit for the Netflix series Marvel is doing, if the budget would allow for some improved production values.
By dropping Spider-Man into that covered July 2017 slot, also, everything else in the MCU took a step backwards – and if there’s destined to be continuity in the Marvel Universe, that had to create more than a few hiccups. Thor’s storyline shouldn’t be drastically affected. No matter what happens to the Asgardian at the end of Age of Ultron, he will continue with Thor: Ragnarok… just in November of 2017 instead of July. Captain Marvel and Black Panther, however, are sliding back to the studio’s backburner, and I’m sure that the studio’s plans for Chadwick Boseman are being reconfigured as you read this.
All of this might be for the better. Having Spider-Man at their disposal could mean that Marvel can now complete a vision that they had HOPED to deliver to fans, a massive on-screen team up that pits several major Marvel heroes against Thanos. (I’m still going to miss seeing the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in that Battle Royale, when it finally happens.) But by jumping the gun, perhaps in competition with DC, and by showing all of their Phase Three cards much sooner than they had to, I wonder if Marvel Studios created a planning and scheduling headache that easily could have been contained to the boardrooms of the massively successful studio?