Sony appears to be lending Spider-Man to Marvel in exchange for the studio's expertise — not its money. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel won't be paying a dime to put Spider-Man in one of its upcoming films, despite the fact that Sony still holds the character's film rights. Instead, Sony reportedly sees the free exchange as a way to bolster the Spider-Man franchise, which by most accounts should be doing far better at the box office than it currently is. Marvel is hugely successful at making superhero movies, and that means Spider-Man should be in much better shape the next time Sony puts him in a solo film.
Marvel will make money through merchandise
That's a really interesting exchange for a whole host of reasons. Marvel's side is perhaps the simplest. For one, it's great news for Marvel's fans, who have wanted to see it take back Spider-Man for a long time. It'll also prime the studio's movie universe should it ever manage to reacquire the hero's film rights. But more importantly, the Reporter notes that Marvel still holds Spider-Man's merchandising rights, so there's still plenty of money for it to make off of Sony's films — especially when they're successful.
What's more notable is that, with this deal, Sony is basically admitting that it's not very good at making Spider-Man movies. Under the agreement, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige — who's generally seen as the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe — will co-produce Sony's next Spider-Man movie. Sony retains final creative control on the films, so there's plenty that could go wrong, but the intention is quite clearly for Feige to work his magic. After all, Marvel isn't about to put its other characters into Spider-Man movies that it doesn't have faith in.
The Reporter bolsters that understanding of this agreement with new details of how the film will be made at Sony. According to its report, producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach — who had been overseeing the Amazing Spider-Man franchise and its planned universe of spinoffs — will merely be executive producers on these new films. While that's a nice title, it reportedly means that they'll have little say creatively. That's a big change, and one that seems to show Sony stepping away from its existing ideas about the character.
That said, Variety reports that Sony is moving forward with its plan to create a world of Spider-Man spinoffs, including Sinister Six, Venom, and an additional movie focused on women. Feige, reportedly, is not expected to have any involvement with the spinoffs. Even so, it's possible that he'll be around for the pictures focused on Spider-Man himself. Variety also makes it sound like we shouldn't be surprised to see Spider-Man pop up in more than one Marvel movie.
How this partnership plays out in the longterm still remains unclear. Sony and Marvel intend to keep working together to some degree, but it isn't obvious how close that'll be. If fans want good Spider-Man movies, they should hope that Marvel remains intimately involved. It wouldn't be surprising for Sony to want that as well: the studio could use a huge franchise, and Marvel's involvement is the closest guarantee it can get to making a hit.
Update February 10th, 5:40PM ET: this story has been updated with additional information from Variety.