As this year’s CinemaCon kicked off in Las Vegas, attendees were given a first preview of footage from Kraven the Hunter, the next movie in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. And if the early clips are any indication, it’s quite a departure from the character that Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko created to be one of Spidey’s earliest adversaries.
As part of Sony Pictures’ longstanding deal with Marvel, the studio has full control over Spider-Man, his supporting cast, his villains, and a wide assortment of associated characters. But while Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is firmly entrenched in the MCU, thanks to a partnership with Marvel Studios, Sony has free reign to take the Wall-Crawler’s villains and attempt to make them somewhat more heroic figures able to carry their own movies. This approached worked well for Venom, and not-so-well for Morbius.
That said, the first look at Kraven is intriguing because it plays almost like a John Wick-inspired superhero movie. In fact, Kraven looks so feral and animal-like that it may be more accurate to compare him to Wolverine. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the star of the film, appeared in a video intro, where he asked “Will it be Rated R? F**k yes, it’s Rated R!” – in the process revealing Kraven will be the first of Sony’s Spidey-based movies to have that more mature rating. And from what little we’ve seen so far, we can begin to formulate how the film aligns with the source material in certain ways and how it diverges to suit the needs of the movie.
Heart of the Hunter
Based on what was shown in the footage, Taylor-Johnson will portray Sergei Kravinoff in the film — at least initially — as a staunch conservationist and a protector of animals. That’s more like Tarzan than the comic book incarnation of Kraven, if Tarzan absolutely slaughtered his enemies. In the preview footage, Kraven tore into some poachers who came into a wildlife preserve. And that is not a euphemism, because at one point, after stabbing several of these guys, Kraven actually bit into one man’s face and spit the gory chunk out at the camera! Keeping the mayhem going, in another moment shown in the footage from a different sequence in the film, he snapped a bear trap shut on another guy’s head. Top that, Keanu!
Within Marvel’s comic book universe, Kraven wasn’t all that interested in protecting animals. He was all about the hunt. Kraven loved the thrill of placing himself in danger while targeting bigger and bigger beasts, often with his bare hands. When that no longer satisfied Kraven, he eventually began hunting Spider-Man as the ultimate game. And defeating Spidey became Kraven’s primary obsession.
However, it’s not entirely out of left field to present a more heroic Kraven. In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Kraven was initially an adversary to Spidey before he was cured of his madness. Some time later, Kraven returned the favor by saving Spider-Man’s life when he was horribly mutated into a giant spider creature.
And in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the title character, Doreen Green, convinced Kraven to try to turn his life around and become a hero. So for a while, he was a hunter of hunters, which is not that far away from his persona in the movie clips.
It’s worth noting Sony did refer to Kraven as a great villain at CinemaCon, so we’ll see if this film begins with him in a more heroic — albeit notably violent — place before showing some sort of fall from grace.
The CinemaCon clips revealed that Russell Crowe is apparently playing Kraven’s dad. In the comics, Kraven’s father was Nikolai Kravinoff, a Grand Duke in the court of Tsar Nicholas II. Since that would be over a century ago, we can safely rule that out in the movie. Comic book Kraven is also over 70 years old, despite his relatively youthful appearance. Again, Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven is simply a much younger man, and probably not directly related to Russian nobility.
From what we saw of the film, it looks like the elder Kraven is the man who instilled a sense of purpose and honor in his son. Of course, he also taught his son how to hunt and fight, skills which will surely come in handy throughout the movie.
There were also scenes featuring Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven with his half-brother, Dmitri Smerdyakov (Fred Hechinger). And it doesn’t look like they have much love or affection for each other. In the comics, Dmitri is Chameleon, the very first supervillain that Spider-Man ever faced. Retroactively, it was also revealed that Chameleon was the man who convinced Kraven to hunt Spidey for the first time.
Additionally, the comics strongly implied that Kraven physically and mentally abused his sibling. It’s doubtful that Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven will be portrayed that way, but there is definitely some antagonistic tension between his character and Hechinger’s Dmitri. Whether the brothers can find common ground remains to be seen.
Beware the Rhino
If Kraven is an antihero at this point, he still needs a villain to fight. In this case, one of the big bads appears to be Rhino/Aleksei Sytsevich (Alessandro Nivola). And while the comic book incarnation of Rhino receives his strength and powers from a suit he’s stuck inside, Nivola’s Rhino appears to physically transform his body into a rhino-like state, with a quick glimpse of a Rhino hide growing over his hand and arm. This suggests that this Rhino is either the product of an experiment gone wrong, or he is somehow supernaturally enhanced.
In his intro for the film, Taylor-Johnson said that Kraven is “a Marvel movie grounded heavily in the real world.” Rhino’s transformation seems to be a more fantastical element that breaks from that “grounded” approach. But for now, we simply don’t have enough information to determine what’s going on with Rhino’s powers.
Kraven and Rhino have crossed paths a few times in the comics, but not usually in opposition to each other. Strangely enough, Rhino does have a tenuous link to Kraven’s wife in the comics, Aleksandra “Sasha” Kravinoff, because she was responsible for creating the second Rhino when Aleksei was freed from the Rhino suit and allowed to marry his love, Oksana Sytsevich. The second Rhino kept attacking the couple and he ultimately killed Oksana, which forced Aleksei to reclaim his powers and murder his would-be successor in revenge.
If there’s any bad blood between the comic book versions of Kraven and Rhino, it would probably have stemmed from The Great Hunt storyline, in which Kraven captured numerous heroes and villains whose powers and personas were derived from animals. Rhino and the other victims were hunted for sport before they were freed.
Since Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is just over a month away, we may soon see a proper trailer for Kraven the Hunter in front of it. Director J. C. Chandor certainly captured our attention with this CinemaCon footage, leaving us curious to see what he brings to theaters when Kraven the Hunter opens on Friday, October 6.
Additional reporting by Eric Goldman.