“Another Spider-Man reboot? Come on!”
You know that dismissive phrase has no doubt been uttered approximately a million times since Tom Holland swung onscreen as an all-new take on the iconic wall-crawler in “Captain America: Civil War.” There’s plenty of reason for it, too. The moviegoing public has now had three different Spider-Men in the past 15 years — and two of them debuted in the last four. That’s a lot of turnover, even by today’s reboot-crazy-Hollywood standards. But when it comes to this reboot and this character, it doesn’t matter. Spider-Man is one of the most popular, beloved and important heroes of all time — and he needs to be done right in film, at least once. It looks like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” might just do the trick. The third time really might just be the charm.
Here’s the thing: the resistance to another big-screen Spider-Man that a lot of people feel just doesn’t make sense to fans that know Marvel’s superhero universe primarily through the comics. Okay, the resistance makes sense, sure; movie studio release schedules are already saturated enough with superhero films, so why do they have to keep churning out new Batman and Spider-Man films — even when their franchises reach a conclusion (be it natural or forced)? But the resistance to Spider-Man in particular feels baffling to comic book fans, because Spider-Man’s as close to a no-brainer as it gets when it comes to A-list superheroes. Of course the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs a Spider-Man — and it’s kinda needed a Spider-Man since it launched in 2008. It’s not Marvel Studios’ fault that it took a half dozen years — and two less-than-acclaimed Spider-Man films — for a deal to be struck that allows an all-new version of the character to swing into the MCU. Red tape was the super villain that kept Marvel Studios from properly adapting the sprawling comic book line it’s based on, a line that has had Spider-Man at the forefront for over 50 years.
So while people are rolling their eyes at “yet another Spider-Man,” comic book fans are cheering him on — especially this version of the web-slinger, a Spidey that’s fully integrated into the big screen Marvel U. That’s because comic fans know what Spider-Man means to the comics. In the world of the comics, Spider-Man has been Marvel’s mascot for 50 years, only recently being edged out of the spotlight by Iron Man. There’s a reason why Spidey was dubbed the face of the publisher, too. It’s often forgotten nowadays, since our pop culture is so driven by teenagers, but Spider-Man was the first teen superhero. There had been a ton of teenage sidekicks prior to him, ranging from Robin to Bucky, but Stan Lee and Steve Ditko made the radical decision in 1962 to make the lead of a superhero comic a high school student. For the first time ever, high school-age readers saw themselves reflected in a superhero adventure. The do-gooder in the spotlight was no longer an aspirational adult with a muscular physique and respectable day job. Nope, he was a relatable, gawky kid that had a hard time making friends, a frustrating work life and a kinda creepy set of powers.
Considering how revolutionary Spider-Man was in the early ’60s, it’s no wonder he became the face of the company. If you look at Marvel-branded anything from 1962 to today, you’ll see Spider-Man right there at the forefront. Even without the big movies and live-action TV series that Superman and Batman had from the ’50s all the way through the ’80s, Spider-Man still stood alongside them as one of the true icons of the superhero world. He was a larger-than-life figure — and that icon status is also kinda what led to the predicament he got into at the start of the 21st century.
As Marvel’s truly iconic solo hero, Spider-Man’s film rights were highly sought after and sold off pretty early on. A Spider-Man film from “Avatar” and “Titanic” helmer James Cameron nearly came to pass in the early ’90s, but it fell apart. It’s also worth pointing out that once the comics bubble burst in the mid ’90s and all the spectators brought in by the millions of copies of “X-Men” #1 departed, Marvel Comics began a slow march towards bankruptcy. Arguably the only two properties that kept Marvel afloat in the rough decade of the ’90s were the X-Men and Spider-Man. Those two franchises had successful cartoons, toy lines, video games, pogs and more; the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Avengers all tried to follow in their footsteps, but only had a fraction of the success. Marvel Comics in the ’90s was Spider-Man and the X-Men — which is most likely why the film rights to those two franchises were snatched up faster than Iron “my cartoon only ran in syndication for less than two years” Man.
Sony’s initial “Spider-Man” franchise, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, helped kick off the modern age of superhero film (alongside “Blade” and “X-Men,” of course). In a time when non-goofy superhero movies were still a new phenomenon, 2002’s “Spider-Man” was a massive success and pulled in $403 million at the domestic box office. With superhero films no longer a gamble, partly because of the massive success of those Raimi/Maguire films, Marvel Studios felt confident enough to start producing their own movies. Thus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born in 2008 with the release of “Iron Man.”
But the MCU wasn’t complete. Whereas the comic book Marvel Universe features the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man in prominent roles alongside the Avengers, the movie counterpart couldn’t due to film rights complications. Iron Man’s profile increased significantly and lesser-known superheroes — like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy — all got feature films. Over the last few years, a lot of other superheroes have climbed up to the B-and-A-list in order to fill the void left by Spider-Man and the Fox-owned heroes.
