Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have found themselves in a spot where they never expected to be: Seeing Spider-Man leave the MCU just three years after being introduced to it, and wondering if they’re supposed to just pretend the Spider-Man crossover never happened.
On Tuesday, negotiations broke down between Sony, which makes the Spider-Man films, and Disney, which owns Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While sources tell TheWrap that Sony believes negotiations are ongoing, an individual with knowledge of Disney’s position said the deal is truly finished. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely Marvel would be involved in future “Spider-Man” standalone films, and the webslinger probably won’t appear in any future MCU films.
Such an outcome was of course always possible — in 2017 , “Spider-Man” producer Amy Pascal said during the “Spider-Man: Homecoming” press tour that the Marvel-Sony partnership would probably end after just two solo Spidey movies, something insiders within Marvel said wasn’t true. But it seemed unthinkable after the success of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” that the successful partnership would abruptly end: The film’s $1.1 billion at the box office made it not only the biggest “Spider-Man” movie but also the biggest-ever Sony movie.
But it isn’t just the huge box office that makes this confusing — it’s also how thoroughly Spider-Man has been integrated into the MCU. Continuity is king in the MCU, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and company have built up Peter Parker as a central figure in the post-“Endgame” franchise. Indeed, the entire plot of “Endgame” hinged on Tony Stark being so sad that Peter died that he decided to risk everything to help the surviving Avengers with their time heist, and the success of “Far From Home” was inarguably related to its many close ties to “Endgame,” including Peter Parker’s struggle with life as Iron Man’s heir apparent.
It sure looked like Spider-Man was meant to be as important to the next decade of the MCU as Captain America and Iron Man were to the first. Now, if this breakup is a done deal, Marvel will have to anoint somebody else into the role he was supposed to play. It’s tough to imagine how they could, moving forward, just not have Spider-Man around anymore without making viewers feel awkward and unsettled. His exit would have to be dealt with in-universe somehow, though that’s a very big somehow. Will they kill him offscreen? Could the extra-dimensional shenanigans in the upcoming “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” write him out of existence? Will people just… not mention him?
Fortunately for Marvel, that’s more of a longer-term concern, because it’s not likely that Spider-Man would have played a huge role in the MCU anytime soon. Of the five currently announced upcoming MCU movies, none feel like natural candidates for a Spidey appearance, except maybe “Multiverse of Madness,” since that’s the only New York-related film on the slate.
Sony, on the other hand, has more to deal with in the short term. Just as Spider-Man was fully integrated into the MCU, the MCU was fully integrated into “Homecoming” and “Far From Home.” It’s pretty difficult to just ignore Spider-Man’s past in the MCU when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) was pretty much functioning as his dad, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) was essentially his cool uncle, his spider suits came directly from Stark Industries, and (spoiler) “Far From Home” expressly takes place in 2023 thanks to the events of “Endgame.”
With all that in mind, how would a sequel to “Far From Home” that ignores the MCU even work? Especially if Sony continues, as expected, with Tom Holland playing Peter Parker.
This whole thing is just gonna be so creatively messy if Sony and Marvel try to pull an “Eternal Sunshine” on each other and forget they ever had a relationship. It’ll also be very interesting to see how both sides end up handling it, just from an academic perspective. But I’m not sure the fans will care about this academically — they’re the ones, after all, who are the most emotionally invested in Spider-Man’s future in the MCU.
A breakup between Sony and Marvel at this stage is so weird that the closest we can come to imagining an analogous situation is if the “Solo” standalone film was expressly not part of “Star Wars,” and then afterward Han Solo just was not in the “Star Wars” canon anymore, and everyone just had to shrug and move on. We’re getting a painful version of the Peter tingle just thinking about it.