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Why Sony's Kraven The Hunter Movie Looks Promising For Marvel's Classic Villain

Cinematic universes are all the rage. Some studios, like Marvel, seem to weave characters and storylines across multiple films effortlessly. Others try and give up altogether, like Universal's Dark Universe of monster films that began and ended with 2016's "The Mummy." Others still have clunky beginnings, but are committed to getting it right, like DC, who recently hired "The Suicide Squad" director James Gunn as its co-chairman and co-CEO.

Then there's Sony attempting to build the SSU: "Sony's Spider-Man Universe." Sony is associated with Marvel Studios for its trilogy of Tom Holland-led "Spider-Man" films, which exist within the MCU. However, the SSU is a separate entity from the MCU under the guidance of Amy Pascal at Sony rather than Kevin Feige at Marvel. The SSU might narratively co-exist with the MCU thanks to the convenient MacGuffin of the multiverse being real, but the rules are fuzzy thus far, and Spider-Man himself has yet to appear in the SSU despite it being named after him. Nonetheless, the SSU began in 2018 with "Venom" and continued with 2021's "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" and 2022's "Morbius."

That lineup was admittedly not a strong start, but things are looking better as attention turns to the SSU's next entry starring a longtime foe of Spider-Man in Marvel comic books: "Kraven the Hunter," hitting theaters October 6, 2023, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the titular character and J.C. Chandor in the director's chair. There's reason to be hopeful of "Kraven" turning things around for the SSU.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson already has Marvel experience

Aaron Taylor-Johnson will star as the infamous Kraven, and the "Bullet Train" actor is no stranger to the world of Marvel superheroes and supervillains. In 2010, Taylor-Johnson played Dave Lizewski, the titular hero, in "Kick-Ass" and its 2013 sequel, "Kick-Ass 2," produced by Lionsgate independent of any existing Marvel movie canon. In both films, Taylor-Johnson's character loves comic books and decides to suit up himself.

The mid-credits scene of 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" reveals Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff, aka. Quicksilver. Taylor-Johnson went on to have his formal introduction into the MCU alongside Elizabeth Olsen as his twin sister, Wanda, in 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron." In that film, Pietro sacrifices himself to save a young child, making Taylor-Johnson's time in the MCU brief. All the same, experience with the scope of a Marvel film and adapting a well-known Marvel character for the silver screen will undoubtedly help in stepping into the role of Kraven, even if the "Kraven the Hunter" film isn't part of the MCU proper.

Taylor-Johnson's work as Kick-Ass and Quicksilver shares a casting director in Sarah Halley Finn. Furthermore, in a wild twist of fate, "Kick-Ass" co-stars Evan Peters as Dave's friend, Todd. Though they had no way of knowing at the time, both Taylor-Johnson and Peters would be future Quicksilvers (a coincidence that was later referenced in "WandaVision").

Kraven the Hunter's scriptwriters helped form the foundation of the MCU

Even with great acting and stellar directing, a film can sometimes crumble if it's not supported by strong writing. No matter how polished the production may be, the story still has to be engaging for a movie to work. Fans can be optimistic about "Kraven the Hunter" in this department, considering two of its three writers are Art Marcum and Matthew Holloway, who previously (along with Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus) wrote 2008's "Iron Man."

As key players in the very first film in the MCU, Marcum and Holloway know how to build a story that has the longevity to be memorable as its own project while also paving the way for stories yet to come. These components could be just what the SSU needs to pick itself back up after "Venom" and "Morbius," poising "Kraven the Hunter" as a turning point for this cinematic universe. Granted, Marcum and Holloway's track record isn't exactly spotless. They also wrote the poorly received "Transformers: The Last Night" in 2017 and "Men In Black: International" in 2019. However, if they can channel their Marvel roots from something as foundational as "Iron Man" in developing "Kraven the Hunter," audiences are in for something special. Joining Marcum and Holloway in writing the "Kraven" script is Richard Wenk, who also wrote the "Equalizer" movies and "American Renegades."

Ariana DeBose is sure to give us an amazing performance

In "Kraven the Hunter," Ariana DeBose will play Calypso. Marvel describes Calypso as an "unyielding sorceress" who "studied and wielded powerful arcane magic" and is known to face off against Spider-Man and Daredevil. DeBose won an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role for her work in Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of "West Side Story" and was part of the original Broadway cast of "Hamilton" in 2015. She knows a thing or two about performing and brings her superb talent to the cast of "Kraven the Hunter." This, combined with the intriguing qualities of Calypso, is sure to be another memorable role for DeBose.

