El Muerto. Hypno-Hustler. Jackpot. Together, they encompass a combined 27 issues of Marvel comics. Soon, they may also be the basis for three solo films in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, with a shocking amount of A-List talent behind them. As strange is it may sound, Sony is seemingly fully prepared to shell out as much money as necessary to produce nearly any idea that’s thrown their way. So far, that strategy has had mixed results, but the essential anonymity of the projects they’ve lined up may actually give breathing room for some fairly creative and original films to be made. Their potential is enough to inspire thought towards the possibility of other future projects and the names that may bring them together.
To clarify, for any readers who may not know, Sony Pictures still holds the film distribution rights to Spider-Man and any character who made their debut in a Spider-Man comic. This includes villains, sidekicks, love interests, and everything ranging from a full-blown supporting character to a one-off cameo. If their first appearance was in a Spider-Man product, Sony can make a movie about them, and as it’s beginning to turn out, Sony probably will. The string of Spider-Man films released as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were made as part of an agreement between Sony and Marvel Studios, and Marvel Studios can only continue making those Spider-Man movies as long as Sony allows them to do so. Venom, it’s sequel, and Morbius – along with the upcoming Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web – are strictly Sony projects and, as such, not part of the MCU.
The idea here is to pitch film concepts for Sony’s Spider-Man Universe that fall in line with Sony’s recently-established formula. A character most people have never heard of, a way more famous creative behind-the-scenes, and a lead that makes sense but also feels like they should be doing something else. If anything, perhaps this can serve as inspiration for an actual movie sometime down the line. Let’s begin.
MAN MOUNTAIN MARKO, dir. Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Zac Efron, Harvey Keitel
The tragic tale of a simple bodybuilder whose thirst for power consumes him. Michael Marko, known as the “Man Mountain”, is a low-IQ thug living on the streets of New York. His name meant to be ironic, Marko is constantly bullied and made to do favors for the gangs around him. It’s his only form of survival, until the day he’s pushed too far. Michael vows to become a mountain of a man, and finds an opportunity in the employ of Silvio Silvermane and the Maggia crime family. Marko is manipulated into undergoing genetic experimentation, with his body growing to unthinkable sizes. From there, the film follows his mental descent into criminality and desperate rise to power – a deconstruction of society and a unique look into the mind of a man obsessed.
Robert Rodriguez would be the perfect man to bring this story to life, mixing the gritty surrealism of Sin City with the violent despair of his Mexico trilogy. Zac Efron could be the face of Marko, bringing an accurate physique to a role that could test his acting chops. As for Silvermane, only Harvey Keitel is fit to play the role. His resume is tailor-made for an elderly, abusive, smooth-talking crime boss. Just take a look at Taxi Driver, as any respectable filmmaker should.
ROCKET RACER: BIG WHEEL, dir. F. Gary Grey
Starring: Caleb McLaughlin, Jeremy Strong, Michael Chernus
A high-octane thrill ride through the mean streets of Brooklyn, and a parallel story demonstrating key differences in the United States’ socio-economic hierarchy. Robert Farrell, a scientific prodigy confined by the limitations of his poor upbringing, finds himself responsible for the well-being of his six younger siblings when his single mother falls ill. Realizing the legitimate route won’t be enough, he combines his technological talent with an inner need-for-speed to construct a super-powered skateboard and become the Rocket Racer – a small-time thief with big-time talent.
Elsewhere, Jackson Wheele is a wealthy, talentless business man embezzling money from his company. When it becomes clear he may soon be found out, he offers the Rocket Racer a hefty sum of cash to erase all evidence of his crimes. Instead, Robert uses the information to blackmail Wheele, angrily belittling him for the part he plays in systematic oppression and referring to him as a “Big Wheele”. In turn, an embarrassed Wheele contacts a black market weapons technician known as The Tinkerer, and asks him to construct a suit that nobody – not even the Rocket Racer – can intimidate him in. Something larger than Robert’s skateboard. The Big Wheel.
A clash of ideology ensues, with the lead roles played by Caleb McLaughlin and Jeremy Strong. The Stranger Things breakout, with his youthful energy and dramatic acting chops, is perfect for the role of Robert Farrell, while Succession star Jeremy Strong is the embodiment of entitled, villainous businessman. Chemistry between the two has the potential to be unmatched, and become a comic book movie rivalry for the ages. As for The Tinkerer, who also has ties to Farrell, Michael Chernus is primed to reprise his role from Spider-Man: Homecoming, further connecting the Sony Universe with the MCU after his former associate, Vulture, transitioned between the two in Morbius. As for director, F. Gary Grey proved he could handle vehicular combat with The Fate of the Furious, and demonstrated his Oscar-worthy attention to character work in Straight Outta Compton. A match made in heaven.
STYX & STONE, dir. Henry Selick
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key
A dark, twisted, animated tale from the mind behind The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. Gerald Stone, a scientist working for a new state-of-the-art medical firm, is looking for the cure to cancer. The problem is, his new treatment – which posits that controlled exposure to the disease will result in human immunity – will never be approved for testing. So, in a moment of agony-inducing hopelessness, he begins offering criminally-low amounts of money to the homeless of New York to act as test subjects. Jacob Eichorn, a former family man now down-on-his-luck, volunteers in the hopes that a successful outcome will make him a hero to his estranged children. Alas, the highly-experimental treatment instead transforms Jacob into a living cancer. Now a walking monster with a knack for killing anything he touches, Eichorn takes the name “Styx” and succumbs to his own madness.