And then it all changed in February 2015. Faced with the less-than-satisfying returns of 2014’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Sony and Marvel agreed to share Spider-Man and properly induct him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that brings us to the present — with a third Spider-Man franchise in 15 years, and the first to be able to share the screen with Iron Man and the rest of the Marvel heroes.
That’s why this time around is different, and why this Spider-Man feels not only earned but needed. Spider-Man spent decades as Marvel’s mascot and then spent the ’90s partly keeping the publisher afloat. Spider-Man then helped kick off the golden age of superhero film — but he ended 2014 segregated in his own movie-verse and saddled with a critically maligned film as people groaned about having to sit through another Spider-Man movie. Maybe people were just tired of seeing only part of Spider-Man, since the whole character had never been brought to the big screen. This Spider-Man, the one in “Homecoming,” looks to be the whole Spider-Man.
The character’s appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” and the first trailers for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” contain a version of Peter Parker that’s unlike any we’ve seen in previous movies — because he’s so close to the Spider-Man of the comics. He’s funnier than Tobey Maguire’s Spidey, and the 20-year-old Tom Holland also looks like a high schooler. Andrew Garfield may have had Peter Parker’s appearance down, but he was also solidly 30. This is a Spider-Man that looks a teenager, that doesn’t look out of place in a high school setting — a setting that the other Spider-franchises glossed over.
This is a really important point: Spider-Man is a teenage superhero. While Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s hero graduated to college a few years into his run, plenty of subsequent writers have mined those years for new material. The “Spectacular Spider-Man” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoons are set in high school, and Brian Michael Bendis’ decade-plus run with Peter in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic was solely set during his high school years. There is something special about Spider-Man in high school that writers keep coming back to, and that the movies quickly run away from. That’s no longer the case.
It’s also exciting because “Spider-Man: Homecoming” now has the ability to do exactly what the “Amazing Spider-Man” comic did in 1962 — namely, show a teenager being a superhero. The Marvel Cinematic Universe stars a 21-and-up crowd, exclusively. Even Bucky, a teenage hero from the Golden Age of comics, was aged-up to be a peer of Steve Rogers’ in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” There’s been no Rick Jones, either, even though he served as the teen sidekick for the Hulk, Cap and the Avengers in their initial Silver Age comics. Spider-Man was the lone teen hero in the ’60s comics, and now he’ll be the lone teen hero in the ’10s Marvel movies. The point of view Holland’s Peter Parker has feels fresh because it is fresh; we’re no longer looking at the MCU through the eyes of jaded spies, super scientists, family men or near-immortal deities. This is a high schooler from Queens, one that makes “Empire Strikes Back” jokes and presumably listens to MGMT. He’s going to have a different frame of reference for the Marvel movie-verse, and that’s what initially made Spider-Man so unique in the comics.
There’s also the fact that so much of Spider-Man’s sense of self-deprecating humor in the comics comes from him comparing himself to other, presumably more put-together heroes. Spider-Man’s jokes about his perpetual bad luck really sing if he has a stalwart Captain America to bounce off of, or an incredibly rich Iron Man, or an easy target like Hawkeye. The Spider-Man films we’ve seen so far have been lonely by comparison, as Spidey’s been the only hero in them. When Spider-Man’s the only hero in the universe, then he’s completely unmatched by comparison. He’s the only superhero, so he’s by default the best superhero. But Spider-Man isn’t supposed to be the best. He’s supposed to capable, sure, but he’s also supposed to have some confidence issues, especially when he’s standing side-by-side with the Hulk or Thor. The new movies, now that they’re set in a universe with those god-like characters, will get to play with a Spider-Man that has to try harder because he’s not the strongest or smartest or bravest hero there is. He has real characters to look up to, relate to and emulate — and that was beautifully relevant and resonant in the “Civil War” tarmac fight (like Spidey and Cap’s “Brooklyn”/”Queens” moment).
You can roll your eyes about there being another Spider-Man reboot, for sure. You can also definitely give Marvel side-eye for bumping their first solo films with non-white-male leads (“Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel”) in order to fast-track the sixth solo Spider-Man film. You can also rightfully groan about Hollywood being stuck in a perpetual feedback loop of reboots and remakes and sequels. You can do all of that — and still, you can find some room in your brain and heart to be just a bit excited about the Spider-Man that we’re finally going to get on screen in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” For the first time ever, he’s a real teenager. For the first time ever, he’s going to exist in a world with other superheroes in it. Hell, for the first time ever, he’s going to live in a realistically diverse New York City. For the first time ever, all of those factors are all going to combine to create a Spider-Man unlike any we’ve seen before, one that looks to be shockingly close to the character that put Marvel on the map in the ’60s and kept them going in the ’90s and started this whole trend in the ’00s.
This may be the third big screen Spider-Man, but he also feels like the first in plenty of ways. This one is finally Marvel’s Spider-Man, and that’s worth getting excited about.
Directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”), written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (“Vacation”) and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Zendaya, Donald Glover and many, many others, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” swings into theaters on July 7, 2017.
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