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Venom, The Sinister Six, and the future of Sony’s big-screen Spider-Man universe

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may have just hit theaters, but when it finishes its run, Peter Park will not go into hibernation. Sony has promised not just a third installment of the franchise in 2016, but a new movie featuring the webslinger or members of his supporting cast every subsequent year. And since then, details about the studio’s grand plans for its Spider-verse have been in high demand.

That’s why it came as no surprise that conversation during the most recent Amazing Spider-Man 2 promotional circuit occasionally turned to topics like the Sinister Six and Venom movies the studio currently has in various stages of development. From the appeal of villain-centric movies to the likelihood of seeing Spider-Man swing into the studio’s spinoff movies, the questions raised during the run-up to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offer an intriguing look at the shape of things to come for Peter Parker and his rogues gallery.

“It’s a very similar plan to The Avengers,” producer Avi Arad explained during a recent Amazing Spider-Man 2 press event. “Avengers would’ve been difficult without some awareness of the characters, and now [with The Amazing Spider-Man movies] we have enough villains and we’ve established Oscorp as this source of new, dangerous technology. All of a sudden, it’s actually really well organized.”

“I think Spider-Man villains have something unique over most other villains: they’re victims of circumstance.”

And when it comes to villains, the first two films in the new Spider-Man franchise haven’t shied away from casting a wide net. Over the course of two films, three villains – Lizard (Rhys Ifans), Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), and Electro (Jamie Foxx) – have each had their own origin stories play out against Peter Parker’s evolution, while another, Rhino (Paul Giamatti), appeared in a supporting role.

This is all in addition to more overt hints at yet-to-be-introduced villains such as Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Kraven, and (reportedly) Chameleon, whose signature weapons and various other gadgets made cameos in the first two films. The presence of supporting characters such as Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak) and Gustav “The Gentleman” Fliers (Michael Massee) – who are both foes of Spider-Man in the comics – only adds to the stable of bad guys the studio appears keen to assemble.

And they’re not stopping there, either.

“The opportunities are endless. If [Peter Parker] is in the university and there’s a guy studying hematology, well… if you know the comic, you know what I’m talking about there,” teased Arad, possibly alluding to the introduction of recurring Spider-Man foe Morbius, a scientist afflicted with a rare blood disease that turns him into a living vampire.

“I think Spider-Man villains have something unique over most other villains: they’re victims of circumstance,” he added. “They didn’t just wake up pissed-off. Something happened and it changed their lives.”

According to Arad’s producing partner, Matt Tolmach, that’s just one of the aspects shared by Spider-Man’s foes that makes them so interesting. For Tolmach, it’s not a question of how to make a movie using Spider-Man’s foes, but rather, why wouldn’t someone make a movie starring these characters?

spider-man villains 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“People ask all the time how we make a movie with just villains, and I smile because I think that just sounds so appealing to me,” laughed Tolmach. “The truth is, we’re drawn to villains in movies and in literature. They’re fascinating. They’re willing to cross a line that all of us are so wary of. There’s a vicarious thrill in that. But specifically these characters are so tragically flawed [that] it gives them real dimension.”

Both a villain team-up movie and a solo film featuring Spider-Man’s violent doppleganger Venom are already well into the development cycle, with The Cabin in the Woods writer/director Drew Goddard attached to bring The Sinister Six to the screen and the Transformers team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci penning the script for Venom. Kurtzman is also slated to direct the film.

With not one but two villain-centric projects in the works, Arad and Tolmach are banking on the Spider-verse villains’ ability to carry their own movies – possibly without any help from Spider-Man.

“Spider-Man doesn’t have to show up,” insisted Arad. “Venom could be on his own [or] he could be with Spider-Man. As long as the spirit of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is represented [in these movies], that’s all that matters.”

“People ask all the time how we make a movie with just villains, and I smile because I think that just sounds so appealing to me.”

Of course, all of the villain talk is still a bit premature, given that Peter Parker and his costumed alter ego still have The Amazing Spider-Man 3 – and whatever villains are introduced in it – to contend with in just a few short years. As Arad is quick to point out, there’s still a lot of Spider-Man history that hasn’t even be touched upon in the first two films.

Along with Spider-Man’s evolution as a hero, there’s also quite a bit of growing Peter Parker has to do – and of course, a certain redhead he has yet to meet.

“We didn’t even put Peter into The Daily Bugle yet or introduce him to the other opportunities – the other girls,” said Arad. “The Daily Bugle will look different in the future, because things change, and that will make things interesting.”

As for that redhead, despite casting the role of Mary Jane Watson for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even filming a scene in which Mary Jane (Shailene Woodley) has a chance meeting with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the part was eventually cut from the film. Recasting the character is becoming more and more likely due to Woodley’s role in the burgeoning Divergent franchise, but Mary Jane could also face some competition for Peter Parker’s affections. Playing a character identified only as “Felicia” in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, actress Felicity Jones has fans speculating that her character could very well be Felicia Hardy – a.k.a. Black Cat – a skilled thief whose relationship with Spider-Man in the comics has historically been, well … complicated. (But isn’t that the way everything is for Peter Parker?)

Still, even knowing as much as fans do about the character’s comic-book history and what’s been revealed thus far about the franchise’s future, the finer points of world-building in Spider-Man’s big-screen universe remain largely unspoiled. With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 now in theaters and an annual adventure with Spider-Man and his supporting cast beginning in 2016, Spider-fans would seem to have a lot to look forward to in the coming years – and more than a few surprises.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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