Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved and expanded, Marvel Studios has learned a hero is only as good as their villain. Many of the weaker films in the expansive MCU canon fell apart because the villain felt somehow false. Maybe it was that their motivations seemed contrived, or they didn’t get enough screentime to develop as much as their comic book counterpart, or maybe they inexplicably breathed fire. But when Marvel lands the villain it makes not just the hero better, but also improves the suspension of disbelief for the moviegoer overall. Just look at Infinity War, Black Panther, or Thor: Ragnarok – all chock full of scene-stealing baddies with relatable goals.
This has so far has been the case with the MCU Spider Man movies—Peter Parker’s villains have all been tried-and-true classic Steve Ditko rogues, but they’ve been modernized, MCU-ized, and given their time to shine. One of the strongest antagonists in the whole of the MCU is Michael Keaton’s take on Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He’s cunning, absolutely ruthless and aggressively relatable. He’s the underdog of the story as much as Spider-Man is; he just goes about it the wrong way. Add in some shades of Green Goblin to make comic fans happy, one of the best villain speeches in the Infinity Saga (between Peter and Adrian, not even Vulture and Spidey), and a great Avengers tie-in to his origin and BOOM—Vulture is able to actually transcend his comic book counterpart.
Following up Spider-Man: Homecoming is no small feat, but following up Homecoming and the one-two punch of Infinity War and Endgame is something else entirely. What villain could possibly be a threat in a post-Thanos world? Where Keaton’s Vulture utilized the incredible power of a father figure opposite our young and earnest Peter Parker, Jake Gyllenhaal creates a Quentin Beck that feels like a brother to both Peter and Spider-Man. Every scene with Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland feels real and earned, and impossibly so do his motivations. Mysterio again ties into the heart of the MCU; a scorned ex-Stark employee using the impressionable Spidey to seek his revenge. Scariest of all, this is the first villain in the MCU that feels prophetic. The technology of VR, drones, and deep fakes are all advancing every day, and what we’re seeing is only at the civilian level. Imagine what level of visual modification tech and aerial weaponry Silicon Valley and the government possess that we can’t yet fathom. Mysterio uses a power set only slightly modified from his 1960’s Silver Age comic book origins in a way that in the next few years will become a huge problem in the modern day real world.
The last moments of Far From Home finally feature a fully formed Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Throughout his time in the MCU he’s either been in training or tied-up in cosmic-level events. We’ve yet to really see him both capable and in a trademark Spidey setting. (the ‘Friendly Neighborhood’ expression is mentioned plenty but detractors are quick to point out how much of an Iron Man Jr. Spidey has become since joining the Avengers) Even with the secret identity reveal that seems to happen in the last moments of the film, the big realization for some audience goers was that they’ve finally set up the comic version of the character. He’s ripe with existential crisis, he’s lost his Uncle Ben surrogate, and he’s even being berated by J. Jonah Jameson on his home turf. Now is the time to gracefully step away from Iron Man’s shadow, and what best sets the tone of a superhero film? The villain.
So where we had Vulture dealing with the past (going back to the very first Avengers), and Mysterio with the future, now it’s time for our Spider-Man to face a villain of the present. Now is the time for him to shed the technology based/Iron Man Jr. infused rogues while still utilizing the world expanding power of a shared universe. It’s time he faced a new villain that affects both Peter Parker and Spider-Man (and after the ending of Far From Home he’s going to have to.) It’s time for Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man to be hunted. For the next Spider-Man movie, bring on Kraven the Hunter.
In the comics, Kraven is a game hunter who has stalked and killed each of the fiercest creatures this planet has to offer when he sets his sights on Spider-Man and becomes obsessed. (The Most Dangerous Game parallels have been clear from the beginning; it’s less than subtle.) Sergei Kravinoff/Kraven is one of Spider-Man’s earliest foes, and his first appearance was way back in Amazing Spider-Man #15 in 1964. He’s always possessed superhuman agility, strength and tracking skills gained by ceremoniously taking a medley of ancient herbs.
Over the decades, he’s gone through countless iterations, from a running joke to a genuinely terrifying menace. He’s been treated with Saturday Morning cartoon-level respect, being pseudo parodied as a reality TV star/Steve Irwin parallel in the Ultimate Universe. Alternatively, he’s spearheaded (pun intended) one of the darkest and most psychologically scarring arcs of the web spinners career. In “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, the iconic 1987 comic arc, Kraven hunts, captures and buries Spider- Man alive. He then takes on the mantle of his foe donning Spidey’s Black suit, and proceeds to beat Vermin nearly to death tarnishing the webheads name. Feeling he has accomplished the greatest hunt and conquered his enemy (whom he has come to respect in his own way), he takes his own life with a shotgun to the mouth and falls into an already prepared open casket. The storyline deals with aristocracy and legacy, power and greed, good and evil, the perception of manhood, brotherhood and so much more. It was dark psychological study of a character who had previously been one note. It changed not just the perception of Kraven forever, but of the Spider-Man books in general. The last name Kravinoff holds weight in the Spider-Man mythos even to this day.
Now, it’s unlikely they’ll go to either of these extremes (the hijinks-y reality TV route or the kidnapping suicide route) in the next Spider-Man movie, but that shows the versatility of the character and how much can be done with the Kravinoff lineage in the right hands.
