So, it turns out Spider-Man isn’t leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe after all. After all that hubbub and business wheeling and dealing, Sony and Marvel Studios finally hammered out a deal that left everybody happy. Peter Parker, as played by Tom Holland, will return for a third movie that will be co-produced by Marvel and Sony, set to be released on July 16, 2021. There will also be one more Spider-Man appearance in the MCU, which most are taking to mean an Avengers cameo of some sort. Fans online seemed ecstatic with the news, though few seemed as delighted by the agreement as Tom Holland, who celebrated on Instagram with a video of Leonardo DiCaprio from The Wolf of Wall Street.
Admittedly, I am not a Spider-Man fan and my investment in the MCU has always been more rooted in a professional interest rather than fan adoration, so my opinions on this matter were always going to be cynical. I understand why fans of the character we’re rooting for this deal. Sony has achieved many great things with Spidey, but their live-action track record is a tad spotty and working with Marvel’s assets at least seemed to give them some consistency. Still, I can’t say I was enamored with the possibility of Disney owning or having some ownership over even more of the things, given the exhausting totality of their corporate reign.
When the deal between the two studios first fell apart, it was clear where audiences’ loyalties lay. The internet exploded with indignation over the idea of Sony not wanting to give Marvel, home to the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, more money. It seemed to be a personal affront to some that Spider-Man would not continue to be part of a series with hundreds of characters, even though he would always have his own films. Fans organized mass Twitter storms and petitions, while Marvel actors like Jeremy Renner took advantage of the moment to drum up some nice PR for themselves, playing into the image of the franchise as a corporate hero that spoke for the masses. They weaponized their fandom, and it worked.
I struggle with how any aspect of this multi-million dollar corporate deal can be parsed out as anything other than a loss for consumers. Sure, there’s a comforting sense of completion that comes with seeing all your favorite characters in one expansive series (one that is undeniably one of the most ambitious endeavors Hollywood has ever executed). I don’t deny that thrill, but personally, I can’t get over the sight of seeing people cheer on an overwhelming media monopoly as a victory for the beleaguered underdog. This is what has always fascinated and unnerved me about Disney: They have so forcefully and effectively created this adorable nostalgic image for themselves that millions of people cheer on business decisions that will inevitably have a negative impact on pop culture and the world at large.
Fandom breeds certain mentalities that corporate powers love to exacerbate for their own means. You see this every time a big movie flops and everyone involved it forced to trot out the old line about how they ‘made the movie for the fans’. It’s a trite excuse and essentially the only thing they can say at times like this but it’s also rhetoric that further strengthens the notion of ‘real fans’ exceptionalism that demands unflinching loyalty.
I even saw this line being used when Disney acquired 21st Century Fox for a cool $71 billion. One of the most impactful media mergers of our time, one that will irrevocably change the entertainment landscape, was spun as being the ultimate dream for fans. To this day, even as we see news of mass layoffs and canceled projects and artists’ fears of loss of creative control, I still get Disney fans in my timeline insisting it’s all for the best. For the best of what, I’m not really sure.
Disney’s image of familial comfort is ironclad, the careful machinations of decades of ruthlessness and sparkles. Walt Disney, arguably the great American capitalist of the 20th century, maintained his powerful grip on the collective imagination through his well-manicured image as the nation’s uncle. He’s warm and friendly and just wants to bring joy to children of all ages. Disney helped to pioneer a lot of major breakthroughs in modern pop culture and it remains startling how potent those memories are to fans, even in 2019 when his union-hating bigotry is known to all. He was so savvy at molding this persona of himself as the almighty auteur turned a comforting member of everyone’s family that not even death could stop it.
We see this force in action to this day in how we refer to the entire studio’s output as ‘A Disney movie’. You never call Frozen a Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee movie, for example. Even with the Spider-Man movies, which are the work of countless individuals across two studios based on a decades-old character, there’s this sense that the new titles are the work of Disney and Disney alone, that the House of Mouse is the only company that knows how to do the franchise ‘properly’. It’s an especially strange rewrite of history given the work of Sam Raimi and the team behind Into the Spider-Verse. Disney is really the only studio with the might and historical clout to pull off this kind of image. Netflix is working hard to build up a similar persona (see their social media presence for proof) but Mickey’s got a solid century or so head start.
We seem to have societally accepted that Disney will always win, but there’s also a strain of fandom that cheers on such victories as a celebration for the masses rather than acknowledge the truly insidious nature of one company dictating the vast majority of Hollywood’s output. It’s an exhausting spiel to have to repeat, to be honest. It’s no fun being called the party pooper who won’t let people enjoy things because pointing out the problems of media monopolies has become comparable to fandom shaming or something. Maybe when Disney runs out of things to buy, we’ll think about it.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.