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Lyvie Scott

5 Years Later, Sony Still Doesn't Understand Why Its Biggest Spider-Verse Hit Worked

Five years ago, Sony took a major gamble by giving an iconic villain the superhero treatment. 2018’s Venom doesn’t exactly defang the title character, but he’s decidedly less menacing than he is within the context of a Spider-Man adventure. That’s because the friendly neighborhood webhead doesn’t have much of a presence in the Sonyverse anymore — but that hasn’t stopped the studio from building a franchise around his most formidable adversaries.

The specifics of Sony’s Spidey-centric deal with Marvel are cloudy even to more schooled fans, but one thing remains clear, even half a decade on: Marvel gets Spider-Man for its cinematic universe, while choice members of his rogues gallery remain in Sony’s stable. That includes villains like Venom, Morbius, and soon, Kraven the Hunter. On paper, it’s not a bad strategy, especially not with Marvel alum Aaron Taylor-Johnson poised to star in Sony’s first R-rated comic adaptation.

While Kraven starts out as one of Spidey’s sillier villains (he’s essentially a big game hunter that views the webslinger as “the ultimate prey”), one 1980s storyline injected major pathos into his story. That’s Kraven’s Last Hunt, a series by J. M. DeMatteis that sees Kraven finally capture Spider-Man, only set him free and later take his own life. Taylor-Johnson and Kraven the Hunter director J. C. Chandor are a long way from adapting that on-screen, but the duo hope that the upcoming film can lay the groundwork for the adult story at play.

“Sony probably doesn’t want me to lead with this,” Chandor told Esquire, “but the story is a tragedy. When the final credits roll on [Kraven], if you’ve been paying attention, you won’t have the feeling that this is all going to end great.”

As such, there’s a lot riding on Sony’s latest effort. After Morbius’ spectacular failure, the Sonyverse is on shaky ground. The studio has a handful of spin-offs in the pipeline after Kraven, like Madame Web and El Muerto, but they feel like more of a means to an end than a genuine effort to establish a new Spidey-centric world. Madame Web star Sydney Sweeney is already fielding queries about crossing over into the MCU. Kraven might even lay the groundwork for a Sinister Six project — that is, if it’s received well and draws more interest in Sony’s new universe.

It does feel like the stakes are abnormally high for what ought to be a fun anti-hero pic. For all its attempts to position Kraven as a grounded, anguished figure, his debut film still feels a lot like ... a comic book movie. It’s certainly poised to be an exciting one, packed with the pulp that gave early 2000s action films their staying power. But there seems to be a disconnect between the kind of film that Sony and co. want to make and the film that actually manifests. Sony wants to want to chart its own path and distinguish itself from the MCU, but it’s still chasing the idea of a cinematic universe, and it may be keeping the films from really standing on their own.

Venom and its sequel, Let There Be Carnage, aren’t popular with everyone — but at least they know exactly what they are. They live in their own world, using specific language to tell a unique story. Crossover potential seems like the last thing in mind, and that’s why they succeeded in setting Sony apart. The studio has been trying to recreate that weird, wonderful magic for half a decade now. Hopefully Kraven can be the next success story in what’s still a very young franchise, but Sony will have to get over their identity crisis in order for that to happen.

Kraven the Hunter hits theaters on August 30, 2024.

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