Sony: Into The Spider-Drama

I had already made up my mind to write a follow-up post to all the Spider-Man drama last night, after some new updates on a rapidly evolving story. But I was blindsided by just how dramatic some of these updates would be. Let’s dig in and discuss.

So, for all of you new to the story: last night, Sony Pictures and Disney Studios supposedly ended the deal they’ve had since 2015, whereby the character of Spider-Man is jointly owned by both companies, with creative control largely belonging to Disney (and specifically Marvel Studios), and the vast majority of box-office returns flowing straight into Sony’s treasure hoard. This apparently came about due to a disagreement over money: Disney is fed up with having to satisfy Marvel by agreeing to this deal, and so pressed Sony to allow for a 50/50 co-financing agreement, which would effectively impoverish a studio whose only big franchise is Spider-Man. Sony backed away from the new deal and took Spider-Man with them. That was how things looked at first.

Then, just after I had posted my initial response to the news, some more headlines started popping up. It was all just a false alarm, blown out of proportion: deals were apparently still ongoing: theories started emerging that it had all been a hoax, that the details had been leaked by Disney as a publicity stunt to gather support. They might have; we don’t know yet. But a closer look at those headlines revealed that they were little more than unsubstantiated rumors and speculation. But for a moment there, it looked like both sides had reached an uneasy ceasefire. Sources were saying that Sony executives were trying to reach out and explain to the press that this was all hypothetical.

That was until Sony themselves took to social media to explain what had happened, leaving no doubt that they weren’t messing around here, a deal had not been reached, talks were not ongoing, and no, Disney, you can’t have Spidey back yet. Their official statement placed the blame squarely on Disney, and characterized Marvel Studios and Marvel president Kevin Feige as the main victims of this terrible offense: “We are disappointed,” read the press release, “but respect Disney’s decision not to have [Feige] continue as a lead producer of our next live-action Spider-Man film.”

Ouch. That hurts. Especially because Feige is caught directly in the middle of this studio warfare, and is now being used by both sides to justify their actions, but has no ability to actually work out a deal on his own. And at this point, it’s become Disney’s problem just as much as it is his – Disney is currently building an entire Marvel theme park in which the main attraction will be…a Spider-Man ride. That was truly a brilliant idea, deciding to cash in on the character before even settling the question of whether they could.

The shame and blame tactics didn’t stop there, as Sony suggested that Disney would now try to pamper Feige into submission with a whole bunch of new toys obtained during the Disney/Fox merger: “We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him – including all their newly added Marvel properties – do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own.”

Even The Hollywood Reporter is using the word “divorce” to describe this situation, and it’s no surprise – this whole situation sounds very hostile, and very risky. Disney can back down and allow Spider-Man to slip back into Sony’s vaults, or they can wise up and offer a more fair and balanced deal, one that doesn’t involve them stealing half the profits of a franchise that’s not actually theirs. Maybe losing some of the marketing rights to the character wouldn’t hurt either, since Disney has clearly run rampant with them. Feige can’t do much at all, and any actions he does take will look like he’s being moved around by Disney, unless he tries to negotiate a deal behind their backs – which, you know, probably isn’t a great idea. At the moment, Sony president Amy Pascal is in the position of power: she can smash a gaping hole in Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, rob the franchise of one of its most iconic characters, and also wreck Disney’s new Marvel Land theme park.

Spider-Man star Tom Holland has been silent on the whole situation, but his Avengers co-star Jeremy Renner hasn’t, publicly stated that Sony should give back the character to Marvel, imploring the studio to remember that Spidey was Stan Lee’s favorite character. Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, who hasn’t actually entered the MCU yet, seemed dismayed that he wouldn’t be able to join a Cinematic Universe that didn’t include the Webslinger.

If a deal is reached, it should come before Disney’s D23 event (at which they’re expected to officially announce the Marvel Land park, and possibly some upcoming Marvel movies). That’s…the day after tomorrow.

Do you think Sony and Disney will settle this dispute? Is it too late for that? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Spider-Man Is Leaving The MCU!

Some Spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home ahead!

Well, that was a surprise.

Today would have been a completely unremarkable, even boring day in the world of entertainment industry news – there weren’t any big, flashy headlines to wake up to, no unexpected trailers dropping or big casting news. The world was mostly just chatting amiably about Amy Adams’ birthday, and getting ready for D23. Then, this happened.