"I am really excited to be joining the Sony Marvel family," DeBose told The Playlist in March 2022. She called J.C. Chandor a "damn good" director, saying, "I think he'll bring something really creative and new and fresh and also really gritty to this film and to Kraven the Hunter's story."

When prompted about how "Marvel seems to be really pushing for change" in a May 2022 interview with Deadline, DeBose replied, "I'm proud of them. I think all of these franchise pieces, it's all about your growth. And it's exciting to be part of something that feels like it's taking a step in a different direction. I feel like they're just allowing this to live in whatever world it needs to live in, which is kind of cool."

The film marks Kraven's big-screen debut

Kraven has shown up in his fair share of Marvel animated television series over the years, dating back to "The Marvel Super Heroes" in 1966 and continuing through "Spider-Man: The Animated Series" in 1995 and "The Spectacular Spider-Man" in 2009, among other shows.

Nonetheless, the 2023 film will be Kraven's first theatrical appearance in a live-action escapade on the big screen. It's a clean slate for filmmakers and star Aaron Taylor-Johnson to develop the character without any weighty comparisons to previous iterations. For example, this sets Kraven apart from Venom, whose 2018 film starring Tom Hardy in the role was preceded by Topher Grace's portrayal in 2007's "Spider-Man 3." 

Regardless of whether previous live-action versions of a character were generally perceived as good or bad, reinventing a character that an audience is familiar with comes with the baggage of perhaps unwarranted comparison and pressure. Even if Kraven is well established in Marvel media beyond feature films, Taylor-Johnson originating the character for the silver screen could play to the film's advantage. The movie treads new territory and is a chance to show audiences a new version of the comic book character.

Kraven was originally planned for Spider-Man: No Way Home

Before 2021's "Spider-Man: No Way Home" focused on the multiverse with three Peter Parkers, the film had Kraven as part of its central story. In December 2021, Tom Holland told Collider, "For a long time, there was going to be a Kraven movie that was going to be the third movie because things weren't working out and all sorts of different stuff. Jon [Watts, the director] pitched me this Kraven movie, which actually was really cool. I don't want to talk about it in case that movie ends up happening down the line, but it was fun."

Of course, "No Way Home" eventually pivoted to a very different story that most audiences were floored with, but it's still fun to imagine what might have been. The fact that Watts deemed Kraven a worthy antagonist for a potential movie should be a boost of confidence for Sony moving forward with a Kraven film. While it remains to be seen how much (if any) of that original pitch becomes the 2023 "Kraven the Hunter" movie, it will come as a welcome surprise if any crumbs from Watts' original story make their way into its narrative.

In August 2022, Variety asked Aaron Taylor-Johnson, "Will Kraven ever fight Spider-Man?" Knowing he had to be careful, Taylor-Johnson replied, "That's a really interesting question. In comic books. There have been many comic books that have that, so the possibilities are definitely there."

Kraven has some crazy powers and off-the-wall tools

Kraven's powers in his comic book appearances might seem similar to those of many of the Marvel characters that have already been adapted for the screen, but it's how Kraven applies these powers that makes him quite different. Marvel's official website describes Kraven's as having "superhuman abilities conferred upon him via special herbal potions he periodically ingests. These abilities include enhanced strength (optimally lifting 2 tons), speed (able to sprint short distances at 60 mph), agility, stamina, and longevity." Generally speaking, Kraven is more villain than hero, though, and rather than using his powers to fight bad guys, Kraven becomes one, leveraging his skills to exploit animals. Furthermore, Kraven's arsenal of weapons is unique and on-brand. It includes everything from a leopard claw glove to poisonous tusks he keeps in his belt. He also has a "jungle scent" spray, which is known to neutralize Spider-Man's "Spidey-Sense."

It's yet to be seen what kind of powers or tools the "Kraven the Hunter" movie will carry over from the comics, but the distinction of many of them being strongly connected to Kraven's nefarious character should, at the very least, bring something fresh to the screen. With the landscape of superhero films so crowded these days, anything to help a project or character stand out places it at an advantage.

Kraven the Hunter was filmed on location

Superhero films rely heavily on visual effects, sometimes to dazzling results and, at other times, to the detriment of the story. The fantastical nature of the genre sometimes necessitates fabricating things that can't be achieved in the real world. Of course, some productions overdo it and revert to greenscreen as a default rather than a solution for the impossible. Even if new technology like "the volume," a next-generation LED leap forward of greenscreen tech that Jon Favreau and his team pioneered for "The Mandalorian," achieves a heightened sense of believability, there's just no replacement for reality (or at the very least, physical sets).

