Sony v Marvel: Spider-Man might have killed the MCU, and that's a good thing.

August 22, 2019

 

I think it was Thor: Ragnarok. As much as I enjoyed that movie on its own, the sudden shift in tone and the total retconning of character just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't like it. I remember coming out of the cinema with my partner after having just seen it for the first time and saying something along the lines of; "I think this is all starting to get a bit stale. I'm kind of fed-up with it". I decided to stick around till at least Infinity War, and whatever the follow-up to that would turn out to be, but I definitely think Thor: Ragnarok was the movie that made me fall out with the MCU.

 

That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the movies that have come out since, but watching a movie in the MCU feels more like an obligation than it does something I actually want to do. Like I'll somehow have missed out on important pop-culture references if I don't. And the further along we've got the more I've felt this. Endgame ultimately couldn't help but underwhelm in some respects, but even so it also felt like, more than anything else, the point where the full stop probably should have fallen.

 

But that's all just my personal feelings toward the films. I understand there are plenty out there for whom the MCU has remained as fresh and as exciting as ever, and regardless of whether or not I agree with them (I don't), their opinions are just as valid...

 

Except when their opinion supports the potential destruction of yet another Hollywood studio, and the continued monopolisation of all things pop-culture by the far more dangerous than they may appear conglomerate that is Disney.

 

Now, that may sound like hyperbole, and believe me I wish it was, but sadly this is now the position we find ourselves in. And, as absurd as it may sound to frame a company with an annual net income of over $8.3 billion as the "little guys", it's important to remember that in this particular instance, that's where Sony sit when you consider Disney recently swallowed 20th Century Fox whole, marking the first time a major studio has simply... well, ceased to exist since MGM in the 80s. It also took the big six Hollywood Studios down to five, which, er... well, look it isn't great.

 

So, where do we begin? As you may very well have heard, the deal between Disney and Sony that saw Spider-Man enter the MCU has fallen apart. The specifics of just what happened between the two companies remain a mystery, and there has been plenty of speculation about it, but as far as i can see it went down like this:

 

The original deal was for five films. Sony retained the rights to produce the solo-outings, and to use the other characters under the Spider-Man canon to produce other movies (hence Venom with Tom Hardy). They also retained "final creative control" and funded the solo-outings entirely, while Disney gave them permission to utilise their MCU characters within it, and took 5% of any Box Office gross. Disney also gained the ability to use the character in their own "team-up" movies, of which they kept 100% of the Box Office, and kept all merchandising rights.

 

Now that the five films are up, it appears Disney wants more (because apparently owning the entirety of Marvel Studios, Pixar, Fox and Lucasfilm just isn't enough anymore), and demanded a 50/50 split. Sony said "no", the rebutted with an offer of 70/30, which Disney declined, so Sony walked away.

 

While that may seem frustrating for fans who would like to see Spider-Man continue on in the MCU, let's actually consider this logically for a moment. Disney are a power-house. The Magic Kingdom has everything from Star Wars through to Buffy the Vampire Slayer at this point, and that's just in terms of movies and television. Sony, meanwhile, have... well, they have Spider-Man.

 

It's safe to say that losing Spider-Man would be disastrous for the studio, which is likely in part why they wouldn't agree to the 50/50 split Disney demanded. Spider-Man is Sony Pictures' lifeblood, and basically the only big earner they have (and they bought those rights fair and square, by the way. You may not like the fact that they did, but they did), they simply can't survive without him.

 

But what's interesting is how it could signal the end of the MCU as a whole. Far From Home was most definitely about positioning Tom Holland as the new leader of The Avengers, filling the gap left behind by Robert Downy Jr., and if this deal doesn't get sorted and the MCU are no longer even able to use the words "Spider-Man", who do they move forward.

 

I'll be honest, I quite like the idea that Sony spat in Disney's face and potentially managed to put an end to their potential destruction of the industry as we know it.