As of today, the Sony/Disney deal over the Spider-Man rights has officially collapsed, leaving chaos, heartbreak and a collective sense of shock in its wake. Most of the internet is hurriedly rushing out hashtags like #BoycottSony or #GiveBackSpiderMan, while the rest are cheering about what this means for a shared Spider-verse over at Sony. I’ll try to sort out the details and let you draw your own conclusions, but I want to point out upfront that I am one of the fans who is currently very upset about this news. Not to the point where I want to boycott Sony, as I think that’s pretty ridiculous, but definitely angry enough to…well, write this post, for one thing.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that Spider-Man is the subject of the trickiest rights situation in Hollywood: or, was. Sony exclusively held the rights to the character, and the entire Spider-verse (a.k.a. Spidey’s entire roster of supporting characters, rogues, etc), from 1999 to 2015. During that time they produced two separate Spider-Man franchises, one starring Tobey Maguire, followed by a reboot with Andrew Garfield in the Webslinger’s iconic costume. After the reboot flopped, and the Spider-verse looked to be in danger of breaking apart, Sony’s president Amy Pascal came to an arrangement with Disney and Marvel Studios that the three companies would be able to have joint ownership of the character – with Sony reserving most of the rights. Spider-Man was never sold to the MCU, so much as he was leased. Sony still financed, produced and distributed his films, while Marvel only got a small portion of all Spider-Man box-office returns. The only control that Marvel ever really had over the character was the ability to use him as they saw fit in a total of five Sony-approved films, to recast him, and to choose directors and creative teams for his franchise. For more information on the specifics of the deal, I’ll direct you here.

Meanwhile, Sony used the remaining scraps of the Spider-verse to start creating their own separate franchises, completely disassociated with the MCU – Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Venom, two of last year’s most unexpected successes, seem to have proved to Sony that a three-way partnership with Disney and Marvel was no longer necessary – or profitable. Besides, they’re clearly itching to introduce Spider-Man to their roster of other characters, and they can’t do that until they have full control over the character once more.

So they did the only logical thing they could do. Mere days after Spider-Man: Far From Home, a Sony/Marvel production, officially became the highest-grossing Sony film of all time, Sony chose to pull out of their deal with Disney and Marvel – thereby immediately removing the character from the MCU, shutting the door on future Marvel storylines involving the character, and preventing Marvel president Kevin Feige from having any creative control over Spider-Man’s future films. This, of course, was always a risk, and it looks like Sony might have been scared by Feige’s supposed willingness to bring even more Spider-verse characters into the Marvel fold – perhaps that possible Gwen Stacy cameo in Avengers: Endgame was the last straw, who knows?

Whatever was the reason for Sony’s abrupt decision, it looks like, once they made up their minds, they didn’t back down. Disney apparently reached out to the studio, on Marvel’s behalf, with an offer to set up a 50/50 co-financing deal for all future Spider-Man movies – Sony turned it down immediately, and offered to keep the current deal going; the deal under which Marvel receives a measly share of profits. Disney rejected that offer. At which point Sony just cut their losses and took Spider-Man back. Both sides are just trying to look out for their business, and that’s completely understandable. Disney (and especially Marvel) don’t want to lose one of the cornerstones of their biggest franchise, and Sony doesn’t want to keep sharing their biggest franchise anymore, in a deal that has effectively prevented them from fully building their own Spider-verse.

The main problem is that this leaves Kevin Feige and the MCU in a horrible position. Having just set up a huge, world-changing story arc in Far From Home that was clearly intended to set up future Spider-Man movies and pave the way for Peter Parker becoming Marvel’s new Iron Man, Feige will now have to slowly dismantle all that hard work. If Sony and Disney don’t renegotiate (and it doesn’t seem likely that they will, at least not yet), then Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man is officially gone from the MCU, leaving a gaping hole in the universe’s carefully constructed structure. Mysterio, one of the most awesome villains in recent comic book movie history, is gone as well. MJ, Aunt May, Ned: all of them are gone. J. Jonah Jameson, who just got introduced to the MCU, is out of it again. Sony will take back all their characters and probably recast and rebrand them all, giving Peter Parker a new origin story in a new trilogy of films that will most likely not expand on anything you’ve seen in Peter’s brief MCU tenure.

And so I feel obligated to conclude this post with what will most likely turn out to be the last line of dialogue ever spoken by Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU:

“What the fu-”

*cut to black*

Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings – What Are They?

