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Sony can take back Spider-Man, but this Spidey can never go home again

While it seemed like posturing at first, it’s looking increasingly likely that Sony’s threat to pull Spider-Man out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and keep the billion-dollar web-slinger for itself is all too real.

Sony just finished purchasing the gaming company that made the most recent Spider-Man game. The film studio was so high off the success of its animated Spider-Verse that Sony’s talking heads spoke of little else at CES 2019. Then there’s the surprise success of the villainous spinoff, Venom — all seem to have emboldened Sony when it comes to sharing its precious Spider-Man film rights with Disney’s ever-expanding MCU.

That’s too bad — for everyone involved, really.

But it’s especially tough on anyone invested in Tom Holland’s wonderful take on the beloved character. Because, try as they might, if the studio execs at Sony think they can simply jerk Holland out of the MCU and plant him in some self-contained Spider-Verse, they’re dead wrong. Sony can no sooner split Holland’s Spider-Man from his MCU roots than the hero can separate himself from that fateful radioactive venom.

Our current, on-the-rise Spider-Man iteration and Marvel’s deeply rooted cinematic universe of characters and story arcs are all utterly intertwined. Unfortunately for the dollar-sign seeking execs, if Sony wants to dissolve the friendship, there’s nothing to be done but start over. Again. For the fourth time.

(Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and other Marvel properties follow.)

Birthed in the MCU

Think about the first time you saw Holland’s Spider-Man. It wasn’t swinging through the streets of New York, Mary Jane on his mind, with a slice in his hand. It wasn’t rushing around the newsroom trying to pitch poorly focused photos of himself in costume, or even being bitten by a radioactive spider.

Nope, the first time you saw our current Spider-Man in the flesh (so to speak) was when Tony Stark — the most iconic hero in the MCU and the character who started it all — dropped by his apartment to recruit him as a sort of junior Avenger.

The first time you saw Spider-Man in action? It wasn’t saving his teenage buddies at the Washington Monument. Instead, it was ripping Captain America’s shield away in a daring bit of acrobatics, before joining one of the most epic pre-Endgame battles in the MCU.

As they say, you can’t make a second first impression. Those are iconic images, ones that will be forever etched into the very being of this specific Spider-Man. And they’ll be pretty tough to brush away as though the universe in which they exist never happened. That’s not to mention his traumatic death in the big snap, and resurrection in Endgame, along with his role in Far From Home, in which our young Peter Parker essentially takes on the mantle of the next Iron Man (of sorts).

Does Sony expect us to just throw all of this away and never speak of it again?

Another reboot?

Sure, all of this can be explained away with a killer script — perhaps one set within a different dimension (and the Spider-Verse will surely help there) in which Peter Parker never met the Avengers, never befriended Iron Man’s sidekick Happy Hogan as an uncle figure, never battled Thanos for the sake of humanity, and never even met the rest of the MCU’s valiant heroes or brutal villains.

But where does that leave us? Starting over, really. And hey, if you’re going to start over — though Tom Holland’s take is arguably the greatest live-action version of the character yet — you might as well make a clean break and drop all that MCU baggage. That’s especially true given that Sony’s Miles Morales version of the character in the ground-breaking film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is extremely popular and, not to be undervalued, also one of the few characters of color in the superhero world.

Further, even if Sony holds on to Holland, everyone buys this new, completely reimagined version of his character, and no one instinctually misses a deeper connection to the rest of Marvel Comics’ heroes, do we really trust Sony to carry this franchise forward? Barring the surprising recent successes of both Into the Spider-Verse (which had a lot to do with the incredible animation) and Venom, the studio has a pretty poor track record when it comes to sustaining a superhero franchise.

It’s true that Sony’s original Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire were highly successful, arguably helping to kick off this superhero freight train Hollywood is currently riding into oblivion. But it’s also true that the franchise was sputtering by its third film. And recruiting Andrew Garfield — who is a pretty dang good actor in his own right — didn’t do much to make things better when they rebooted Spider-Man for the first time.

Either way, whether Sony holds fast to a revamped version of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, or once again reboots the franchise while the Holland iteration is still in its prime, the studio is likely to meet either an extremely confused audience, or one with serious reboot fatigue. And it could take years until the prized franchise is back on its feet again.

As one of the most popular superheroes of all time, currently in one of its most well-executed on-screen iterations, it’s no surprise that Sony wants Spidey all to itself — nor why Disney is extremely eager to keep the character under its MCU banner for several more films.

But if the two parties don’t come to the table soon with compromise on the brain, say goodbye to the current version of Spider-Man you know and love. Because no matter which way you slice it, Tom Holland or no, he’s dead — all over again.

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Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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