Feeling guilty for this tragic turn of events, Stone dedicates the rest of his life to finding a cure and keeping Styx alive. He constructs a rock-like suit that enables him to survive in the presence of Eichorn, and the two retreat into the shadows in search of a better life. They’re only convinced to return years later, and use their newfound powers for good, when the mysterious Cult of Entropy begin using Stone’s old treatment to drain the life of innocents across New York.
A tale of overcoming past sins, told via the signature twisted stop-motion style of the maestro Henry Selick, Styx & Stone would be the perfect thematic follow-up to Netflix’s Wendell & Wild, with the added bonus of being set in the Marvel Universe. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, who only seem to reunite for animated projects these days, are the only duo who could accurately portray the dark humor and intense grief experienced by the two leads, returning to work with Selick after starring in his last film. They would, of course, be optioned to reprise their voice roles as CGI versions of the title characters should Sony choose to include them in any future live-action team-ups.
CODENAME: WARRANT, dir. Ben Affleck
Starring: John David Washington, Boyd Holbrook, Timothy Olyphant
New York City has a rat problem, and only one man has the warrant to clean it up. Gray Garrison is a mercenary-for-hire, and one of the deadliest in the game. He’s prone to violent outbursts, fits of rage, and never taking hostages, but his mean exterior is hiding a past full of abuse. Raised by an alcoholic mother and an absent father, Gray became the target of a local skinhead group at a young age, and only survived his childhood by learning how to claw back. Now, as an adult, he’s a secret government weapon, augmented with cybernetic enhancements he uses to perform the United States’ dirty work as the only agent of Warrant, INC. – a bounty hunting agency the country can hire without responsibility. His handler, Mr. Reynard, is the closest thing Gray has to family, even if he’s never truly been able to trust him.
Garrison’s latest assignment becomes personal, and forces him to confront demons he thought long deceased, when he’s hired to hunt and kill “Vermin”, a human-sized rat creature terrorizing New Yorkers from the depths of the city’s sewage system. A briefing reveals Vermin as Edward Whelan, Gray’s former skinhead tormentor who fell in league with surviving members of the Third Reich, whose geneticists accidentally transformed him into a monster while trying to create their own perfect Aryan symbol. It will take everything Garrison has to defeat Vermin, and come to terms with his heartbreaking origin.
Ben Affleck has been looking for a new project to direct for quite some time, and after a few attempts at working with Warner Bros., it may be time for him to jump ship and head towards Sony. His work on films like Argo and The Town show he excels at high-tensity action-thrillers, and Live by Night proves he knows how to handle a protagonist who lives in a Gray area. John David Washington, an up-and-coming star in his own right, would be smart to nab his own superhero franchise before it’s too late, and clearly has the chops to bring a complicated character like Warrant to life. Timothy Olyphant would slide in organically as Mr. Reynard, his likable-yet-off-putting handler. Boyd Holbrook, always adept at putting a charming twist on detestable antagonists, has the proper look and feel to play Whelan, and won’t be afraid to commit to the motion capture performance necessary to create Vermin.
THE WISP, dir. Sam Mendes
Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Eiza Gonzalez, Hugh Grant
The dawn comes over the silent hills,“The Will O’ The Wisp”, by Annie Campbell
And calls to the winds of morn;
The stars grow pale, and the sun cries, ‘Hail!’
To the shadowy fields forlorn;
And good-bye, good-bye, to the Will-o’-the-Wisp,
Who dies when the day is born!
Dr. Jacqueline Arvad is perhaps the most gifted electromagnetic researcher in her field, and she’s close to a breakthrough in electromagnetism. Unfortunately, she’s trapped working for an opportunistic, misogynistic boss – Jonas Harrow – who constantly takes credit for her work to become the star of the London branch of The Life Foundation. With essentially no credit to her name, Arvad is always under the pressure of being let go, and works incredibly long hours to compensate for her bold ideas. As a result, after multiple days without sleep, Arvad blacks out in her lab just before an absurd laboratory accident causes an eruption in her experimental new electromagnetic field. Jacqueline is caught in the blast, which weakens the attraction between molecules in her body and allows her to manipulate the density of her body. When Harrow learns of the accident, he assumes Arvad has died, and takes the remnants of her studies as his own.
With her newfound abilities, Arvad embarks on a journey of self-discovery, advancing her own knowledge of electromagnetism and coming into a fresh sense of empowerment. She struggles with balancing her former ideals with the reality of her situation, eventually using her matter-altering powers to take what she feels she deserves, something she had never felt able to accomplish before. Tired of seeing Harrow bath in the glory of her intelligence on television, she devises a plan to infiltrate the high-security Life Foundation facility and assassinate him quietly, leaving behind documents that prove herself as the mind behind the Life Foundation’s recent successes. Things become complicated, however, when she bumps into someone else trying to infiltrate Life; Jacinda Rodriguez, the legendary thief known as Tarantula. The two develop a romance as Jacinda, an honorable criminal, convinces Jacqueline of her worth and potential, reciting a poem that persuades her to take on a new identity.
Films like Revolutionary Road and Away We Go show Sam Mendes‘ ability to direct quirky romantic-dramas, and his recent work on Skyfall and 1917 are indicators of his skill with high-stakes action. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who could also help contribute to the script, is a natural with complex characters, and her screenwriting talent would go a long way in making The Wisp a believable expose on workplace inequality. Eiza Gonzalez, who has been searching for a major superhero role since Bloodshot flopped, feels born to play Tarantula, while Hugh Grant is due for a grimy turn as the film’s villain.