It’s theorizing time! I’m not always an expert at this sort of thing (I tend to have flashes of what I think could be an interesting idea, but…well, we’ll get to that), but I’m mainly writing this post so you – and I – can understand better one of the more intriguing developments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the unveiling of the long-anticipated villain, The Mandarin, and his shadowy terrorist organization; the Ten Rings.

marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com

Well, them too – mainly we’ll be talking about the literal ten rings, what they are, what they can do, whether we’ll see them used as frequent plot devices like the Infinity Stones were (the proper term for an object in a film/book that is used as a plot device, such as Marvel’s Tesseract, is a MacGuffin: bear that in mind).

Let’s start with a recap of what we know: The Mandarin, one of Marvel’s most enigmatic villains, will finally appear in the upcoming film Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, probably filling the role of Shang-Chi’s villainous father from the comics: Fu Manchu. The Mandarin is traditionally an Iron Man villain, and has indeed already been connected with Iron Man in the MCU – members of his terrorist organization kidnapped Tony Stark all the way back in the very first Marvel Studios film. But Stark never actually got a showdown with the mastermind himself – instead, he was surprised to learn that the man he had believed to be The Mandarin was actually just a regular guy (well, if you can call Ben Kingsley a regular guy) who had rather inadvertently had to adopt the moniker before becoming a puppet for an entirely different terrorist group. Needless to say, the Mandarin’s followers weren’t too happy with this guy pretending to be their criminal warlord, so they broke him out of prison after the events of Iron Man 3 and brought him face to face with the real Mandarin, someone we’ve never actually seen onscreen. And that was the last we’ve heard from The Mandarin or the Ten Rings, except for one brief encounter in the first Ant-Man movie, where Scott Lang battled a mercenary working for the organization. Since then, the group has apparently gone underground. But someone (or something…) is going to bring them back to the forefront of the MCU in 2021, clearly, so what can it be?

Well, to explain that, we have to look at the Ten Rings themselves – and I’m not talking about the terrorists anymore, I’m talking about the ten rings; like, rings you wear on your fingers, those kinds of rings. The Ten Rings (the terrorists) will probably be very important to the story of Shang-Chi’s solo movie, but I highly doubt they’re the Ten Rings being referenced in the film’s title – because the Ten Rings, while very mysterious, aren’t exactly legendary: the ten rings, on the other hand…well, those are.

I feel like this post is going to get very confusing. Warning to all future Marvel criminal masterminds: please don’t name your business after your jewelry – it just makes things a lot more complicated than they need to be. Thanks.

Anyway, the Mandarin’s ten rings are almost mythical, and very nearly divine. In the comics, these ten devices were created by a race of aliens known as the Makluans: they are weapons, endowed with the incorporeal spirits of ancient cosmic warriors and heroes, and each also possesses the ability to think and operate on its own, without even needing a wearer to use it. The ten rings are named Remaker, Influence, Spectral, Spin, Incandescence, Nightbringer, Daimonic, Zero, Lightning, and The Liar. They each have specific powers, but if you’re interested I’ll direct you to a place where you can learn more about those. For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to go into the subtle differences between “manipulating the atomic and molecular structures of matter” and “destroying the bonds between the atoms and the molecules”. Let’s put it this way: these things are powerful. Maybe not on quite the same level as, say, the One Ring of Power, but they’re up there.

Now, at first, upon reading all this, I had a crazy idea that somehow the Infinity Stones themselves would be used to explain the ten rings: that, somehow, when Thanos destroyed the seven stones, their broken fragments wandered across the universe and ended up in/on the hands of The Mandarin. Then I kind of realized that The Mandarin has been established to have had these ten rings since at least the 1950s. In the comics, he just happened to be the one guy around when a Makluan spaceship carrying the ten rings crash-landed in China: being a quick-thinking, practical sort of guy, The Mandarin killed the alien pilot and stole the rings. Much of the rest of his story has already been adapted in a slightly different fashion: he kidnapped Tony Stark (been there, done that), and then one of his rings ended up with Malekith the Dark Elf (he’s already dead in the MCU timeline). But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t interesting stories to be told.

For instance, the story of Tony Stark being kidnapped might have been adapted to the big screen already, but the Titanomechs which he built for the Mandarin in the comics haven’t: interestingly, these cyborg killers were later defeated by a swarm of Stark’s nanobots – and in the MCU, one of Stark’s last actions was to bequeath a similar swarm of nanobots to his friend, Peter Parker. There’s also the question of whether or not the rings will have their sentient abilities in the movies: if so, they could easily escape before The Mandarin is (possibly) defeated by Shang-Chi, and might find ten willing hosts for themselves. In the comics, when this happened, none of the hosts were really extraordinary, big-name characters – Malekith was by far the most important of them, and the MCU has already reduced him to a cut-and-dry one-off bad guy. The people that did end up with the rings were all rather pathetic, in fact: a disgruntled Broadway director who named himself “Lightning Conductor”, and a French neo-Nazi, for instance. But this time around, wouldn’t it be much more exciting if the rings actually went looking for the most powerful villains and criminals in the world – especially at this critical time, when there have been reports going around that Marvel wants to produce a villain team-up movie such as Thunderbolts, which could unite characters like Baron Zemo, Justin Hammer, Red Hulk and Ghost.

