WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which opens Friday nationwide.
A bite from a radioactive spider. The death of Uncle Ben. Learning all about power and responsibility. These are the key elements of Spider-Man’s origin story. It’s a familiar tale, having been told and retold numerous times throughout the years, not only in comic books but in other media. From TV shows to two film franchises, Spider-Man’s beginning has been recounted repeatedly, so much so that it’s begun to feel unnecessarily repetitive in the same way seeing Bruce Wayne’s parents killed in Gotham City does. Like Batman, the majority of pop culture fans, form the most hardcore to the most casual, know what happens to turn Peter Parker into Spider-Man. Luckily the latest movie to focus on the web-slinging hero, Spider-Man: Homecoming, doesn’t bother boring the audience by repeating its hero’s origins yet again. Instead, the film finally allows the character to shine in a way that shows superhero films don’t necessarily have to show an origin in order to kick off a new franchise.
The origin in question has been around for 55 years. It was first shown when Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, debuted in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. The comic featured Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider and receiving special abilities. At first, Peter uses these powers just for his own amusement and gain, but then a decision to not stop a thief when he has the chance changes everything. That thief goes on to kill his Uncle Ben and that’s when Peter learns the lesson that with great power there also comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man’s origin has been changed in some ways over the years, being adjusted for the different incarnations of the character, but the basic elements remain the same. Take the major films that came before Homecoming for example. 2002’s Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire begins with Peter and his classmates on a field trip to Columbia University’s science department. There, they see a variety of spiders before being shown 15 super spiders. Of course, one escapes and ultimately bites Peter on the hand. From there, the movie spends a lot of time showing Peter becoming aware of and testing out his powers until he makes the mistake of letting a thief go after an amateur wrestling match and his uncle, played by Cliff Robertson, dies as a result.
At this point, about 45 minutes or so of the film has gone by.
Then there’s 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield in the lead role. In this film, Peter goes to Oscorp looking for answers to what happened to his parents and as he investigates, he’s bitten by a spider. It takes the reboot almost the same amount of time as the 2002 film for Peter to discover his powers, let a thief go (though this time from a store) and see Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen, encounter said thief and die.
While the reason for letting the thief go differs, and other small tweaks are made, each of these origins follows the same basic pattern Spider-Man’s story always does. Viewers are once again forced to watch Uncle Ben die and Peter figure out his role as a hero from scratch. This was fine in 2002, but by the time Garfiel’d reboot rolled around, the public knew his basic origin as well as they know the those of Superman and Batman. The formula of how he became who he is has been shown so often, it’s one of the most well-known superhero origins in pop culture. It’s become such an ingrained part of the public consciousness, even those who have never picked up a comic probably know its key elements!
That’s why it’s such a welcome change to see that Spider-Man: Homecoming skips the origin story completely. (2008’s The Incredible Hulk came close to making the same move, retelling the origin as the opening credits rolled.) It doesn’t waste almost an hour on something the audience already knows, and there’s no struggle to put the film’s own unique little twist on it like so many versions have in the past. According to director Jon Watts, they “never talked about showing it, because the MO was always to not show anything we’ve seen before… If anything ever felt slightly familiar, to try to figure out if there’s a way to avoid it or tackle it in a different way. But that was something that definitely felt like we’ve seen that before.”
That’s not to say Homecoming ignores Spidey’s origin completely. The events of Peter’s past are mentioned in small ways, like a comment about Aunt May being through a lot, and Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds referencing the radioactive spider bite. It alludes to the events we already know are a part of Spider-Man becoming who he is without wasting time rehashing it on screen. Taking this approach works really well for the movie; the story is still about Tom Holland’s young Peter Parker finding his way as Spider-Man, but avoids his first fumbling beginner steps and grief over the loss of his uncle. The Peter we see has figured out how his powers work and what he wants to do, but he’s still learning what that means for him in practice.
Despite not showing that fateful spider bite, at no point in the film does it feel like you’re at a loss because you don’t know the exact details of this Spider-Man’s origin story. It never feels like the story is lacking because we don’t have enough flashbacks. By skipping the origin, the film is allowed to really focus on how much Peter enjoys being a hero, even while he is still figuring out how to make it work and balance it with life, school and all the troubles a teenager faces.
By not spending close to an hour retelling the origin, Homecoming is able to jump right into the fun a teenager with super powers should be having, especially one that’s already been in touch with the Avengers and is eager to be a part of their exploits again. It picks up straight away after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and never looks back. The movie shows rather than tells us how Peter is realizing the amount of responsibility that comes with his abilities, and what it means to try to be like the heroes he’s admired for so long.
Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that you don’t need to have a popular hero’s origin in every reboot. Yes, it’s a movie about a character just starting his heroing career, but by skipping those first initial steps that are so familiar to the audience, it manages to give us a Spider-Man who is truly fresh and new. One can only hope that Homecoming‘s expected success will encourage others to tackle future reboots in a similar fashion.
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