I’ll cut to the chase: I think the Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire Spider-Man trilogy might become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) canon shortly.
Is this idea crazy? Yes it is, and sure, I might very well be wrong. Yet between the peculiarities of the Sony/Marvel deal, the odd little tidbits of news from Marvel which have been released, and a statement from one actor in particular, the idea makes sense. More importantly, it is an idea which may actually work out best for everybody.
Let me back up for a moment and provide some context. Right now, the upcoming Marvel produced Spider-Man film is caught up in a rather problematic situation created by The Amazing Spider-Man reboot. With the two Marc Webb films seemingly rejected by audiences, Marvel understandably doesn’t want to continue with the continuity of that series, no matter how much people may love Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. However, the failure of the Webb directed series has also left Marvel with the problem of their Spider-Man film being possibly the second reboot in less than ten years. It doesn’t really matter if Marvel skips the origin and jumps right into the superhero life of Peter Parker, their film will still be a third incarnation of the same character in under a twenty year span of time.
Naturally, as many commentators have pointed out, the best way Marvel can make it clear that they are not just offering up the same old thing with a new cast is by making a new Spider-Man film about Miles Morales, the Spider-Man who was first introduced in 2011 in Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line. In his four short years of existence, Miles has become one of the most popular characters in all of Marvel Comics, and were the character to make the leap into feature films, it would solve a great many issues for Marvel Studios. Along with giving audiences a fresh new character in the Spider-Man suit, Miles would allow Marvel is able to distance themselves from the Webb films and address the issue of racial diversity within the line of Marvel films.
Thus far, the rumours circling the project suggest that Morales may indeed be Marvel’s cinematic Spider-Man. Even if this isn’t the case, it is interesting to note how Miles profile has been raised over the past few months: along with a well-publicized appearance on The Ultimate Spider-Man animated series where he was voiced by Donald Glover, Miles is poised to have a central role in Marvel Comics’ upcoming Secret Wars event, an story which will likely bring Miles into the mainstream Marvel line of comics and out of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Factoring in action figures and video game appearances, Marvel at least seems intent to make sure audiences are aware of the character, likely so that the road is well paved for the character to transition into feature films.
There is just one challenge with bringing Miles into film: what does Marvel do about Peter Parker?
Without spoiling anything for those who have not read any of the comics about Morales, the character’s origins are closely tied to Peter Parker and how his story ends within the Ultimate Marvel line of comics. While Marvel could theoretically bypass the origin of Miles for his feature film introduction, it would be rather odd to just toss a brand new character at audiences without giving them some sense as to how said came to be who they are. So if Miles is going to be the onscreen Spider-Man from now on, Marvel will at some point have to address the question of Peter Parker. For some commentators, this problem has been taken as a reason for why the next Spider-Man film MUST be about Peter Parker.
Except, there is a rather unprecedented trick Marvel could pull with introducing Spider-Man into the MCU: they could make the original Sam Raimi films part of the MCU canon, in turn making Tobey Maguire Marvel’s Peter Parker all along.
Unlike Ang Lee’s The Hulk, which Marvel flat out ignored when starting the currently existing MCU, or the idea of integrating Fox’s X-Men series into the Marvel Universe — which would just make a mess of everything — the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy is in an ideal position to be made part of the MCU. Tonally, the Raimi films are not so different from the current Marvel films that elements couldn’t be mildly adjusted to fit into the larger narrative of the Marvel Universe (i.e. less orange lighting), and in terms of their narrative, the Raimi films are self-contained enough that their sudden inclusion into the canon would have minimal impact on the overall Marvel narrative. Where was S.H.I.E.L.D. during the events of Spider-Man 2? Off screen, cleaning up the mess Doc Ock created. Where was Parker during the events of The Avengers? Keeping things safe in another part of the city. The worst thing that Marvel Studios loses by integrating the Raimi films is that the Osborns, Doc Ock, and the Eddie Brock version of Venom are off the table in terms of their use in the MCU, but it is unlikely Marvel would be interested in using these characters anyway. The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s use of the Green Goblin will likely lead Marvel to stay away from the Osborn family, while Marvel has shown time and again that they have no interest in Brock as a character, going as far as replacing him as Venom with Flash Thompson in the current comics and leaving him out of The Ultimate Spider-Man animated series.
