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As we move into the 2020s one of the significant emerging trends is the way that trends aren’t going away in any meaningful manner. The decade is beginning to dwindle, and there’s no outward indication that audiences are going to lose interest in the broad multimedia franchises that have managed to stick- most pertinently superheroes. Despite a thousand and one hit pieces about the impending death of the genre or superhero fatigue, the format has proved itself just too versatile to actually collapse in on itself. However, just because a thing isn’t going away doesn’t mean it isn’t changing.
As we begin to cap-off the defining multimedia stories of the 2010s the superhero genre is already evolving in new and different ways like Fox’s non-continuity approach to the X-Men or the CW’s functional TV Multiverse. One of the biggest changes going forward is the beginnings of a demand for diversity with stuff like Black Panther, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman. There’s a lot of reasons for this change, and I’ll end up getting into them more as we go, but this week it added another notch to its belt as Sony has tapped director Gina Prince-Bythewood to direct their planned Silver Sable/Black Cat movie as part of their Spider-Verse.
In case you haven’t been following Sony’s current business situation and how this whole Spider-Verse will work here’s an update. Back in 2012, after Avengers proved shared universes were going to be the thing from then on, Sony decided to soft reboot their already rebooted Amazing Spider-Man series. The plan was to launch a slate of films into the 2020s with Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sinister Six, Venom, and Amazing Spider-Man 3 at the forefront. We know this now because most of it leaked during Sony’s disastrous hack in 2014, the same year Amazing Spider-Man 2 crashed at the box office, and the whole plan got derailed.
Now Sony has to make nice with Marvel and Disney and shared Spider-Man, but that also means sharing his profits, which they don’t like. To get around this, Sony has started to try and revive a lot of their pre-2014 shared universe ideas only now with the understanding these films will orbit Spider-Man without being part of his franchise or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Currently, three are in various stages of production- Venom, which will star Tom Hardy, an animated Spider-Man film about the blatino Spidey Miles Morales, and this Silver Sable/Black Cat movie that was originally two ideas smashed together.
The Silver Sable movie pitch has been in development for a long while, one of the primary spin-off ideas floated amid the hacked emails once “Spider-Verse” was confirmed to be a thing. I’m not exactly sure why this is, Silver Sable isn’t a terribly important comic character in her own right or in the Spider-Man mythos. In fact, a lot of Sable’s adventures have to do with the mercenary group Wild Pack, which is run by the X-Men character Cable.
Her back-story is that she’s the head of a small country called Symkaria and uses this position to support her international mercenary/do-gooder hobby. She doesn’t really have an archenemy or even a defining story within the Spider-Man comics. Actually, her biggest enemies are the Nazis because they killed her father, who ran a Nazi-hunting group, which makes it seem like she was going to be tied into the proposed prequel about Peter Parker’s Aunt May as an allied spy during World War 2.
As for Black Cat, she’s a much more conventional Spider-Man supporting character as well as a pretty transparent rip-off of Catwoman. The daughter of an international jewel thief, she decided to go into the family business and eventually dawned the costume when trying to bust her father out of jail.
During the attempt, she attracted the attention of Spider-Man and has been trying to attract his…”attention” again ever since with skimpier and skimpier outfits. She’s also occasionally flirted with having super powers to make her Peter’s equal, most commonly a bad luck hex that curses the people she encounters but it’s a pretty sporadic part of her character.
And then there’s Gina Prince-Bythewood, the final part of this triumvirate. Prince-Bythewood has been quietly plugging away in the industry since 2000, mostly hitting stuff in the adult movie circuit like Love & Basketball or The Secret Life of Bees. A few years ago her romantic drama Beyond the Lights ended up a quiet hit, and it’s since propelled her into some more mainstream fair. She created the series Shots Fired for Fox and is directing the pilot film/episode of Marvel’s upcoming superhero teen romance series Cloak & Dagger.
So far we haven’t seen if she has action chops, but at the same time these days that kind of qualification is getting less and less important. So much of a film’s thrill and spectacle is achieved through editing, B-unit footage, and the VFX department that it’s become a lot more viable for non-blockbuster filmmakers to enter the arena. Case in point, the Russo Brothers, were famous for working on the comedy Community before making Winter Soldier, much the same way Scott Derrickson had been a horror only guy before Doctor Strange.
That whole idea of getting more diversity in the people making these movies is definitely at play in getting Prince-Bythewood to direct and just the idea of making the movie at all. This subject of diversity tends to be a hot-button issue for the kind of top minds that are fearful and loathsome of things not made for them, but overall I think it’s generally misunderstood in the subject of superheroes.
Look, as much as comic fans like to pretend otherwise, superheroes are a business first and foremost, a fact that’s only gotten truer as DC and Marvel have transitioned into acting as test kitchens for future movie ideas and characters. As such, when the studios or publishers decide to push a property that has diverse leads or diverse creators it’s rarely motivated by a sense of social and moral obligation and more about working the margins.
Women superhero fans are an underserved niche so giving them a movie gives you a better chance of high returns, doubly so if you turn it into a heist based action-buddy comedy like that Rihanna/Lupita movie that got made out of that meme. Incidentally, that particular push is probably a sizeable influence on this director and this property going forward to say nothing of the success, so many studios are finding with R-rated action films released in the early part of the year against limited competition. Basically, wants to see if it can make Atomic Blonde while appealing to the same crowd that made Hidden Figures and Get Out a big hit with the added safety net of making this a Spider-Man adjacent film.
None of this is meant as a slam against Prince-Bythewood, her abilities, or the film as a concept. I mean, yes- it’s a calculated trend riding studio cash grab but that’s true of a lot of movies I like, and that doesn’t mean it has to be bad or regressive. I still have some serious concerns, mostly about the fact that neither Sable nor Black Cat is that exciting without the superhero universe to back them up.
Also, much like Venom, I’m very curious about what villains Sony still maintains the rights to and could throw against the girls. Spider-Man admittedly has a massive and compelling rogues gallery but a lot of them are getting scooped up by Marvel, and I’d also doubt Sony wants to retread stuff from the previous 5 Spider-Man movies. Maybe they’ll go with a Spidey mob boss villain like Hammerhead or Silvermane. Honestly, I’m not sure the movie needs a villain as the obvious approach would be to make a heist movie that stars a couple of super-thieves, maybe use a criminal organization like the Maggia if you really need a bad guy.
In closing, I’d say I’m actually pretty hopeful for this flick, even if I’ve no other reason to than the presence of Prince-Bythewood. Obviously, with Sony there’s the omnipresent chance the studio will meddle in the production and screw everything up, much like they did with the last three Spider-Man movies, but barring that I’m onboard.
There may not be much too these characters but that just leaves room for an original or exciting script to do something interesting with the names and costumes and I’d be very open to what Prince-Bythewood’s vision of a woman led heist film could be. The realm of the heist and buddy-action films is still very much the domain of white men, so the promise of getting a truly new take on it is pretty exciting to say the least, even if it’s coming slathered in Sony franchise management and shared universe tedium.
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