To the cynic, Marvel Studios and Sony rebooting The Amazing Spider-Man, which was itself a reboot of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, is a sign of the broken and deceased state of Hollywood film-making; to the optimist, it is a dream come true because of who is making it (Marvel Studios) and the other characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, etc.) who might be involved. Yes, only five years passed between Tobe Maguire’s last movie and Andrew Garfield’s first, and only two years will pass between Garfield’s last and his replacement’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War. However, isn’t this just the natural next step in the evolution of comic book movies whereby the films are beginning to resemble the jumbled and confusing continuities of the actual comics, which routinely reboot things and feature multiple versions of the same character going at the same time in different continuities? Now that Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige are involved we’re finally going to get the real Spider-Man, riffing on the bad guys, hanging out with Tony Stark and the Avengers. Right?
Personally, I am stuck somewhere in the middle of being cynical and optimistic about all of this. That’s largely how I felt when reading this weekend’s parade of quotes from Kevin Feige about their approach to the new Spider-Man. So, here’s the good and bad of what they’re going to do:
The Good – There’s No Need for Yet Another Origin Story
Last year, Devin Faraci of BadAssDigest heard that starting with Doctor Strange Marvel Studios is doing away with origin stories. That prompted fair questions, such as can someone like Doctor Strange actually get away with simply being introduced as is? There are only a handful of characters well known enough for that, and Spider-Man is arguably one of them along with Superman and Batman. Nerd, bitten by radioactive spider, gets powers, lets Uncle Ben die, fights crime, Tobe Maguire’s spider-bite being an accident and Andrew Garfield’s being tied to some convoluted, drawn-out conspiracy. Why not just skip all that? Kevin Feige agrees, telling CraveOnline:
“In Spider-Man’s very specific case, where there have been two retellings of that origin in the last whatever it’s been – [thirteen] years – for us we are going to take it for granted that people know that, and the specifics. It will not be an origin story.”
Intended franchise-starting superhero movies which skip the origin story are very rare (e.g., Superman Returns, the first X-Men, the 1989 Batman kind of does, using flashbacks to fill in the background), but the new Spider-Man would be wise to joint that list.
The Bad – Actually, I don’t see a downside to this approach
Completely skipping Uncle Ben’s “With great power…” line might rob Peter of his moral underpinning, but they can easily sneak something like that into a flashback scene. Plus, the absolute youngest members of the audience might not actually know the origin story, which is only a concern because Spider-Man historically skews so young. Otherwise, I am totally on board with skipping the origin story.
The Good – Making Him a Teenager in High School
Feige told Collider:
“I think it was midway through the first film that he graduated high school. At the beginning of the second Marc Webb film, he graduated high school. And some of my favorite Spider-Man arcs and Spider-Man stories, he’s in high school for a lot of it. We want to explore that. That also makes him very, very different from any of our other characters in the MCU, which is something else we want to explore: how unique he is when now put against all these other characters.”
While talking to CraveOnline, he praised the prior films for their approach to the look of the characters, emotions, and love interests, but argued they all failed to fully explore “the notion, as the comics did for many, many years, as Ultimate Spider-Man did for ten years, [of] a much younger version of Spider-Man than we’ve seen in the movies. [The previous films] get him in and out of high school really fast.”
He’s not really wrong. Other than an occasional hallway fight scene or a villain like The Lizard showing up at Peter Parker’s school, none of the films really did as much with the “high school student/superhero” angle as they could have. Of course, the Garfield movies were heavily inspired by Ultimate Spider-Man, a successful 2000-2009 run in the comics which started with Peter Parker as a 15-year-old and re-imagined him in a more modern context. It is a truly fantastic run of comics in Spider-Man’s history, turning Peter Parker into a Harry Potter-esque lovably flawed teenager struggling to balance superhero life, school, family, friends, and work, forever vexing the Avengers as they continually argue over what to do with him (Make him an Avenger? Ask him to stop being Spider-Man? Train him to become a better hero?). This particular run also receives high marks for its handling of Peter’s complicated love life, particularly as it relates to Mary Jane, who immediately finds out about this powers because why wouldn’t he tell her all about this amazing thing that happened to him? If this is the model Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios are looking at then we’re in good hands, and he is right that it would definitely differentiate Spider-Man from the rest of the MCU.
The Bad – There’s a Reason None of the Movies Kept Him In High School That Long
On the page, you can accept a 15-year-old Peter Parker going out and fighting much bigger and older villains just as you can accept him barely aging over the near decade run of Ultimate Spider-Man, where (if memory serves) he never made it out of high school. On film, though, whoever they cast is obviously going to age meaning there’s obviously a limit on the number of times we can believably buy him as a high school student (probably no more than 2 movies). There is also the inevitable “But we’ve already seen Peter Parker in high school before” reaction. Rather than simply ignore that and cry “do-over” to finally get “Spider-Man The High School Student” right they might be better off pulling a Batman v Superman and giving us an older version of Peter Parker than we’ve ever seen before because that would be something new.
Plus, if the character is supposed to be 15 as in Ultimate Spider-Man they might walk into the Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass problem where it’s simply odd for some people to see a person so young engaging in such life-or-death physical combat. It’s for similar reasons that none of the Batman movies have ever depicted Robin as being the little kid or pre-teen he usually is in the comics.
