When director David Leitch and Brad Pitt told Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group chairman Sanford Panitch that they wanted to cast Aaron Taylor-Johnson for the ensemble thriller “Bullet Train,” Panitch was not very aware of the British actor.
“It was something like” I had to look for it “,” said Panitch. Variety. “I didn’t have a lot of familiarity. And then we start to watch these amazing dailies [from ‘Bullet Train’], and you really see the full-fledged action star. He’s charming and he’s funny and he stands up to Brad Pitt. A lot of people can’t do that.
Taylor-Johnson – who was also the headliner of the “Kick-Ass” comic book hero franchise and played Quicksilver in Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Age of Ultron” – impressed Panitch so much that he Immediately hit the top of the list for “Kraven the Hunter,” the longtime adaptation of the Marvel comic book antihero and Spider-Man antagonist dubbed the world’s greatest hunter. After a conversation with director JC Chandor (“Triple Frontier”), Taylor-Johnson landed the role.
“Kraven” is the latest project in Sony’s renewed efforts to capitalize on its treasure trove of Marvel characters provided with the film rights to Spider-Man. Along with “Venom” starring Tom Hardy and its upcoming sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” starring Woody Harrelson as the title villain, Sony also has Jared Leto as the vampiric “Morbius”, now slated to premiere on January 21.
None of these films to date, however, explicitly involve Spider-Man – or, at least, the Tom Holland version of the character, which is still part of Sony’s unprecedented deal to share the iconic web – slinger with Disney’s Marvel Studios. The last and (at least on paper) of this partnership’s final film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” is slated for release in December. But Panitch is keen to separate Spidey from his other superhero titles.
“We don’t really think of our 900 characters as Spidey’s verse,” he says. “We have a Marvel universe. The volume of characters that we have – you know, wait until you see that next “Venom”. Don’t miss Spider-Man.
He pauses. “It will be exciting if they meet, won’t it?” “
This is where the catch lies. In the world of sprawling comic book universes, the tangled web between Sony’s Marvel Worm and Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe is particularly puzzling. Because Holland’s Peter Parker is a part of the MCU, any appearance he makes in Sony’s other Marvel movies would seem to retroactively follow in characters like Hardy’s Venom and Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven in the MCU as well – but Marvel Studios is just one thing. ‘a production partner with Sony on films from Holland. Confusing matters even more, the first trailer for “Morbius” teased an appearance by Michael Keaton, who played Spider-Man villain Vulture in the Sony / Marvel Studios co-production “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Panitch understands that the tension inherent in this convoluted intellectual property tie has created confusion and frustration among fans. While he remains wary of the details, Panitch is also outspoken that he expects the tension to be resolved soon …in one way or another – and that green light “Kraven,” a character who also grapples with Venom in the comics, fills another piece of that puzzle.
“There is actually a plan,” he said. “I think now maybe it’s getting a little clearer to the people we’re heading towards and I think when ‘No Way Home’ releases even more will be revealed.
One of Hollywood’s less well-kept secrets is that “No Way Home” will dive head first into the multiverse and incorporate characters from Sony’s early “Spider-Man” films starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Alfred Molina, for example, said Variety in April that he’ll be digitally aged in “No Way Home” to look like villainous Doc Ock at the end of 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”.
The implication is that whatever happens in “No Way Home” could allow Holland to live in Sony’s Marvel movies while still being a part of the MCU in some way. But beyond another appearance by Holland’s Spidey in an as yet unannounced Marvel Studios film, “No Way Home” is the latest film in the current Marvel and Sony deal to share the character.
When asked what the future holds for Spidey and Marvel Studios, Panitch seems on an optimistic, albeit vague, note when citing Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige.
“What’s great is that we have this great relationship with Kevin,” he says. “There is an incredible sandbox to play with. We want these MCU movies to be absolutely huge, because it’s great for us and our Marvel characters, and I think it’s the same on their side. But we have a great relationship. There are a lot of opportunities, I think, that are going to arise.
One of those opportunities would finally seem to be making a movie about the Sinister Six – Spider-Man’s cabal of villains, including Doc Ock and Kraven. Sony has tried it once before, as the spin-off of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ from 2014. So making a ‘Kraven’ movie does that mean the studio is about to put together this horrible half – dozen for real?
“It’s difficult, because I think these projects are the kind of thing we have to work on in the dark,” he says. “They are not ready until they are ready. ‘Kraven’ is a great example because we didn’t rush. We could have done it over three years ago. It’s just now that the script is awesome, JC was the right choice, and we found the movie star because it was just kismet, and watch that other movie and realize that could be the perfect cast.
As for the Sinister Six?
After a long pause, Panitch laughed. “That would be very cool, wouldn’t it?”