Five years ago, Sony tried to kickstart a cinematic universe with Venom the same year Marvel Studios released Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Venom made a ton of money, but the critics were not especially kind, as evidenced by the rancid 30% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, Sony pressed forward with its Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters (later renamed Sony’s Spider-Man Universe or SSU), serving up two more critical duds in Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Morbius. But despite its shaky start, the SSU now has a chance to strike while the iron’s hot and give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a run for its money.
How Sony can beat Marvel at its own game
The MCU hit a rough patch in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. Phase 4 and Phase 5 have introduced plenty of exciting new heroes, but some of the lowest-rated Marvel movies of all time have hit theaters in the past three years. The three worst-reviewed MCU movies (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder) all premiered between 2021 and 2023. Marvel is learning how hard it is to catch lightning in a bottle twice.
Meanwhile, Sony is about to release Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse this weekend, and it’s already getting rave reviews. The Spider-Verse is not part of the SSU (or the MCU), but we have seen references to both movie universes in Across the Spider-Verse trailers. In one clip, Spider-Man 2099 mentions “Doctor Strange and the little nerd back on Earth-199999,” and in another, we see The Spot pop up in Mrs. Chen’s convenience store from Venom.
Where the MCU has doubled down on an overarching story that connects its movies and shows, I think the SSU could succeed by going down a different road.
As I mentioned in a piece about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Captain America, Iron Man, and Wolverine don’t fight Thanos every week in the comics. Instead of trying to match Marvel with its cinematic Spider-saga, I think Sony should focus on telling great, discrete stories. Some of them aren’t going to work, but they won’t drag down the rest of the SSU with them. But when the time is right, sure, have Kraven, Morbius, and Venom team up.
I’m pleading with Sony not to repeat Marvel’s mistakes because we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Venom and Morbius might not have moved the needle, but there are a dizzying number of SSU projects in the works. Kraven the Hunter, El Muerto, and Madame Web are three movies slated to release by the end of 2024. Two shows are in development (Silk: Spider Society and a Spider-Man Noir series) as well. And this week, producer Amy Pascal revealed (via Variety) that a Spider-Woman movie and a live-action Miles Morales movie are coming.
We know Sony can find writers and directors for Spider-Man projects. We saw it in the 2000s, and we’ve seen it with Spider-Verse. The key to Sony’s Spider-Man Universe having a shot in an incredibly competitive, comic book-dominated media landscape is to make each project stand on its own instead of rushing to build a massive cinematic universe.