Spider-Man first swung into the imaginations of comic book readers more than 50 years ago in the pages of “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15. The character soon became Marvel’s icon of the Silver Age, appearing not only in comics but also on television, video games and even migrating to Broadway.
Now, he’s poised for new life on the big screen — and he’s under new management. Under a deal revealed Monday, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will have an opportunity to reframe the iconic character, bringing Spidey into Marvel’s blockbuster cinematic universe before the hero goes spinning back to anchor his own franchise for Sony Pictures, his movie home since 2002.
Feige’s expanded involvement in Spider-Man’s movie future might be the best thing to happen to Peter Parker since Mary Jane Watson moved in next door. The architect of Marvel’s movie landscape has presided over an unprecedented string of hits — to date, the company has released 10 films that have brought in more than $7 billion.
Consider that in the hands Marvel Studios’ profound and seemingly infallible hit-making machinery, even “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film based on an obscure title about a team of misfits (including a machine-gun wielding raccoon and sentient tree) racing through space, made upward of $777 million worldwide.
Marvel’s not-so-secret weapon is Feige’s tight control over the characters’ interlocking story lines.
The studio employs a shared-universe model in which the superheroes from films such as “Iron Man,” “Captain America” and “The Avengers” interact with each other, and events from one film — or in some cases Marvel’s TV properties — influence story lines in subsequent movies.
Feige has noted that comic books have long utilized that model, but Marvel’s massive success has radically altered how other studios and filmmakers approach blockbuster cinema.
The Marvel model
“I think the Marvel model has changed the way everybody approaches sequels and franchises,” said writer-producer Simon Kinberg in an interview with The Times last year. He is currently writing Bryan Singer’s upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” a Marvel Comics story line controlled by Fox, not Marvel Studios. (In the wake of the Sony deal, some have wondered whether Marvel might attempt to partner with Fox on its “X-Men” or “Fantastic Four” projects, all based on Marvel Comics characters.)
“[Marvel sees] not just a vertical storytelling but a horizontal storytelling that you can do over multiple movies and multiple different characters,” Kinberg continued. “The notion of being able to build a seven- or eight-movie tapestry where you have mainline movies, offshoot movies — that’s a completely original approach to filmmaking.”
"Avengers" actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans welcome the newest hero, actor Chadwick Boseman, who will be the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)Link
Fans and media gathered at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to hear Marvel Studios announce its upcoming slate of films. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)Link
Fans line up for the Marvel Studios fan event at the El Capitan Theatre. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)Link
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announces the "Doctor Strange" film onstage. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)Link
Fans line up for the Marvel Studios event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)Link
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stands in front of a screen spotlighting the opening dates for Marvel's newly announced slate of films. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)Link
Marvel's "Black Panther" is slated for Nov. 3, 2017. (Marvel)Link
It’s one that owes greatly to Feige’s vision. The 41-year-old executive is not only envied in Hollywood for his impressive track record, but he also is a well-known figure in the fan community who is perceived as a like-minded spirit.
A child of the ’70s who grew up on “Star Wars” and enjoyed collecting action figures, he has spent the bulk of his professional career working to bring comic book icons to the screen with a mix of reverence and wit. And he almost always appears in casual dress, baseball caps and jeans, never suits and ties.
That Feige was able to construct Marvel’s foundations without the presence of its most well-known hero makes the company’s fortunes that much more impressive to industry observers. Once Marvel began making its own films with 2008’s “Iron Man,” Feige turned characters that only die-hard readers had known into household names thanks to a keen eye for talent and a knack for matching outwardly offbeat directing choices with prime material.
In the process, he’s gained his own sort of celebrity. At Comic-Con International, the annual expo that’s exploded into the mainstream with the soaring popularity of superheroes, Feige enjoys the same sort of rock-star status as many of the actors, typically taking the stage of the San Diego Convention Center’s biggest auditorium to thunderous applause and chants of “Mar-vel, Mar-vel.”
“We don’t like pretentiousness very much and try not to fall prey to it in our lives or in the movies,” Feige said in a 2013 interview with The Times. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.) “Most of our heroes battle with that anyway, Thor, Iron Man. … If they were to go too dark and serious, their egos would crush them. You have to allow them to have levity at themselves and some of the circumstances that we throw them into.”
Although Feige was a producer on two earlier Spidey movies — 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” both directed by Sam Raimi — he now has the ability to integrate the character into the massive movie tapestry that Marvel has cannily crafted.
Under the terms of the deal between Marvel and Sony, Spider-Man will appear in an unspecified Marvel film before headlining a new installment in his own franchise for Sony, which will arrive in theaters July 28, 2017, and will be co-produced by Feige and former Sony President Amy Pascal.
Though not officially announced, comic book fans widely expect that the unspecified Marvel movie in the webslinger deal is “Captain America: Civil War,” set to open May 6, 2016. The first of Marvel’s so-called Phase 3 films will follow a story line introduced in the comics in 2006 that saw Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) on opposite sides of a debate over registering superheroes with the government. In the comic books, Spider-Man has a pivotal role in the story line.
A new actor will be brought in to portray the character, who of late had been played by British actor Andrew Garfield in 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and a 2014 sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” both of which were directed by Marc Webb, who also will be departing the franchise.
The most recent movie grossed $706 million worldwide, a bit less than the 2012 film’s $758 million, and was met with mixed reviews.
The Marvel brand might help Spider-Man compete amid a coming glut of superhero movies. Marvel plans to release 11 films between now and 2019 — that’s not including the Spidey movie with Sony. Warner Bros. also is set to open 10 DC comics-inspired films between 2016 and 2020, while Fox has at least six comic book projects in its pipeline.
Already, Spider-Man’s new shared corporate parentage has affected some of his fellow Marvel characters, with the studio shifting previously announced projects back to make way for Spidey.
Four films have been pushed back — Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” now will arrive in theaters Nov. 3, 2017; “Black Panther,” starring Chadwick Boseman, will open July 6, 2018; “Captain Marvel” will follow on Nov. 2, 2018; and “Inhumans” will now land in theaters July 12, 2019.
The previously announced dates for Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War Part 1” and “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2” on May 4, 2018, and May 3, 2019, respectively, remain unchanged. Those films might potentially feature appearances from Spider-Man, though the character most certainly won’t appear in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Marvel’s next scheduled release due in May.
Plan never altered
At a public fan event at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood last year, Feige dismissed concerns about a crowded superhero marketplace. “I think that’s a challenge we faced for many, many years. Our plan has never altered one way or the other based on what anybody else is doing in any genre, particularly any other superhero film. …What we’ve found so far is if the movies deliver, the movies will do well. That’s what we focus on, what we can control, the quality.”
He struck a similar note when speaking to The Times last year while promoting “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“We were founded on creative chances,” Feige said. “I think ‘Iron Man’ was a creative chance, Downey was a creative chance, ‘Thor,’ a World War II movie [‘Captain America: The First Avenger’], they all were. So I think the success of all those has certainly given us the confidence to just keep doing it.
“We always wanted to make movies like this. … So far — it could all change tomorrow — but the audience response to what we’re doing just encourages us.”
Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.
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