What do you think? How would you like to see the Ten Rings and the ten rings implemented into the MCU, and what sort of future could they have? Will the Mandarin be a one-and-done villain, or could he make multiple appearances in the next phase of Marvel films? Share your own theories in the comments below!

“Black Widow” Movie Adds Another Black Widow!

There’s a lot of news to cover on this front: I would have posted much earlier, when there was a report that Ray Winstone had joined the cast of Marvel’s Black Widow solo movie, but I suspected that a bombshell report would drop in a few days more, so I waited patiently – and I was rewarded.

Black Widow is currently filming in the city of Budapest – an iconic locale in Marvel lore, having been mentioned as the site of some huge battle/catastrophic event by Black Widow herself, and fellow spy Hawkeye, multiple times throughout the Marvel movies. While some maintain that the city is probably being used simply as a stand-in for Russian locations, it gives us at least a little glimmer of hope that we will finally see the origins of this oft-mentioned, never-explained anecdote.

Whether or not we do, we will undeniably see the origins of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff – the movie is rumored to be a prequel, exploring Natasha’s years working as a KGB assassin and then as a rogue agent defecting to S.H.I.E.L.D. While this might seem disappointing to fans who want to see the character in the present timeline, you can expect the film to drop all sorts of hints and clues about things that will be very important to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Marvel president Kevin Feige made this very clear, while also being very vague, when he said, while being interviewed, that, even though he can’t say whether it’s a prequel or not, “there are ways to do prequels where you learn all sorts of things you never knew before”. He actually said quite a few interesting things: I recommend you check it out for yourself here.

Those “things we never knew before” might include all sorts of things – events, big battles, encounters with other superheroes. And that’s what leads us back to Budapest for a minute, just so we can take a look at some very interesting details that might have been inadvertently (or deliberately?) revealed in behind-the-scenes images.

WARNING: this might be considered a spoiler to some, so if you don’t want to know any of the characters who might be in the film, you should go now! Also – Avengers: Endgame spoilers!

The image in questions shows Scarlett Johansson’s stunt double (maybe, we’ll get to that in a moment) riding a motorcycle at dangerously high speed through the streets of Budapest, sporting a long red braid – still no sign of the iconic short red bob-hairstyle that would definitively mark this as a prequel. Her hair still looks very much like how she wore it in her latest appearance in Avengers: Endgame. She’s not alone on the motorcycle: behind her, with arms wrapped around Natasha’s waist, is another woman, with a blond ponytail. She could be anyone, right?

Twitter | @builtfromhope

Well, it could be – except those two women on the motorcycle are apparently stunt dummies, not even stunt doubles. In other words, they’re basically pre-packaged mannequins: who come in packages. Which would necessarily be marked with the name associated with the mannequin inside the package. See where I’m going with this?

Yep, Twitter user @bestofwidows shared pictures of the boxes which apparently carried those dummies – one marked Natasha, the other marked…Yelena.

And the reaction from the general audience is probably similar to Thanos’ when he encounters Scarlet Witch in Endgame“I don’t even know who you are.”

Oh, but you will. Yelena Belova is one of only a handful of well-known characters from the Black Widow comics – a dangerous assassin in her own right, equal to Romanoff in strength and agility, and a student of the Red Room program. Belova has been both a villain and an antihero in her comics appearances, but her most notable run has her initially working against Romanoff, only to team up with her and bring about the defeat of the Red Room. She is virtually a clone of Romanoff in every way, and even uses the moniker “Black Widow”, except that her hair is typically blond. Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson supposedly had her character dye her hair blond in Avengers: Infinity War as an homage to Yelena Belova – which, naturally, has now begun sparking some rumors that the Black Widow in Infinity War actually was Yelena Belova, and that in this prequel we’ll discover that there never was a Natasha Romanoff or something like that. It’s a cool premise, but highly implausible: more likely is that a young Yelena will be introduced in this upcoming movie and will then make an appearance in the present timeline soon after – similar to how Captain Marvel’s prequel origin film ended with a startling post-credits scene of her arriving at Avengers HQ after the events of Infinity War.