The Good – He’s Going to Be a Wise-Ass Again
Watch any episode of Ultimate Spider-Man on DisneyXD (or Netflix) and you’ll be practically assaulted with the reminder that Spider-Man is supposed to be a snarky teenager, using humor to unnerve his enemies. Kevin Feige thinks the films haven’t really pulled that off yet, telling CraveOnline, “He is very, very funny and very, very witty when he’s in that costume, swinging around. Not as a standup comedian, obviously, but as almost his nervous energy, bothering the criminals with banter as much as with his powers. That’s something that I think we’re excited to explore.” If done right, that can make Spider-Man remarkably endearing and refreshingly hilarious, firing off one-liners like a teenage Tony Stark.
The Bad – Making Him Sarcastic Can Easily Grate and Turn Audiences Against Him
But, again, the Andrew Garfield movies already tried to do this, and it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Tobe Maguire had his fair share of one-liners, but most of them were banal and forgettable at best and cringe-worthy at worst, coming off as several decades behind the times. So, Garfield tried to bring more of an edge to the character, heavily on display with the way he talks to the first bad guys he fights in Amazing Spider-Man 1. However, it is so remarkably easy for that kind of thing to actually turn audiences against a character, with a supposedly witty one-liner on the page eliciting internet snark like “They made Spider-Man a douchebag!”
The Good – Not Closing the Door On Miles Morales
There is a simple solution to avoiding franchise fatigue with Spider-Man: stop making Spider-Man movies for a while. They’re not doing that. The second solution is to give us something completely different, and a Miles Morales Spider-Man would qualify. He’s the Black-Hispanic teenager who took over after Peter Parker was killed off in The Ultimate Spider-Man, and while longtime franchise producer Avi Arad was adamant that they would never do Miles Morales on film Kevin Feige is more open-minded, telling MTV, “Miles, I think, is awesome. I think there are opportunities for him for sure if this all works and continues.”
The Bad – Making Him Peter Parker Yet Again
This again comes down to a perceived need to see something new, and yet another version of a high-school aged Peter Parker is not new, even if what they do is better than before. They’re not closing the door on Miles Morales, but really only if their new Peter Parker Spider-Man is a hit thus allowing them the chance to consider something for Miles much further down the road. This is a chance for the MCU to add some more diversity and possibly react to the lessons we should learn from Furious 7’s box office, yet they’re just pushing forward with yet another version of Peter Parker.
The Good – Not Necessarily Committing to Making Him a White Version of Peter Parker
Or are they? Feige told MTV, “”The field is very wide right now in terms of who we’re looking at within a certain age range.” That’s vague enough to give some people hope that it’s more important to Marvel that whoever they cast as the new Peter Parker be the right age, not necessarily the right race. Could they be considering an African-American Peter Parker, mimicking the way they turned traditionally white characters like Heimdell and Nick Fury into Idris Elba in Thor and Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man?
The Bad – The Inevitable “That’s Not How It Is in the Comics” Backlash
The Doctor on Doctor Who should be a male because that’s what he’s always been. James Bond should be a white male because that’s what he’s always been. Peter Parker should be white because that’s what he’s always been. That particular mindset seems inherently small-minded and afraid of change, yet at the same time it’s understandable to reject the notion of a beloved character switching genders or skin colors just for the sake of social progress, although the Doctor Who example is complicated because there is actually is a built-in explanation allowing the Doctor to change. To many, a female Doctor would not really seem like the Doctor on Doctor Who just as a black Peter Parker wouldn’t really seem like Peter Parker, especially when Miles Morales is around if they wanted to make a play for more diversity.
The Good – Teaming Him Up With Other MCU Characters
One of the early rumors regarding this Marvel-Sony Spider-Man movie is that it will actually co-star Robert Downey, Jr., and largely center around Iron Man auditioning Spider-Man for The Avengers. That may or may not be total bullshit, but Kevin Feige did at least say that one of the weakness of the prior films was that Spider-Man had no “interactions with other heroes in the universe, because that was not possible” thus implying that the new Spider-Man will make up for that. And that right there is probably the single biggest reason to be excited for a new Spider-Man: he’s finally going to interact with The Avengers!
The Bad – Is He Maybe Better On His Own?I am pushing myself to actually find a “bad” here because the thing that genuinely excites me is the idea of Spider-Man sharing the screen with Iron Man or Thor or whoever else from the MCU. However, I do remember how confused I was when I read “The Death of Peter Parker” issue of The Ultimate Spider-Man because at one point while on his way home to protect Mary Jane and Aunt May Spider-Man just happens upon some kind of civil war breaking out on a nearby bridge between two factions of The Avengers. It has nothing to do with the rest of the story, and as someone who was not familiar with any of the comics outside of Ultimate Spider-Man I had no idea what was going on. Yet, Spider-Man swinging in to check on things ended up majorly impacting the conclusion of the story. To me, it felt like the rest of the Marvel continuity intruding in on Spidey’s last hour. By hooking Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe it is conceivable that something similar could happen. Or, to look at it from a different angle, think back to the ending of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man when he saves Mary Jane from the Green Goblin on that bridge. Now re-imagine how we might have viewed that scene if Spider-Man was friends with the Avengers. Wouldn’t we have wondered where the hell Iron Man was? We had to ask similar questions about Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Lastly, my toddler niece suddenly loves Spider-Man but she calls him “The Itsy Bitsy Spider-Man” after the song “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” That has nothing to do with anything, really. I just thought it was really cute.
The new Spider-Man is expected to debut in Captain America: Civil War next year (5/6/16) before launching a currently untitled solo film on 7/28/17 as part of a co-production between Marvel Studios and Sony.