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The Good & Bad of The New Marvel Studios Spider-Man Being a Teenage Peter Parker Without An Origin Story

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

Spider-Man OriginLast 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

Spider-Man Great PowerCompletely 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

ASM 2 GraduationFeige 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

Kick-Ass-UK-Poster-15-2-10-kcOn 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

AVXVS2SpideyvColossusWatch 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

10-reasons-andrew-garfield-is-the-best-spiderman-317551But, 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

Miles Morales UltimateThere 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

tobey-maguire-vs-andrew-garfield-we-compare-both-spiderman-filmsThis 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

donald-glover-spider-man
So you’re telling me there’s a chance!

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

nickfuryThe 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

Spider-Man Tony STarkOne 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?spider-man-avengers-2-108784I 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.

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16 comments

  1. Cool article, but one thing: The reason they cast Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (a traditionally white character) was because, in the Ultimate comics, he is black, and was actually modeled after Samuel L. Jackson, to a point where it was his likeness without his permission to use his likeness, and he didn’t sue because he secured the role of Nick Fury in any future movies featuring the character.
    And featuring Miles Morales for the sake of diversity would be a waste of the character entirely. The filmmakers shouldn’t feel obligated to use a different version of the character than they want to just because they don’t have enough diversity in their diversity gas tank yet.

    1. Yeah, I know all about Samuel L. Jackson in the Ultimate universe (well, not so much the part about the resemblance leading to a honest-to-goodness lawsuit). So, they had some precedent for an African-American version of the character. I was admittedly simplifying that example in my article. That was a unique situation, but if you didn’t read the Ultimate line of comics and only knew Nick Fury from his Howling Commando days seeing a black version of the character must have been very surprising.

      Miles Morales shouldn’t be something they do for the sake of diversity nor should they switch Peter Parker’s race for the same reason. There needs to be a reason to do it, but I’d say that re-booting the character just 2 years after the last version and after we’ve already had two version of the same basic character over the past 13 years is at least reason enough for them to look at all of their options.

      1. There wasn’t a lawsuit, but there might have been if he didn’t get the part, that’s what I was trying to say.
        In all honesty, I’d prefer the Andrew Garfield version to stick around (get it? Because wall-crawling.) for a few more years. I actually like Garfield’s Spider-Man better than Tobey Maguire’s. Not a popular opinion, but it’s mine, nonetheless.
        Sorry if I came off as rude, I did not mean to. 😦

      2. I see what you did there with the Andrew Garfield “stick around” thing.

        Really, this whole thing kind of feels kind of like when Marvel fired Edgar Wright from Ant-Man (or made it so that he felt he needed to walk away). That put Marvel Studios in a negative light for the first time, and it was an uneasy position to be in. Now, here they are swooping in to save Spider-Man, which should be great, but now they are the ones who are rebooting a character way too soon and feeding into Hollywood’s cycle of reboots, revivals, and remakes. Now, they kind of look like they are part of the problem as opposed to that one unique entity hovering above everything because they have Kevin Feige and everyone else doesn’t. Of course, it’s nowhere near the same situation as Ant-Man, but just the general feeling of “Huh, I don’t know if I 100% agree with Marvel Studios right now” is similar.

        We wanted a Spider-Man who could show up in an Avengers movie. We didn’t quite realize that meant the Andrew Garfield version would just be thrown in the trash and they’d start over. Now, it’s taking a little while to adjust to the new reality.

        Until Marvel has their first bomb, they get the benefit of the doubt, and as an Ultimate Spider-Man comic book reader a high school aged Peter Parker does feel like the real version of Spider-Man to me. It just also feels a tad too familiar by now.

  2. That Edgar Wright/Ant-Man/Marvel thing was a fiasco…I still haven’t read up on all the details of what went down.
    It is truly sad that Garfield got thrown under the bus when he had nothing to do with the poor quality that some perceived in the first ASM (I actually liked it…a lot. It’s my favorite Spidey movie, thus far. I never particularly cared for the Raimi movies, as I’ve always felt they have little rewatch value. Though that was years ago, I should try again.)
    I used to love Ultimate Spider-Man (the comic, not that awful, awful, awful show) but than I kind of fell off the train after the first Peter death, and never got back on. I haven’t tried Morales yet, but mostly because of the grief of the death of my favorite version of comic Spidey. (My second favorite is the original Parker, and my third 2099. Then it’s probably Noir or 1602. You can probably tell I liked Shattered Dimensions by now.)
    I’m really hoping for Marvel to never fall off their lucky streak they’ve been riding since 2008. I know they will, I just hope it’s like 10 years from now.

    1. Yeah! I am not alone!!!! ASM is my favourite Spider-man movie, too. And I think that there is way too much nostalgia for the original trilogy. I think in a decade or so people might start to appreciate ASM more. Since the Marvel doesn’t want to do another origin story, it will still be the best version of it.

      1. I had immense nostalgia for the Tobe maguire movies. Then I re-watched them again. Yeah, that nostalgia went away pretty fast. I still really like spider-man 2, but the first movie has aged horribly. It looks like what it is: a comic book movie from a completely different era.

      2. Here’s how I rank the Spider-Man films best to worst, 1 being best:
        1. The Amazing Spider-Man
        2. Spider-Man 2
        3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
        4. Spider-Man (2002)
        5. Spider-Man 3

        Yeah, that’s right, I think TASM 2 is a better film than Spider-Man (2002)!

      3. Switch ASM 1 with Spider-Man 2 and that’s probably exactly how I would rank the films as well, although deciding between ASM 2 and the first spider-man usually comes down to my mood that day. Sometimes I hate every single second of ASM 2 and other times I think more of it works than its reputation would lead you to believe, and that first Spider-Man is a toughie because some of it moments are now iconic yet the movie as a whole just looks so old and of a different time now.

      4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a reputation as a complete train-wreck, and it’s really not. Spider-Man 3 is what a train-wreck of a Spidey film looks like.
        I actually liked ASM 2 the first time I watched it, but upon repeat viewings, I can see why people have problems with it. Still don’t understand the hatred that ASM 1 has.

    2. ASM 2 is not a complete Trainwreck. Honestly, if they would cut out the nonsense with the Rhino at the end and the stupid kid and instead put in the deleted scenes with Harry, the result would be a decent movie with some really odd elements thrown in. But the story about Gwen’s demise…I really dig what they did there.

  3. I want a proper version of Peter Parker. I don’t think that the original trilogy truly nailed him (plus, he never really developed…well, he got more stupid and immature with each movie), and while I love The Amazing Spider-man and especially Andrew Garfield in the role, the high-school setting kind of became a backdrop by the point he actually was spider-man so him balancing school and being a hero never truly came up. Plus, If they start young with the MCU, they can use the character for years. So, no reboots for a while. (I am actually quite sad that there wouldn’t be a third ASM movie, but if they do the MCU connection, I am for a fresh start).

    I honestly don’t care what skin colour this version of Peter Parker has as long as he had the lithe figure and overly long Fingers Andrew Garfield has combined with his acting talent….which is quite a high tally, but that’s what is important for me in a Spider-man movie.

      1. I am sure it already has begun. And I am ready to bet that they won’t pick a 20 something this time around but look into really young and fresh actors who are actually 15. I just hope that they consider how their body might change on their way to adulthood.

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