So yeah, I think we all kind of forgot this was happening.

Another year passes, and another brick is laid in Sony’s confusing mess of a “cinematic universe.” As Sony Pictures are the primary owner of Spider-Man’s film rights, he’s a cash cow the studio has relied exclusively on, as they don’t really own any movie-related I.P.s that anyone would give a shit about. That, along with their outright refusal to greenlight an original idea (are they aware they can’t do this?), and you get the current state of this forced, insular brand where Sony is trying desperately to turn an entire rogues gallery into a roster of lead characters. This strategy was a financial success with Venom (2018) but hit a hilarious impasse with Morbius (2022). A movie considered so terrible that the online mockery of it gaslit the studio into re-releasing the film, becoming likely the first movie ever to flop twice.

But that film’s failures have done nothing to slow down the SCU (Spidey Cinematic Universe? Sony Cinematic Universe? Sorry Cinematic Universe?) hype train. Madame Web, Spider-Man’s elderly sage, will see her live-action debut in a solo film released next year. Dakota Johnson is set to portray a younger version of that character, but this time, she’ll be doing the spanking and tying up. By the way, AND I AM NOT JOKING, this is the current promotional logo for that movie if you want to be blown away by the burgeoning creativity we’re in store for:

Source: Sony Pictures

It HAS to be on purpose; they know what they’re doing.

Before we even get to Web and various other planned projects, much of the future for this endeavor rests on the broad shoulders of Kraven the Hunter. Kraven is a psychotic but extremely intellectual powerhouse, a hunter of the big game who often sees his skill and ambition focused on defeating the biggest game of all – Spider-Man. As comics are going to comics, human strength alone won’t be a match for Spidey, as writers have been forced to think up in-universe power-ups for Kraven, including many magical potions, in addition to his various weapons, to make it an even playing field for the superhuman Spider-Man.

Kraven is, obviously, most known for Kraven’s Last Hunt. This comic book arc was more than just a superhero punch ’em up, but one that explored identity, destiny, and the misconceptions a public persona can breed. It endures as a lauded run because writer J.M. DeMatteis takes a noteworthy character flaw and drives it to a compelling extreme, highlighting what separates the heroes from the villains in these stories. That’s Kraven’s claim to fame as a Spider-Man baddie and largely what’s driving the notion that the character is popular enough for a solo film. However, will Kraven the Hunter succeed in providing ample character development to the muscle man, like his comic book counterpart? Is Sony even interested in such an endeavor, or are we stopping at a cash grab? In the film, which boasts Russell Crowe as the title character’s father, Kraven is portrayed by Aaron-Taylor Johnson, a frequent face in comic book and science fiction fare. Johnson has the look and the physique, but the jury is still out on if this character has enough juice to lead his own enterprise:

Well, that’s a lot of movie to digest. There’s really just too much going on in this trailer, loudly talking over even the few positives. To be clear, those positives mostly are: Johnson looks like a badass and a worthy Kraven in the action scenes. If nothing else, I hope the trailer is indicative of a commitment to in-camera effects and practical stunts, keeping the CGI to a minimum, as this character doesn’t need it. However, what’s concerning is the seemingly overstuffed but somehow generically written story. The energy of the story should be focused on Johnson and Crowe, yet we have the Rhino coming in out of nowhere, and I’m supposed to feel something even though the trailer does nothing to build him up. All the action, some of it admittedly impressive, is just Kraven beating up a bunch of no-names I don’t care for. Having Russell Crowe’s character bellow on about how ‘weak’ the mother of his children is ultimately rings hollow because we have no context for it. It seems like the type of subplot you’d save for the movie because putting it in the trailer does little to garner interest in this story, as we don’t have much to go on.

Meanwhile, Kraven himself has been transformed from a ruthless wildlife hunter, in the comics, to now apparently Dr. Doolittle. In an attempt to make the character sympathetic, Johnson’s version will be an animal lover that can communicate with these creatures. Now, this will assuredly split viewers among two sides. Some will say that Kraven was a perfectly good character as is, and there was no reason to change his origin for this movie. Others will say that we have to be open-minded for new interpretations, as a fresh update may be more entertaining than you would think at first glance. I think both sides have valid points, and I’ll withhold total judgment on this change until it can be seen in practice.

But it does further the skepticism I’ve had about this movie’s quality while also making me question what Sony’s actual goals are. A popular expectation continues to persist that this so-called “Sony Spider-Man Universe” is building up to a Sinister Six movie, where various villains will team up in a battle against Spider-Man. I do believe that’s still in Sony’s back pocket as a potential event movie, HOWEEEEVVVVER, I don’t believe that is the studio’s only goal. Instead, what they’re hoping for is that a few of these Sinister Six members will become popular enough to stand on their own in a series of solo films. As a result, this means that you can do Kraven 2 or Venom 4 and have those former bad guys re-branded as heroes, who now have their own rogues gallery of villains they can fight. They’ve already accomplished this with Venom, although he’s yet to fight anyone that isn’t part of the “Clone of the good guy, but he’s evil” trope.

In short, Sony wants to have their cake and eat it, too. They want their Sinister Six movie, but they’re also experimenting to see which of these characters they can milk at the box office without the assistance of Spider-Man. This is why there’s such mixed messaging in the trailer – the story is playing out like a typical protagonist going on a revenge quest, but all the taglines are like, “Villains aren’t born, they’re made…” and all that B.S. It’s similar to what Warner Bros tried and failed to do with Black Adam (2022), although that disappointment pales in comparison to the dumpster fire of Sony’s Morbius. The knowledge of this places a cynical cloud over Kraven the Hunter. It doesn’t feel like we’re in store for a movie dedicated to entertainment and thrill. Rather, it feels like a Ponzi scheme designed to milk the dogshit out of the one Marvel IP they own. Well, let them have their fun. If the superhero landscape of the last few years is anything to go by, it’ll eventually bite you if you continue to betray the audience’s trust.

Kraven the Hunter hits theaters everywhere on October 6th, 2023.