Fans will finally be getting what they’ve been clamoring over for years next May: Spider-Man is showing up as part of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But unfortunately, that good news came with some bad news of its own. The newer Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield, wouldn’t be playing Spidey. Instead, Sony would be rebooting Spider-Man for the third time in fifteen years and casting a new actor for both Sony’s solo films and for the crossover in Captain America: Civil War. They also announced that, yet again, Peter would be a teenager juggling the complexity of vigilantism and the high school experience.
Now, director Jon Watts has assured us that while Spider-Man will yet again be a high schooler, this won’t be like the other Spider-Man films. This time, they’re leaving out the spider bite, and the learning to use his new powers, and Uncle Ben’s murder. Because after all, “there are only so many times you can kill Uncle Ben.”
But regardless of how old Peter is, regardless of whether or not we see Uncle Ben killed by another thug, regardless of if we don’t see Peter sitting in his room stitching together a suit, the fact remains that it’s still a reboot. Not even just another reboot, a third reboot.
At least with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man we all had the need to wash the taste of Spider-Man 3 and the horrors within out of our mouths. And The Amazing Spider-Man did a great job of that. Perhaps too great a job, because Andrew Garfield was a perfect Spider-Man. He had the character down: the physicality, the sarcasm, the motives. Not only that, he had a lot of hopes and ideas for the future of Spider-Man, which we will never get to see, because Sony can’t handle the idea of a Peter Parker above drinking age.
Spider-Man movies already feel stagnant. It’s another go-round on a ride that’s lost its fun. So we won’t see Peter getting bit and waking up with crazy new powers. And we won’t see the aftermath of Uncle Ben’s shooting. This new franchise is still the exact same Spider-Man we’ve seen before. Teenage boy with spider powers. The only difference is that they’re continuing Peter’s Benjamin Button syndrome and de-aging him for a third time.
In the same article where Watts assured us that we won’t have to deal with origins, he also promised a brand new approach to Spider-Man movies: a coming of age story. But weren’t the other franchises coming of age stories as well? Young person has to shed the relative carefree feeling of childhood and take up the responsibilities of becoming an adult. That’s the definition of a coming of age story. And in the first films of both previous Spider-Man attempts that’s exactly what Peter does. The spider bite and the development of powers is a literal, physical transformation, and we also see Peter emotionally and psychologically come to terms with being indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. In Maguire’s trilogy, we were beaten over the head with Uncle Ben’s phrase “With great power comes great responsibility,” which really drives home the idea that Peter’s new abilities are changing him forever.
So how is Watts planning on making this new Spider-Man movie different from the others when everything he’s told us about it echoes its predecessors? If he focuses too much on the Spider-Man aspect, it’s even more like the other films; but if he focuses too much on the teenage boy aspect, it’s just another movie. It’s no-win. With Peter appearing in a movie in less than a year, it’s been all tell and no show to assuage fears that Peter will be the same exhausted character we’ve already seen five times before.
Could all this have been avoided? Is there a way to bring in a new Spider-Man without it feeling tired? The answer is yes, and the answer is simple: skip Peter, bring in Miles Morales.
For those of you who know of Spider-Man mainly though movies or cartoons, Miles Morales is the Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Man, the Ultimate Universe being an alternate time-line version of mainstream Marvel comics. Miles is a biracial teenage boy who’s also bitten by a spider and given abilities, but keeps them on the downlow until Peter Parker is killed and he feels the need to take up the mantle in Peter’s absence.
As much as comic book!Peter Parker is loved, Miles has definitely gotten his own loyal following. He headlined his own Ultimate Universe title, and in June it was announced that he’d be joining mainstream Marvel continuity. Miles could bring some much needed representation and diversity to the comic book movie world, a problem all studios (not just Marvel) seem to struggle with. Miles also solves the age gap issue Peter is usually touted as fixing. That is, most superheroes are at least in their twenties, many middle aged, while a large chunk of the audience is much younger.
Sadly, despite the online outcry when the MCU crossover was announced – before any character confirmation – we’ll never get Miles as Spider-Man. Even though the character is well-loved and well-developed. And when the suggestion came up to cast a non-white actor as Peter Parker, even though there’s nothing inherently white about him (Donald Glover famously spoke out about just this when people claimed there are no black kids like Peter Parker by saying, “You don’t think there is a black kid who lives with his aunt in Queens who likes science? Who takes photography?”), Sony still put out a short list of young white men who all looked like copies of each other. Because after two Spider-Man letdowns of the same thing, third time is probably still the charm! Not saying that Tom Holland won’t do a great job as the character, but come on, Sony, do you even open your ears to your fans? Or are you too busy trying to get some of that sweet, sweet comic book movie money that you’re just giving us a movie, not the movie we really want?
So we’ll never get an interesting new take on Spider-Man, because Sony hasn’t realized that the “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again” mantra just isn’t working. We’ll sit through Civil War and hope that the story they make up for a teenage hero suddenly popping up in a universe that’s more or less based in NY without appearing in any other movie makes sense. And when his solo movie rolls around, we’ll begrudgingly drag ourselves to the theaters, our expectations low.
And we’ll probably still be disappointed that we’re seeing the same movie for the sixth time.