Perhaps more important than the continuity concerns about the Raimi trilogy though is that unlike other pre-Marvel Studio films, Raimi’s trilogy remains generally well regarded among general audiences and fans. As weak as Spider-Man 3 may be, the Raimi films never crashed and burned like the Burton/Schumacher Batman films did, nor does the series have any universally reviled films like the X-Men series does. More importantly, while Kevin Feige has not exactly gone on record about the subject, there does not appear to be any real animosity on the part of Marvel Studios towards the Raimi films beyond having a desire to control the property themselves. Indeed, while the properties Fox controls have been pretty much ignored by Marvel, it is notable that Marvel’s animation division went out of their way to get actor J.K. Simmons to reprise his role of J. Jonah Jameson for The Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, which suggests a tacit acknowledgement of the success and value of at least some aspects of the Raimi films.
Speaking of Simmons, it is interesting to note that in early February the actor made note of possibly returning to the Spider-Man film series in some capacity in his old role, something which seems rather peculiar if Marvel is starting from scratch with the Spider-Man films. Certainly, Marvel could very well pull the same stunt the Bond producers did with bringing Judi Dench back as M after they rebooted the Bond series with Casino Royale, but it does seem a tad odd given Marvel’s general rejection of pre-MCU casting choices. Yet more bizarre than Simmons comments is the recent revelation that Danny Elfman is providing additional music for Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite the fact that the bulk of the score is the work of Brian Tyler, Marvel’s recent go-to composer. Elfman famously scored the first two films in the Raimi trilogy, a point which has led to speculation that Elfman’s Spider-Man theme could be used in a possible Spider-Man cameo scene in the film. But why use Elfman’s theme if Marvel is establishing their own brand new Spider-Man?
Answer: because they may not be establishing a brand new Spider-Man. Yet.
Think about it. Marvel needs to cast their new Spider-Man ASAP if they plan to feature him in one of the soon to be filming movies; theoretically, Marvel may also wish to make Miles Morales the new Spider-Man. To buy them time to properly prep the Miles incarnation to lead his own series, cut the narrative prep work down, AND build buzz for their new film (and Marvel films in general), perhaps Marvel brings Spider-Man into the MCU via a Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, starting with a quick cameo in the end credits of Age of Ultron (perhaps humorously showing up late for a major battle after the Avengers have already dealt with the crisis). Certainly, Maguire returning to the role among in already beloved cast of characters would be huge grab for Marvel and Sony. Better yet, Maguire could then play a larger role in Captain America: Civil War, establishing the circumstances would necessitate a new Spider-Man. With that framework in place, the 2017 Spider-Man film could focus exclusively on Miles Morales, or perhaps alongside Maguire’s Parker in a Spider-Men film.
Beyond making narrative sense and creating some real buzz around the Spider-Man franchise again, this re-contextualization of the Raimi films as part of the larger Marvel Universe can also serve as a way for Marvel to rewrite history in a way which reaffirms their desire to move beyond origin stories. Miles Morales’ creation was in part a response to the racist backlash amongst some Spider-Man “fans” to African American actor Donald Glover’s desire to be cast as Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. By having Maguire’s Parker on hand to pass the torch to an onscreen Miles, Marvel could both tip its hat to the events which gave birth to Miles and, in a petty move, give the middle finger to now former Spider-Man producer Avi Arad — one of the key individuals behind The Amazing Spider-Man reboot — by making it clear that Miles is the rightful heir to the Spider-Man film throne.
Of course, this is all speculation on my part. Certainly, there is every chance Marvel could want to ditch everything Sony ever touched and start over. There could be another reason entirely for Danny Elfman being involved with Age of Ultron, and perhaps J.K. Simmons hints about returning to the role of Jameson are the result of a conversation with Avi Arad before Arad was removed from his position.
But me? I think something is up. We’ll just have to wait and see what.