Movies & TV / Columns

Welcome Home, Spider-Man

April 15, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

Before we get into the main article, I want to take a moment to thank my readers and commenters from last week. I enjoy getting to read and discuss our opinions. I did try to read them all (although one conversation was so circular I lost interest). If you’ve got a topic you would like me to discuss, or questions you want to ask, feel free to let me know and I’ll do my best to tackle those subjects!

So, despite the awesomeness of this screenshot, this article really isn’t about Spider-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War specifically. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t have a lot of thoughts on it other than “Hmm, that new suit is distinctive and pretty cool” and “Holy crap I just saw Captain America get wrapped in Spider-webbing, that’s so awesome!” Because you see, I like cool stuff like that. I like seeing things I never thought I’d ever get to see outside of a comic book on my TV screen or on a theater. I mean, if you’re not watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe for moments like that, why are you watching it?

No, this column is a discussion about how big of a deal this is for our Prodigal Web-Slinger and for the future of Marvel Studios. The teamwork between Marvel and Sony to integrated Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is potentially the biggest game-changing moment for the brand since The Avengers somehow managed to actually pay off despite enormous odds.

It’s easy to sit here in 2016 and forget that before 2008, very few people could tell you anything about Tony Stark as a character; he was a B-list character whose place in pop culture outside of the comic book readers was as a video game character. It’s easy to forget that nobody thought that Thor could be a big name character, or that Captain America could ever be relevant again. Yes, we all like to talk about how Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man having any success is a miracle, but the truth is, Marvel Studios has been gambling on unsure commodities since the beginning. With the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man unavailable to them, they had to look at their B-Players and see if they could make them their A-Players. They did, and they deserve all the credit for managing to pull that off.

But with all due respect to the relatively new superstar status of Iron Man and Thor, or the shocking revival of popularity for Hulk and Captain America, these guys are only part of what makes Marvel… well, Marvel. As for the characters owned by Fox? I love the X-Men with all my heart, and I even have a fondness for the Fantastic Four that defies logic. But let’s be honest here; Spider-Man IS Marvel Comics. His lack of presence in the MCU has cast a wide shadow on it to this point, and now that he’s finally arrived, he may be destined to become the biggest thing in comic book movies once again.

It’s probably too easy for people to look at the recent history of Spider-Man on film and say that he hasn’t lived up to his potential, or that he’s probably struggling more than any franchise not called Fantastic Four. But it really wasn’t that long ago when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man dominated the box office; it was the highest grossing non-sequel film of all time upon it’s release. There’s a lot of reasons for that, obviously, not the very least that Americans really needed a bright, optimistic celebration of everyday people becoming heroes in 2002. But I contend that the reason that movie succeeded and endures today was because it was just a damn good movie with an even better sequel. Between Sam Raimi’s excellent and distinct directorial vision, a deep respect for the spirit (if not the minutia) of the source material, those films are almost cultural relics at this point, worthy of preservation and study just as much as 1978’s Superman and 1989’s Batman.

If you haven’t watched those two in a while, I strongly recommend checking them out again. They don’t just simply hold up, but they have basically become a blueprint for everything Marvel has built its business model on. There’s strong, layered characters that evolve over the course of several movies, stunning action scenes and solid humor, a sense of fun and adventure but also responsibility and purpose. It’s honestly difficult to imagine what the state of comic book movies would be like today if Spider-Man hadn’t risen out of the rubble of Batman and Robin and proved that comic book movies could be bright and colorful and loyal to the source material, and still be good, entertaining, well-made films that not only entertained their audiences, but inspire them.

It’s also worth noting that Spider-Man didn’t just succeed because it was the first comic book movie in decades to not take radical departures from the source material in look and tone. It worked because of who Peter Parker is, what Spider-Man is to Peter, and what the character means. Stan Lee’s deconstruction of the superhero tropes of his time resulted in the creation of a superhero who was custom-made for his readers to relate to. And it’s not just the fact that he’s a bullied nerd in a medium probably read by bullied nerds. Peter Parker is a real human being with real life responsibilities; he has to take care of his aunt, go to school, hold down a job, try to manage his love life, and cope with the fact that he has incredible power and a responsibility to use it for good.

