This week, we finally got a look at Kraven the Hunter, the next film in Sony’s burgeoning cinematic universe of films about Spider-Man villains without Spider-Man. Kraven, which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tenet, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass), is the latest in what I personally believe to be the most confusing sorta-franchise in Hollywood — not because it’s hard to follow, but because I cannot for the life of me figure out what anyone’s deal is, or why Sony is making these.
Kraven follows up Venom and its sequel as well as Morbius in Sony’s strange Spider-villain universe, which primarily exists because Sony has the film rights to all of the heroes and villains with a direct connection to Spider-Man, and has decided, for some reason, to make anti-hero movies starring Spider-Man villains. We’re also getting a Madame Web movie starring Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney in 2024.
So I have some questions, and I presume you do too. I am going to articulate these questions in a helpful “Q&A” format, which we are all going to then pretend isn’t just me arguing with myself.
So Kraven’s whole thing is he got mauled by a lion and it made him better?
Uhh... that sure seems to be what this Kraven’s deal is. Maybe the movie will explain more? But right now, it just seems like a lion bled into young Kraven’s open wound and now he has animal-themed superpowers.
What about the usual Kraven?
In the comics? He’s just a guy.
Yeah! He just fancies himself the ultimate hunter, who will never be satisfied until he’s hunted all of the most dangerous prey. A lot of times, that means Spider-Man. Why he’s never been as interested in, say, Wolverine or Captain America is anyone’s guess. As one of Spidey’s earliest villains, it’s probably personal at this point.
Later comics introduced an elaborate backstory for him, detailing his heritage as a Russian aristocrat tied up in all manner of nefarious power jockeying — like Succession, but way more confusing. At least some of this seems to be in the film, thanks to the presence of Russell Crowe as Kraven’s father and Dmitri Smerdyakov (Fred Hechinger), Kraven’s half-brother, better known as The Chameleon.
So this is new for you too, huh?
Ayup. I’m not mad. Kraven has had superhuman abilities in some stories, but they’re usually pretty muted, and not like this. Kraven The Hunter seems to have a more gonzo, violent take, and like, sure, why not?
Kraven the Movie sure seems pretty violent! How is Spider-Man gonna fit in here?
I don’t know! This is the most bizarre thing about these movies; as they are R-rated Spider-adjacent films that Spider-Man — at least the current MCU version played by Tom Holland — can’t possibly fit into. The MCU is not a rated-R type place (at least not until Deadpool 3, which is its own weird thing). And even with the flexibility afforded by the inter-dimensional shenanigans of Across the Spider-Verse (which features a supporting character from Venom!) and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it remains quite hard to imagine Sony intending for the exact same audience that showed up for those films to show up here.
Huh. What’s the endgame here then?
Sony has had plans for a Sinister Six movie in one form or another for almost a decade now, although, officially, there are no current plans for any filmmakers to take a new stab at it. Sony certainly has put enough bad guys on screen to pull from for that Spider-Man villain team-up, and Kraven is about to introduce several more, with The Rhino (Alessandro Nivola) and Calypso (Ariana DeBose) joining Kraven and the Chameleon.
So yeah, all sorts of things could happen. Maybe a new Spider-Man is cast to exist in the R-rated Sony-verse, as Spider-Man: No Way Home and Morbius both had confusing post-credits scenes that implied MCU Spidey does not exist in that world. Maybe Sony commits even harder and has all these villains team up against someone who is not Spider-Man. Or maybe the improbable does happen and the Tom Holland Peter Parker/Spider-Man we currently know and love has the great misfortune of facing all these scary villains at once.
But the more likely answer? Sony’s Spider-villain movies have found a niche that isn’t really being served by anything else right now: violent, big-budget effects blockbusters with plenty of comic book ridiculousness. Granted, this is a fraught niche. Venom found success within it while Morbius did not, and it remains to be seen how long Sony can get away with just a light Spider-Zest in lieu of Spider-Man. But for now, it’s the weirdest thing happening in superhero cinema, and it’s only going to get weirder.