There’s still the slim chance that this movie isn’t, in fact, a prequel: why haven’t we seen Natasha’s classic hairstyle? Why does she seem to be dressed in civilian attire in all the behind-the-scenes photos, such as she wore throughout Avengers: Endgame, rather than her black outfit? I can’t answer those questions yet, but I can propose a theory. Two, in fact.

My first theory relies on the movie being a prequel: I suspect that Budapest is not serving, at least in this case, as a stand-in for a Russian city. I think what we see here is a young Natasha Romanoff rescuing Yelena Belova from the clutches of their KGB captors, trying to bring her into S.H.I.E.L.D custody with her: something will go wrong, and Yelena will not be saved. In this scenario, we might also see Natasha’s friend and lover, Hawkeye, and maybe a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents attempting to assist the Russian rogues. Ming-Na Wen of the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has already expressed her wish to be in the Black Widow movie, portraying a younger version of her character, Agent Melinda May. This would be the perfect place to have her appear: and with the recent cameos of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D actors Clark Gregg and Patrick Brennan in Captain Marvel, plus James D’Arcy of the TV show Agent Carter appearing in Avengers: Endgame, it seems like Marvel has begun to embrace its outlying spinoffs for the first time since Avengers: Age of Ultron.

My other theory, while much more unlikely, has basically the same premise, but the setting is now sometime in the post-Endgame universe. Here, Natasha would be brought back to life (there are dozens of theories on how this could be achieved), and would go on a search for her father, Ivan, whose identity was finally revealed to her after years of searching in Endgame, shortly before her death. As one of the last things Natasha would remember, it would make sense for her to try and find her father and any living family members, after being resurrected – this hunt would take her to Russia, where she would run into Yelena Belova and a similarly-resurrected Red Room. It’s unlikely, but still worth mentioning.

Either way, we now know that Yelena Belova is indeed going to be in the Black Widow movie – most likely portrayed by Marvel newcomer Florence Pugh, whose likeness the blond stunt-dummy apparently carries, and who recently arrived in Budapest.

The last bit of news concerning the movie comes from a small, blurry photograph of the film’s first official logo:

Twitter | @ripmarvel

Prepare yourselves for May 2020, folks. We’re in for a ride.

 

You can also watch my video review of this news story on YouTube!

Mindy Kaling Discusses A “Ms. Marvel” Movie?

With Mindy Kaling’s latest film venture, Late Night, receiving stellar reviews and a lot of buzz for the actress/director, she’s obviously looking at many more successes down the line. Interestingly, one of her next projects could be for Marvel Studios.

Kaling revealed that she has spoken to executives at Marvel with the express intent of pushing for a Ms. Marvel movie, something that Marvel president Kevin Feige has already suggested is in the works. “They’re trying to figure out what to do with it,” Kaling said in an interview, “and I told them I would help in any way, because I truly love her”.

The superhero in question, Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan, clearly has a lot of emotional significance for Kaling, and it’s not surprising: Kaling is of Indian descent, while Khan is a fiercely outspoken Pakistani American teenager, and the first Muslim lead character in Marvel comics. With Marvel taking a new approach to its characters, turning the spotlight on diverse heroes, it was only a matter of time before Khan was next in line. A Ms. Marvel movie could be a huge cultural phenomenon like Black Panther was – and like the upcoming Shang-Chi and The Eternals probably will be. The main obstacle keeping her from joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe years ago was the absence of Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel – in comic lore, Carol is Khan’s role model, and Khan, when not acting as a hero in her own right, is generally portrayed as Carol’s sidekick and close friend – the Spider-man to Carol’s Iron Man, so to speak. But now Carol has been introduced to the MCU with huge success, paving the way for a sequel in which we’ll probably see many new characters.

newsweek.com

In fact, Carol might become mentor to not one, but two female superheroes: Kamala Khan and possibly Monica Rambeau. Rambeau was a young girl in the Captain Marvel movie, which took place in the 1990s – that means she’s probably in her thirties now, and, if we’re going by the comics, then she might already have her own set of cosmic superpowers. Thankfully, Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson is more than ready for the responsibility: a few months ago, she said that she also hopes to see Khan in the inevitable Captain Marvel sequel.

Kaling also hinted that Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed is similarly excited about the possibility of a Ms. Marvel movie: while she noted that the movie might head to the Disney Plus streaming platform, if it has Kaling attached as a director and Ahmed as one of the film’s leads, it could be some high-quality entertainment. As for who would play Kamala Khan herself, Kaling didn’t seem to have any fancasts – “I think it might have to be an unknown”, she said.