Contracts once prohibited Black Panther writer-director Ryan Coogler from including Kraven the Hunter, but could Disney-owned Marvel Studios' relationship with Sony Pictures see the Spider-Man villain poached and brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold?
"Being a Marvel fan, you want to grab all the characters," Coogler told Yahoo! Movies UK last year. "You realize there's contractual things. You don't have that character. There was a Christopher Priest run that was pretty heavy, there's a big scene where Panther's fighting Kraven, Kraven the Hunter."
He continued, "I've always loved Kraven the Hunter in almost every iteration. So there was a moment — 'Can I grab Kraven?' – and they were [like] 'Nah, you don't have Kraven.' He was one where I thought 'Oh, man.' But I don't even know if he would have worked in the movie we ended up with, this was the early days."
The character, an aristocrat-born master hunter endowed with superhuman strength and agility by way of a herbal potion, is controlled by Sony, who possess the live-action rights to Spider-Man and his famous rogues gallery.
A deal struck between the two studios allows the web-slinger (Tom Holland) to exist and operate in the same continuity home to Black Panther and the Avengers, as part of an ongoing relationship that saw Marvel Studios serve as creative producers on Spider-Man: Homecoming and upcoming sequel Spider-Man: Far From Home.
That deal further allows Spider-Man to partake in Disney-produced crossovers Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, away from Sony's purview — and its "Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters," now home to Spidey foes Venom (Tom Hardy) and soon Morbius (Jared Leto).
In July, following reports Sony was eyeing a solo film centered around Kraven, Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch said only Kraven is "an awesome character" before dropping the question.
Equalizer 2 scribe Richard Wenk in August was tapped to pen the script for the Spider-Man offshoot, which the screenwriter later noted could attempt to court Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven director Antoine Fuqua.
The project, which Wenk said in October is in the earliest stages of development, would include Spider-Man and borrow inspiration from the famed Kraven's Last Hunt storyline, where Kraven finally defeated, and then assumed the identity of, his chief rival before committing suicide by shotgun.
Should Kraven go the way of planned spinoff Silver & Black — a planned team-up between master thief Black Cat and mercenary Silver Sable now stuck in development with little signs of life — the character would be a fitting antagonist for Wakandan king T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who also draws his superhuman powers from a mystical herb.
Hot off a $1.3 billion box office run and an ongoing presence during awards season, including the first-ever Best Picture Academy Award nomination for a superhero movie, Coogler's Black Panther franchise now wields the kind of influence not allotted to it when the project first entered into development.
If Coogler is keen on utilizing Kraven as the villain in Black Panther 2, the director — and certainly studio Disney and Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, who is Coogler's biggest champion — has the kind of sway needed to win a deal that would allow Kraven to join the MCU in the same vein as the Sony-controlled Vulture (Michael Keaton), Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine), the future Scorpion (Michael Mando) and Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Precedence is certainly there with the seemingly healthy Spider-Man deal, and Spidey producer Amy Pascal hopes to see the relationship between the two studios continue.
In December, on the topic of re-upping the Sony-Disney pact, the former Columbia Pictures chairperson said she can "only hope for a future where things work out," adding the relationship with Marvel is "one of the highlights" of her 30-year career.
It's in both sides' best interests to keep the other happy, and should Coogler hope to use Kraven this time around, Sony should strongly consider having one of their characters at the forefront of the anticipated next entry in Hollywood's hottest A-list franchise.
Whatever concessions have to be made to make that happen — whether they be financial, be it a certain percent of profits or some other allowance for the right to use Kraven in Black Panther 2 — a deal should be considered, even if that precludes Sony from launching its own Kraven-centric spinoff that may or may not move forward.
Maybe Kraven the Hunter becomes the next Venom, a worldwide hit that grossed $855 million to give Sony a new heavyweight franchise. Or maybe Kraven the Hunter languishes in development hell, squandering the character's potential in a script that goes unproduced, preventing his use by an esteemed filmmaker who once actively sought to give Kraven his due on the big screen.
If Coogler and Marvel are in the hunt for Kraven in Black Panther 2, the character would join a growing sequel expected to reunite stars Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Letita Wright, Denai Gurira, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman and Angela Bassett.