Thursday, April 10, 2014

From Strip to Screen 4: Amazing Sony-Men

In a few days the next stage in one studio's strategy of expanding its superhero universe will unfold, with Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. My final look at Marvel Studio's rivals to their domination of superhero movies concerns Sony Pictures, a studio with arguably one of the biggest drawcards from the Marvel Comics universe.

Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, has done since the first Sam Raimi film, and continues to, thanks to the controversial reboot of 2012 which recast and re-set the Spider-Man universe to the version we know today, and which Sony have recently notified of their intention to expand. But when is an expanded universe genuinely an expanded universe?

Chiefly Sony’s sights are set on six headlining villains of our web-slinging hero, known by a very Marvel affectation:  The Sinister Six. Planned alongside their movie is one featuring Spiderman villain/antihero Venom, last seen in Spider-Man 3 the final Raimi movie. In addition to these, at least two more Spider-Man movies are slated, totaling at least four movies to come.

Sony’s universe is the smallest in terms of its nucleus – one hero (that’s assuming Universal never get off their chuffs with the lesser-known Namor the Submariner, as I hinted in my last post; I see no reason why they would, really), but Spider-Man’s universe is a very rich one, with some great villains which, despite the generally poor reception of Spider-Man 3, has been borne out in the cinema outings to date. The fact that Sony’s Marc Webb-directed reboot didn’t lazily fall on a similarly rebooted Green Goblin to kick things off but went with the then as-yet unseen Lizard as villain was refreshing, and outside of the gripes by fans about the cynical nature of the reboot itself, The Amazing Spider-Man did go out of its way to steer the franchise in new directions. Included in this is the conscious through-line of the shady scientific research facility that is Oscorp, and its influence on Peter Parker’s/Spider-Man’s world. As we’ll see in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I wish they’d given the sequel a better title!), the future Sinister Six owe their existence to this very organisation as, of course, does Spider-man himself. Not bad, as world-building devices go.

So, then, we have a movie about six villains, presumably with minimal Spider-Man involvement, to look forward to. I’m not sure what The Sinister Six movie could be about, much less how you make a movie about six super villains (could be fun, could be…confusing?) but I’d guess it’s going to be connected to this Spider-Man/Oscorp dichotomy, and therefore I wonder whether the Venom movie might be the break-out opportunity to genuinely expand the Sony Marvel universe? Inasmuch as it expands Sony’s universe, it does leave ‘Spidey’ without many allies, however. And the second through-line of this trilogy is, presumably, the secret of what happened to Peter Parker’s parents, who also had Oscorp connections. It’s a tangled web, so to speak, but like Fox’s X-Men franchise, a reasonably self-contained one.

If I were around the creators’ table, I’d be looking at Oscorp, too, but also at a name which does appear in one of the many, many teaser clips for the upcoming sequel – that of Doctor Michael Morbius. Morbius, a colleague of Dr Curt ‘Lizard’ Connors, is infected by an Oscorp virus and becomes Morbius the Living Vampire. He too is a sometime enemy of Spider-Man, but isn’t formally a member of the Sinister Six and has had his own comics line; he’s an ideal anti-hero, and like Venom, is one of the best hopes to spin the Spider-Man universe farther than New York and its skyscrapers. And, of course, vampire superheroes are a recent phenomenon well-overdue a further reinvention.  Beyond Venom and Morbius there is also Black Cat, an anti-heroine cut from very similar cloth to Batman's Catwoman, and in a franchise which to date has produced no female superheroes or villains (and with the likelihood that DC/Warners might delay a rebooted Catwoman in the interim), Felicia Hardy's amoral cat burglar seems an apt addition.
We might also ask who the yet-to-be-named Six could be up against in their own movie – another hero from the Spider-Man franchise whom Sony might have the rights to (e.g. Black Cat, who is implied to be given an Oscorp connection in ASM2), or someone like Morbius? Or maybe Oscorp itself, with the storyline involving the corporation’s attempt to harness or control these new superfiends? I’m guessing the latter, only because so little is known, and because six players is already a lot for one movie without throwing more heroes in on the act. This isn’t The Avengers, but played carefully, Sony might have an effective universe to play with yet.

We'll see in a few short days.


  1. Like Billy Dee Williams in the Burton Batman films failing to become Two-Face, I really felt for Dylan Baker in the last two Raimi Spidey films. Gradually and elegantly positioned become a brilliant Lizard, the audience were given time to identify and sympathise with the disabled man behind the monster .
    And nek minut the comedy flatmate from Notting Hill beats him to it. Still, at least Ifans did a better job than Tommy Lee Jones in the villain role he stole.

  2. True, but then even as much as I loathe Jones' stinking up the place in Batman Forever, I also struggle to picture Billy Dee keeping up with Jim Carrey's yawping loon of a Riddler. Was Michael Gough the only survivor of Schumacker's first outing, or was Pat HIngle still on Gordon duties?

    As for Dylan Baker, yes, a shame. Was there any indication Raimi would have found a place for him in SM4 which, I think, was to have had The Vulture as main villain? As I said above, I think Sony's decision to go with a villain unseen in the previous trilogy and with no obvious links to previous foes, was a good move. And having reacquainted myself with Rhys Ifans' sympathetic Connors in last Friday's TV screening of ASM, I beg to differ on the comedy angle!