Spider-Man. Spider-Man. Does whatever.
It was announced in the late hours of February 9th, that Sony Pictures and the Marvel branch of Disney have reached an agreement on the film rights to the character of Spider-Man. Sony’s current crop of planned Spider-Man films (which would have seen The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and The Sinister Six) will be wholly abandoned, and the character will be re-cast for the third time in 13 years. The part everyone’s excited about: This new version of Spider-Man will be included in the oft-lauded and mega-successful Avengers series, currently planned to extend as far as 2019. A new Spider-Man film, produced by Kevin Feige and distributed by Sony, will hit theaters in July of 2017. Spider-Man will, presumably, also appear in other Avengers crossover movies, fighting alongside Captain America, et al.
The world’s myriad superhero fans are naturally thrilled about this news. Spider-Man is, historically, Marvel’s single most popular character, having been the face of the company since his inception in 1963. indeed, Spider-Man carried so much clout in the company, that he was frequently used to boost sales; Whenever a new set of characters was introduced in the comics, Spider-Man would inevitably be granted a cameo in the first few issues to lend the rookies some legitimacy. Spider-Man even fought Powdered Toast Man at one point. Spider-Man was an honorary Avenger, the unofficial fifth member of The Fantastic Four, and star of – at least at one point – four or five of his own regular titles. He was the elder statesman of the Marvel universe. He was their Superman. Their Mick Jagger. Their Ron Jeremy.
Not that Disney needed any help “legitimizing” their superhero movies; The Avengers series has raked in billions in only seven short years. But the inclusion of Spider-Man does feel like something of a unifying factor. Spider-Man’s inclusion wasn’t needed for any sort of dramatic reason or even for any financial reason (other than to make an already successful franchise even more successful), but he was needed to show that all of the Marvel characters – all of them – can interact in feature films just as they do in the comics. All Disney needs to do is commit a hostile takeover of the X-Men and The Fantastic Four, and they’ve pretty much covered all their bases. If you’ve wanted to see an epic four-hour superhero mashup to feature over 100 characters at once, you may still get your wish.
But beyond this vague sense of fan completionism, what can Spider-Man add to the drama of the Avengers series? It’s here, dear fans, that I must crack out the skepticism.
The Avengers series has been, to date, a light and fun version of the fantastical characters. They all seem to be more about the joys of being a superhero, and not about the hardships. This is a world with no secret identities, and no real-world drama; the stories feature the high-stakes plight of ultra-powerful, godlike superbeings. Sure there were scenes of Captain America going home to his apartment in one of the films, but there hasn’t been much in the way of the everyday trials of being a superhero. It’s hard to have realistic drama when you have a character like Thor running teleporting around the universe on a Rainbow Bridge.
The classic ethos of the Marvel universe has long been about how superheroes have real-world problems. The face of that ethos was Spider-Man. Spider-Man was the kind of character who had to fit superhero-ing into his busy schedule that also involved a low-paying job, a mean boss, a disapproving girlfriend, and a doting aunt. His acts of heroism usually involved bank robberies and street crime. Sure, over the course of the comics he would meet gods and monsters and even occasionally be granted godlike powers of his own, but Spider-Man always landed back on the ground. He was, by company necessity, versatile. But the central appeal of the character was how relatable he was.
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Example: In the wonderful Spider-Man 2 (to date, still one of the best of all superhero movies) there was a scene wherein the Spider-Man costume ran in the wash, discoloring all of Peter Parker’s other clothes. Can you imagine Captain America having the same sort of problem? Or Iron Man? Spider-Man has to pick up groceries. The Avengers just have them delivered. Iron Man can build himself dozens of Iron Man suits that are nigh indestructible and occasionally turn into conscious evil automatons. Spider-Man builds little web-shooters for his wrists.
It seems that, despite decades of comic book tradition, Spider-Man won’t fit into what Disney has been doing with their Marvel characters. Poor Spider-Man has suddenly been taken from a cinematic milieu of bank robbers and mad scientists, and been forcibly thrust into a world of evil super-robots, Infinity Stones, vengeful gods, and hundreds upon hundreds of peers he hasn’t met yet. Will be be able to keep his secret identity? I feel like he’s already in over his head, and he hasn’t been included yet.
Plus, we should all perhaps face the fact that we’re going to be getting a third actor, a third continuity, and a third “fresh start” on this character in what amounts to be a relatively short time. Many complained that The Amazing Spider-Man was not needed. This new version of Spider-Man feels like overkill to me. How many times can we be introduced to this character? Even if Disney elects to not tell yet another origin story (which is likely), my brain is reaching maximum capacity with the volume of interlocking myths. This is a case of too much, too late.
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What of the tradition of the “Marvel Team-up?” Wherein Spider-Man would play with a spcial guest star every month? I think an era of doing small simple one-on-one team-ups with Spider-Man may no longer be possible. Unless Disney scales things back, and starts making stand-alone superhero movies that don’t interlock with any other stories. Which is perhaps the last thing they will ever do.
So what can Spider-Man add? Precious little, beyond that sense of fan completion I mentioned earlier. Sure, this completion will indeed feel like a homecoming to the series many, many fans, but if we look at what’s been happening, we can easily see this is a universe that wasn’t built for him. Spider-Man is included here because he was a part of a different version of this story elsewhere. His inclusion in the Disneyverse is not dramatically vital, and the universe wasn’t aching for him. His real-world problems are small potatoes when cities are being destroyed by space lasers.
Let’s hope that the film will be a satisfying adventure, and not an ambitious misstep.