On the movie side, when it comes to the De-Iron-Man-ing of Spider-Man allowing for a smoother transition either out of or deeper into the MCU, no major rogue is more removed from technology than Kraven the Hunter. He uses natural sacred herbs and has fire-lit ancient ceremonies. He hunts in the wild in a loin cloth with a spear! Now is the time to utilize this potentially final solo installment, sharing MCU and Sony canon alike, to allow Spider-Man to be Spider-Man. Break the Spider-Man 3 curse and use the opportunity to grow the Spideyverse instead of destroying it. Just as with Vulture and Mysterio before him, Kraven can be an all time great Marvel Studios big bad, and he already fits the formula.
One of the great strengths of the MCU is that with each film tying into the next, there’s so much groundwork laid for origin stories. It saves time, it allows for new creative canon, and there’s an inherent believability in the A-ha! moments. (For example: using the BARF system that Tony Stark designed to create a brilliant in-universe short form origin for Mysterio. It endeared you to the world more and didn’t stress your suspension of disbelief.) Something very similar could be done with Kraven’s power set and origin. (Full disclosure: part of this tie-in idea came from a conversation with Nerdist and DC Daily’s Hector Navarro.) Just as every other Spider-Man movie rogue has deep ties to the MCU, what if the herbs and rituals Sergei Kravinoff utilizes to become Kraven the hunter originated in Wakanda? The agility, the durability, the animal-like speed and reflexes—Black Panther has inadvertently given us a backdoor pilot into this character. Tie that into the world of hunting, a dash of political intrigue with the nation of Wakanda opposite Russia, and you have a rich, already established, in-universe backstory!
Expanding from the Wakanda herb itself (probably a plant within the sacred heart-shaped herb family, perhaps tying it to another nation, a Peruvian herb, an ancient Aztec tradition, a Native American peyote ceremony, something from the wilds of whichever culture but still within the family), Kraven is also very topical in our world, another thing many of the best villains share. A slight modification to his comic canon and he could be an environmentalist who hunts poachers as he was in the recent Amazing Spider-Man arc, “Hunted.” Imagine a noble man hell-bent on righting the wrongs and taking out those who would harm animals, that wears the poached animal skins to honor them. This man hears of a wall-crawling menace in New York City and realizes he has an entirely new challenge. He ups the drugs and herbs in his ceremony, a great cinematic visual, (remember Kraven was invented in 1964 as psychedelics, LSD, phenephlaminys and ayahuasca were newly on the streets of New York, and in writers rooms) then embarks on a quest to take out the Spider. It’s a great opportunity to tie in with Black Panther mythos, have Kraven as a bit of a hero from the right perspective, speak to the evils of poaching, update his origin, have psychedelic cinematic movie trappings, and give a Spider-Man movie an entirely different type of feel.
The importance of casting is a key element to any superhero film. No amount of incredible costume work could’ve saved Vulture or Mysterio if the right person didn’t don the suit. Keaton added a paternal energy and weathered grit to his Adrian Toomes which in turn added so much empathy and gravitas. That scene in the car is one of the best in the MCU and not a single special effect is required, just Vulture and Spidey going head to head in an all new way. Gyllenhaal is also impeccably well-cast, seemingly tying in an entire career’s worth of role types into Mysterio. The handsome charming leading man to woo Parker, the loss-motivated, obsessive, darker roles to motivate Beck’s choices and pathos, and his history on the stage elevating for that incredible monologue. Likewise Kraven requires someone with the right blend of intrigue and malice. Someone you can’t help but empathize with even as they do the unthinkable. Pedro Pascal, Jason Mamoa, and Gerard Butler could all bring that heart to the hunter. Joe Manganiello would allow for not just a great performance but to continue the MCU Spider-Man tradition of fun tie-in casting. Keaton has his Batman and Birdman history before playing the Vulture, and Jake Gyllenhaal himself was almost cast as Spider-Man. Cast a die-hard nerd who is absolutely right for the part, who also happened to be Flash Thompson and Deathstroke in previous comic book adaptations.
The origin is seamless, the timing makes sense, and perhaps best of all Kraven seeds have already been planted specifically for the next Spider-Man film. Beyond the unmasking, beyond the need for a less Stark-centric villain, Kraven’s half brother may have already made an appearance in Far From Home. Remember the grizzled and intense chaperone attached to the school field trip by S.H.I.E.L.D.? At the end of the film we come to find out that that S.H.I.E.L.D. unit is not completely what they seem when Maria Hill and Nick Fury turn out to be Skrulls. Who knows what else was going on in that unit? There’s another iconic Ditko era character who shape-shifts, who could easily fit in with (or be MCUized into being one of) the Skrulls, and that is of course The Chameleon. Chameleon was actually one of Spidey’s very first rogues, appearing in the very first solo issue Amazing Spider-Man #1. He also happens to be Kraven’s half-brother.
This would also mean we’d have a beautiful array of Silver Age Villains with Vulture, Shocker, Scorpion, Mysterio, Kraven and Chameleon. All already introduced, all with compelling arcs to draw from. That’s one pretty incredible Sinister Six movie. What better way to introduce a fully Sony Spider-Man than by utilizing all of these Sony-controlled characters in the Sony Universe of Marvel Characters? Even the most die hard of MCU fans would be there opening night for the first Supervillain team-up movie, perhaps with the webhead as the antagonist? The future is bright for Spider-Fans. Let the hunt begin.