 

I'd be willing to bet that the Sony looked at what Disney had to offer, and then looked at what they could potentially achieve with their Venom franchise, Into the Spider-verse, the upcoming Morbius and what will undoubtedly be a new Spider-Man franchise coming soon too, and figured that pissing off some fanboys was likely the better option than potentially shutting down their movie studio altogether. At least this way they get to continue making movies for another few years.

 

And while both Disney and Sony are undoubtedly nasty corporations who play the capitalist game, what we're seeing with Disney here is more akin to a mob tactic than it is a business one. It's essentially putting a squeeze on a smaller studio, knowing that they lose either way - a 50/50 split and they fail as a company, but go their own way and they fail the fans. And perhaps most frustratingly, a big portion of fans actually seem to be falling for it, with #BoycottSony trending, and some genuine hate being levied against the company.

 

But, let's be clear. Disney are the bad guys here. In fact, Disney are the bad guys full stop. This is hardly the first time they have employed somewhat sinister tactics to get what they want.

 

Sure, all studios do this, but Disney have a history darker than most. Let's not forget this is the company that have an overwhelming sway over the US Government, to the point where they have actually had the county's copyright laws altered to suit their own gain (which is entirely hypocritical when you consider Disney itself was build on public domain properties like Snow White, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and so on...), which has been damaging not just from an audience ownership sense, but from an educational sense, and has made it next to impossible for libraries and museums to properly digitise and preserve historic works.

 

And then there's Disney's habit of forcing cinema chains to only showcase their work, pushing out smaller, independent studios.

 

You get the picture, and I haven't even covered the fact they will happily censor work to protect their brand, which is something we've even seen them doing recently, and the countless other unethical practices they undergo at their theme-parks and in the boardrooms.

 

Now, look, I'm not saying Disney are the only studio to employ these kinds of things to get what they want, but they are the only one that pretty much own 1/3 of the Hollywood studio system. They are the only one that looks likely, at this point in time, to potentially destroy, swallow or buy-out all their competitors to become the sole producer of mainstream media. And while this might very well be by-product of late stage capitalism, that doesn't mean I'm not going to call out the players just because they happen to be playing the game.

 

Without mentioning the countless job losses, the stifling of creativity and the like that a monopoly of this type is likely to bring around, do we really want to exist in a world where the main source of all our media is from a company so concerned with their own brand that they knee-jerk reacted to alt-right trolls and literal bots by firing someone who's sole crime was standing against the racist, misogynistic lunatic who calls himself President?

 

I'm just not willing to see the destruction of the Hollywood studio system to placate a bunch of people who liked it when a fictional character appeared on screen with other fictional characters. If this whole mess leads to the downfall of the MCU then, quite frankly, good, because this kind of ridiculous fan-culture, whereby fans feel entitled to demand they get what they want whether it be good or not for the rest of us, needs to end.

 

And I could conceive a future in which the loss of Spider-Man, while likely not harming the overall quality of films put out by Disney/Marvel, might potentially start making those cracks show a little more. Cracks like the sudden change of tone and retconning of character in Thor: Ragnarok, for example...

 

Maybe it is time to lay the whole thing to bed. Cinema has become stale. Only rarely do I manage to capture that feeling of awe-inspired wonderment I used to get so often staring up at the big screen. Very seldom these days do I eagerly anticipate the release of film on the Big Screen, mostly the movies that really get me now are straight-to-video or VOD releases, produced almost entirely independent from the studio system. The Marvel's and the Star Wars' have taken over, and the fans seem determined to continue down that path, and to hell with the consequences.

 

I think now I've finally reached a point where I've had enough. I'm not going to #BoycottSony... I was probably never going to bother seeing those movies anyway. But maybe now I might not bother seeing the Disney ones too. And I might be just one person, but if enough of us do it then... hey, maybe we can save this before it all goes well and truly to hell.

 

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© Alex Secker 2018