Spider-Man coming home to Marvel is great news for fans, but even better for film makers

Cinema owners need franchises to continue to evolve, and film makers need them in order to make smaller movies

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The Independent Online

The fantasy of many fans finally came true last night as Marvel announced that it had brokered an extraordinary deal to take creative control over Spider-Man, their most famous character, for his celluloid future. More than that, Spider-Man will now be integrated into its cinematic universe, vanishing the legal constraints which had restricted Peter Parker from coming face to face with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner on the big screen.

For those not aware, top tier Marvel characters like Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Fantastic Four (among others) were long ago licensed to other studios. Those studios can keep the rights in perpetuity for as long as they remain in development on a movie. This left Marvel with the challenge of making the characters they still had - like Iron Man and Thor - into household names. A challenge they have more than met.

The resultant landscape meant that unlike in the comics, where Spider-Man is an integral part of the Marvel "universe", the character has been left isolated on screen. Sony have even spent the last year trying to construct a “Spider-verse” with spin offs from its existing Spider-Man movies, in an attempt to get some of that shared universe magic, but the critical and box office performance of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has seemingly dissuaded them.

So Spider-Man has come home to Marvel which is ’s great news for Spider-Man fans (though not for Andrew Garfield as early reports indicate he won’t be retained, with names like Anton Yelchin and Logan Lerman being thrown around online). It's also an interesting move from the studios, and heralds an escalation into universe building which will help them preserve the cinema-going experience.

In an age of online streaming, it is becoming harder and harder for studios to create an event out of a trip to the pictures. Our TVs and sound systems are getting better and our delivery methods more convenient. Throw in a giant and still growing gaming industry and cinema has never had a tougher time competing. Cinema owners need franchises to continue to evolve, and film makers need them in order to make smaller movies. The shade of the giant hits provides both opportunity and capital to the very projects blockbusters are accused of killing.

Marvel’s response is to adapt their source material not only in tone, but in form. While offering an explosive spectacle unmatched on the sofa, they are dropping characters in and out of one another’s movies, rewarding viewers for investing in the universe and acknowledging that a Netflix-bingeing audience will accept long form storytelling, just as the comic book reader always has. Captain America: Civil War  - planned for a 2016 release date - will feature Iron Man in an adaptation of a pivotal comic book run, which will impact the universe beyond that one movie (and of note, the comic book story featured a crucial role for Spider-Man).

Eight years ago, Marvel tentatively rolled dice on this. At the end of Iron Man (and restricted to a post-credits sting), Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury chided Tony Stark and asked “think you’re the only superhero in the world?”. Now every other studio is looking at ways to create their own “shared universe” and Marvel has raised the stakes once again by conquering and absorbing someone else’s.

Spider-Man is back where he belongs and in the meantime, the cinema going experience may get a new lease of life.