The past is prologue.
It would appear “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is taking that aphorism to heart and boldly going where few comic book movies have gone before; that’s to say, it won’t be immersing fans in an origin story yet again.
This is actually pretty good news; yet another exploration of Spidey’s origin would be overkill considering Sam Raimi did it in 2002 and Marc Webb in 2012. Let’s face it — we’re tired of seeing (whether it be on-screen or in multiple cartoons) nerdy Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider, gaining superpowers, misusing said powers and inadvertently causing the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. We truly appreciate the message of “With great power comes great responsibility”… but we’re a bit tired of seeing that information being drilled home into Spidey’s webbed-head.
This being the third live-action Spider-Man franchise, Sony is trusting the audience to know these fundamentals, and is smartly pressing forth with capturing the dynamic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is barreling towards Thanos and his invasion in “Avengers: Infinity War.” But even while this particular movie serves as a reintroduction to the character as solo act, there will likely be some reiteration of Spidey’s formative days, though we’d expect it to be handled a la 1998’s “Blade” or 2005’s “Constantine,” basically showing the title characters kicking ass and saving the day without much backstory. Their origins were glossed over in the spoken narrative or in flashbacks, but the films, like “Homecoming,” were designed to tell stories of the present-day hero.
Sure, some superhero films do require a lengthy origin setup, a modus operandi that’s been a big part of Marvel Studios’ success as it allowed full character development and emotive connections with the audience before diving into the ensemble Avengers-based films. The same has been applied to the Netflix pocket of the MCU, where Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all got origins that were quite stretched out. But with the bigger narrative already established in the MCU, there doesn’t need to be as much screen time dedicated to such origins anymore, or at least to the extent it was early on.
“Black Panther” will precede “Infinity War” next year, and we already know what T’Challa’s character is all about after “Captain America: Civil War,” so one rite of passage sequence into how he adopts the Panther persona is probably all we’ll need. It’s not like we’re setting up Steve Rogers as the first Avenger, or Tony Stark as a founding Avenger anymore. Though not a direct comparison, this bodes well for how DC’s “Justice League” looks to be handled. It’s a reverse formula to Marvel Studios’, where we’ll get the kickass team-up film before seeing the likes of Aquaman and Flash in individual stories.
When origin stories saturate the market, they can get really, really boring. We already know Spidey’s, so moving right onto his attempt to become a member of Stark’s Avengers makes a lot of sense. Sony has realized “Homecoming” needs to place Spidey in a world where he’s a wannabe A-Lister crimefighter focusing on the future, not the past. Studios, writers and directors don’t need to leave the past out entirely, but they can sprinkle them into a different, more urgent story — the icing on the cake, so to speak. A picture frame on Aunt May’s mantle, a little quote on Pete’s wall, or a simple voiceover of Uncle Ben’s mantra would all tell the entire Spidey origin for us.
A lot of these films deal with archetypes, so the heroes’ cores are easily and understood by the audience. Batman, Green Arrow, Iron Man, Iron Fist and Stephen Strange are all billionaire playboys, after all, so new projects featuring them, or their ilk, should be more proactive and not necessarily feel the need to patronize audiences with what could very well come off as cinematic public service announcements.
Skipping all of the fluff worked for 2004’s “Hellboy,” which ran through the title character’s entire origin in mere minutes. Jon Bernthal’s rendition of the Punisher on Netflix’s “Daredevil” also benefited from a similar glossing over of the character’s early days. It doesn’t boil down to how popular a character is, either, but rather to what purpose he or she will serve. As with the new iteration of Spidey, the Punisher was introduced to add momentum to a pre-existing universe instead of building one from the ground up.
The present representations of Batman, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye justify this notion, reiterating that we don’t need origins for every new hero that appears on screen. Heck, we’ve yet to see any of Hawkeye’s past at all, and it’s not as though the character has suffered for it.
Perhaps the minds behind future Hollywood renditions of comics’ heroes and villains need to take a second look at a classic form of storytelling, offering everything you need to know about the movie you’re about to watch in just under 20 seconds. The “Star Wars” crawl is the mic drop of intros, perfectly setting up millions of moviegoers to be dropped into the middle of an epic space battle. Now, four decades on, it looks like superhero movies might finally be starting to catch on to what George Lucas knew then — not every iconic character needs their origin story spelled out on the big screen.
Are you tired of comic book origin stories on the big screen? Let us know in the comments!