In August 2022, Aaron Taylor-Johnson shared with the Hollywood Reporter that "Kraven the Hunter" was "shot entirely on location," which he says "is going to make all the difference" when audiences experience the film for themselves in 2023. "It's going to add something really beautiful to our personal story. It also sets 'Kraven' apart from that Marvel stage look," Taylor-Johnson said. The actor also emphasized that this approach wasn't just a preferred visual style but essential for who Kraven is as a character. He continued, "It's important for this character to be in the real world. It's important for the authenticity of the story. When you're running on streets barefoot, you take in those elements and play within that."

Ryan Coogler wanted Kraven to be in Black Panther

2018's "Black Panther" is a touchstone of the MCU and a cultural phenomenon worldwide, so it's hard to imagine the film being any different than the movie we know and love today. When director Ryan Coogler initially built out the story, though, Eric Kilmonger and Ulysses Klaue weren't the only villains he had in mind.

In February 2018, just before the film's debut, Coogler told Yahoo about some of the "contractual things" he faced when selecting his cast from Marvel's vast library of characters. When asked further if there was any specific character Coogler had in mind that he wasn't able to use, the director said there was a moment in a run of the "Black Panther" comics written by Christopher Priest in which the titular hero fights Kraven. Coogler continued, "I always loved Kraven the Hunter in almost every iteration. So it was a moment where I'm like, 'Yo, can I grab Kraven?'" His request was declined. Coogler noted, though, "I don't even know if he would've worked in the movie we ended up with. This was early days."

Coogler, an accomplished director of not only "Black Panther" and its sequel but also "Creed" is one of Hollywood's most prolific storytellers. The fact that Kraven was on Coogler's shortlist for an early draft of "Black Panther" should be a major endorsement of the character's potential.

There's room to build Kraven's character across multiple films

Back in May 2021, when Sony shared their plans for Aaron Taylor-Johnson to portray Kraven in a film of his own (and the film was slated for a January 2023 release date, which would eventually be pushed back to October 2023), the Hollywood Reporter noted that Taylor-Johnson "signed a multi-picture deal to portray the classic character." This practice is not uncommon for Marvel and its associated studios. Chris Pratt indicated to the Huffington Post that he signed on for multiple films as Star-Lord before "Guardians of the Galaxy" made its 2014 debut, and Elizabeth Olsen similarly shared with the New York Times how she entered the MCU with a contract for multiple films.

While Taylor-Johnson signing a contract for more than one movie is not abnormal for the industry, it's an indication that Sony is thinking about the big picture, which is important if it hopes to build its repertoire of SSU films. That's a risky proposition before the studio knows how audiences will respond to "Kraven the Hunter." Granted, just because Sony has intentions for more than one Kraven appearance, that doesn't automatically guarantee those projects will be good. All the same, it's a promising sign of how Sony might be approaching the SSU behind closed doors.

The cinematographer has an impressive résumé

Engaging cinematography can take a film to the next level by establishing a visual identity that supports the story and strengthens it. As The Ronin first reported in December 2021, Ben Davis is the cinematographer for "Kraven the Hunter." When it comes to superhero films, "Kraven" isn't Davis' first rodeo. He previously served as director of photography on high-profile Marvel films like "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Doctor Strange," "Captain Marvel," and "Eternals" as well as "Kick-Ass," another Taylor-Johnson superhero film. Davis knows how to use the camera in a way that lets his subjects' superpowers shine.

At the same time, it's not only huge action films that Davis has experience with. Conversely, Davis was the director of photography of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and the cinematographer of "The Banshees of Inisherin," among other films. This range shows Davis' competency in large-scale spectacle and intimate portraiture films, which could lend some versatility to the visuals of "Kraven the Hunter."

There's an opportunity for a thoughtful dichotomy in Kraven's hobbies

Kraven the Hunter is, well, a hunter, and it's his relationship to this defining trait in which the audience might find some depth in the character when he makes his screen debut in 2023. There seems to be some nuance in Sony's version of the character, though the details are still under wraps at the time of this writing. In a way, this new portrayal seems to almost be a contradiction.

Marvel's website describes Kraven as having "killed every animal known to man." Yet, Aaron Taylor-Johnson explained to Variety that his version of the character is "a human with conviction" and "an animal lover and protector of the natural world." Taylor-Johnson later clarified with ComicBook.com that he meant his Kraven is "a conservationist, which is probably more accurate," noting that "he is a hunter and from that world of hunting and there's so many aspects." He promised his portrayal of the character is "going to be the hunter that we all want to see." The clash of these two seemingly disparate labels — hunter vs. conservationist — could be an intriguing theme.