Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable superheroes out there and easily one of the most financially successful ones on the big screen. Sony's series of films, especially Sam Raimi's trilogy, acted as a forerunner to the comic book movie age we are now enjoying. Yet after the critically and commercially disappointing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony came to a deal with Marvel Studios to share the character, which brought Spider-Man to the MCU with actor Tom Holland. But as we've seen, just because Spider-Man is busy fighting alongside the Avengers, that doesn't mean that Sony is going to let all of its other Spider-related assets gather dust.
This fall, Sony will release Venom, the first film in a rapidly growing cinematic universe that will seemingly be devoid of Spider-Man. Venom is just the start, and recently, the reports, rumors and announcements of Sony's Spider-Man Universe films are coming fast and furious. To this point, the Spider-Man spinoff films on the radar are Venom, Morbius, Silver and Black, Nightwatch, and Silk. Sony seems to have a lot of things in the works to maximize its Spider-Man film rights, but what are we to make of this growing Spider-Man universe?
We don't have a lot of information right now and there are more questions than answers, but just based on what we know about Venom and what's been reported on, we can begin to make some preliminary judgments about how things are shaping up. Here's the best and worst of Sony's growing Spider-Man universe.
BEST: Going Dark And Serious
We still don't know if Venom will be rated R, but from what we've seen so far, from the lack of jokes to Eddie Brock's battle with an inner demon to even the color palette, it is clear that this movie will be dark in tone. It looks like a horror movie, and with Morbius likely to follow Venom, as well as the other movies on the docket, it becomes clear that Sony isn't going for lighthearted and optimistic. While the DCEU quickly did a tonal about-face after Batman v Superman, I personally didn't think the dark and gritty tone was the problem. A character like Morbius, with a morally complex and personal story, demands a serious tone. If Sony's Spider-verse has the conviction to really go dark with its content, then it will stand out from the other superhero cinematic universes by telling the kinds of stories they can't.
WORST: Relying Mostly On Anti-Heroes
So far it seems clear that Sony is going all-in on anti-heroes for its cinematic universe. Heck, the trailer for Venom literally has a sequence of title cards that read "Embrace Your Inner Anti-Hero." As I've said, going dark and serious tonally is a positive idea, but my concern is whether or not you can build a whole cinematic universe relying mostly on anti-heroes. Movies like Logan and Deadpool have shown how great anti-hero stories can be, but I wonder if you don't need some contrast within the universe. Wolverine has the X-Men, Punisher has Daredevil, but who will be the counterpoint to the anti-heroes in Sony's universe? This may have to do with the deal with Marvel, but Sony's universe doesn't seem to be using Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, Spider-Woman or any of the more traditional hero types with the possible exception of Silk. This may not be an issue, but it is something to consider.
BEST: Introducing Cool, Lesser Known Characters
Spider-Man's supporting players are some of the most recognizable in comics. But with the exception of Venom, Sony's Spider-verse isn't tackling the likes of Doc Ock or Green Goblin, instead focusing on lesser-known characters that haven't yet had a chance to shine on the big screen. Characters like Nightwatch, Silver Sable and Silk have little name recognition or cultural resonance. This is exciting because these characters will feel fresh to audiences and different from what else is out there and what's come before. Even those who know the source material are intrigued to see how these characters will be adapted. The character choices are interesting too, especially a tragic character like Morbius, who provides an opportunity to tell a new kind of comic book story onscreen. Silver and Black is also something different, and as long as it doesn't continue to suffer delays, it could be the first comic book movie with two female leads.
WORST: No Spider-Man
This is the obvious one. Many are thrilled that Spider-Man is back with his Marvel brethren in the MCU, but because Sony is forging ahead building a Spider-verse without him, how such a thing will work is an open question. Not only is Spider-Man a foe and/or friend to many of the characters like Black Cat, Morbius and Venom, he is also integral to some of their origins and stories. And what ties this universe together if not Spider-Man? He's the common thread, and without him, I expect that Venom will be the unifying factor, as he's the most popular and his movie is first out of the gate. However, doing that necessitates changes to these characters and their origins that not everyone may be on board with. There have been rumors about Peter Parker making an appearance in Venom, but really, for these characters to work as they should, Spider-Man needs to be doing a lot more than making a small cameo.
BEST: The Talent
Having talented actors playing comic book characters is never a bad thing, and Sony's Spider-verse has already attracted some heavy hitters in this regard. Tom Hardy is an Oscar nominee and an increasingly recognizable face in blockbusters. There is no doubt that he can bring the intensity, complexity and physicality necessary to play Eddie Brock. Also in Venom is 4-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams. There are no guarantees, but you have to think that if actors of this caliber signed on for Venom, they must have been confident in Sony's vision for the characters, the film and the universe. The same goes for Jared Leto. The Academy Award winner is now attached to his second comic book movie role as the living vampire Morbius in the spinoff film. Spike Lee also appears to be on board for a Nightwatch movie, so behind-the-camera talent is being drawn to this universe as well.
WORST: We Don't Know The Plan
Ultimately, this is the thing that really makes Sony's Spider-verse difficult to evaluate at the moment. If there is a thought-out plan, we simply haven't been made aware of it. We don't know if this universe is working towards something, how it will all connect and the Spider-Man of it all. Granted, other cinematic universes receive criticism when they announce their grand designs ahead of time and things fall through like the MCU's Inhumans and any number of DCEU titles. So playing its cards close to the vest isn't necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, inevitably, when we don't know the plan, it is easy to think that there either isn't one or that we don't like the plan we perceive. Maybe this MCU-adjacent universe will become MCU proper; maybe Tom Holland's Spider-Man will eventually become a part in it and abandon the MCU. The fact is that we don't know, and Sony's more recent track record with the Amazing Spider-Man movies leaves enough room for doubt that this can work.