The core of Peter’s character is making tough decisions; sometimes he falters and makes the wrong, selfish choices. Usually, he makes the morally right choice in the end, but whatever choice he makes, it still has consequences. Sam Raimi understands this dynamic and it’s why the Spider-Man in his movies feels like a stronger character than the Amazing reboot’s Peter Parker, who feels like a fusion of Edward Cullen and Christian Bale’s Batman. He doesn’t stop a thief when he can, and the thief kills his Uncle. He decides to keep Mary Jane Watson out of danger by not allowing her to become a target for Spider-Man’s enemies, but he loses out on potentially the love of his life. The first film ends on a downer, but with the hope that Spider-Man will continue to be a hero to his city. The second film ends optimistically, but also carries the weight of “How do Peter and Mary Jane make this work after the honeymoon is over?” Spider-Man embodies the idea that while we may never be free of our responsibilities or the consequences of our actions, we can still make good choices and have a dignity in trying our best. When the character is handled well, he speaks to readers and viewers on a real human level. And that is what Marvel Comics, at their best, try to be.

“Okay, but why should we be excited about a sixth Spider-Man movie?

That’s a pretty valid question, but there’s a few things that I’m excited about going forward here. I’m interested in the newer, younger Tom Holland as Spider-Man. I’d like to see how Marvel approaches the writing of the character now that they largely are trusted to do whatever they want with him. But most importantly… this Peter Parker does not live in a vacuum. What does a fifteen or sixteen year old teenage nerd do in a world where superheroes are not only real, but they fought an army of space aliens in the very city that the kid grew up in?

I’d like to see a Peter Parker that has posters of Iron Man and Captain America on his walls, who thinks it’s the coolest thing ever when he gets superpowers because now he can be the thing he’s always wanted to be. And not just because that’s a fresh take that hasn’t really been portrayed on screen before, but because it would reflect the people who are most likely to connect with the new Spider-Man; kids. The first generation of kids who got to grow up where superheroes aren’t just a small section of pop culture, but the dominant force at the box office. Because believe me; if the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to continue into a Phase Four and a Phase Five, it’s not going to be because of Doctor Strange, Black Panther, or Carol Danvers. No disrespect to any of them. But Marvel built their house on Spider-Man, and if there’s anything Peter Parker has proven over the last fifty plus years, it’s that he can handle that kind of pressure.

Aaron’s Quick Thoughts!

Lots of comic book movie news this week, and I figured I’d comment on them. Some of these may be revisited as potential topics at a later date, but for now I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. Enjoy!

– So not only is 2017’s Spider-Man movie got a name, it’s also got Michael Keaton attached as a possible bad guy. This means Spider-Man is going to do battle with Batman! And, if there’s any truth to the rumors, Keaton’s Birdman role may have been prophetic.

Ben Affleck is officially announced as directing the next solo Batman movie. This is 100% the right move for DC to do. Hell, if he knocks this out of the park (and he probably will), just give him the reigns to the Justice League movies.

– Early critical buzz for Captain America: Civil War is largely positive, with particular praise for the action sequences and the debuts of Black Panther and our brand-new Spider-Man. Hopefully it’s good news for Marvel Studios after last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was a mess.

– Gal Gadot has stated that Wonder Woman will be “pretty dark”. I’m sure some will expect me to balk at this news, but honestly, I’m not sure you could do a proper adaptation of Wonder Woman without someone being beheaded. I wonder what other edgy material they might try to sneak into this…

– We are getting an official casting announcement for Carol Danvers this summer, the lead star of the upcoming Marvel film Captain Marvel. If you ever see me posting as Blue Arrow around here, you’ve probably guessed I’m a fan of Miss Danvers, and I’m very excited to see her on screen. Hopefully my thoughts on the casting won’t be too binary.

– I’ve been watching Daredevil second season on Netflix, but not with the same urgency as I watched the debut season. It’s still an extremely good show, I love the casting and writing for The Punisher, but feel that Elektra was a bit of misfire.

Doctor Strange had it’s first teaser trailer, and it seems like they will at least be tackling some of Stephen Strange’s origin story, which is awesome because it’s one of the most interesting in comics. Visually, this movie seems to be willing to push boundaries and I appreciate that. Also, that cast is pretty solid.

– The newest DC animated movie, Justice League vs. Teen Titans came out this week, and….

That’s what next week’s column will be about.

Because it’s awesome. See you next time!