Spider-Man: Sunrise of the Webslinger
Rebecca Devaux was onto something.
Recently celebrating her anniversary with her husband, the Canada-based Twitch Queen was a guest character in my latest podcast episode where we discussed the Twitch and cosplay communities, courageous representation in nerdom of all mediums, and how Spider-Man Homecoming was indeed the best Spider-Man film of the current six, since Sam Raimi’s then-mindblowing 2002 Marvel Comics hit was released and, riding on the shoulders of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000) catalyzed what is now the current comic book movie obsession in Hollywood. I countered that Spider-Man 2 was Homecoming’s only true contender, and we simply let it go from there (likely before we killed one another). But she was really onto something. Maybe Tom Holland was the best on-screen Peter Parker Hollywood has ever offered us; the best comics-faithful iteration of the young hero.
In 2013, although I was exhausted with Sony’s ambition (see: greed) to move forward with a myriad of spin-off stories that would introduce Venom, Black Cat (not just Felicity), and the Sinister Six, I still defended the continuation of the episodic Amazing Spider-Man series. I loved the retelling of the high-school hero’s origins the first time around. I found it refreshing for the Peter Parker coin to have flipped: no longer were we suffocating with the grounded, realistic portrayal laid on us by soft-spoken, sad-eyed Tobey Maguire of the woes of romance, university courses, and juggling paying the rent with a thankless job that didn’t pay anything. The relief came in the form of Andrew Garfield as a bubbly, wise-cracking, skateboarding, New-York-accented Peter Parker whose nerdiness was not the catalyst of bullying from jocks...it’s what made him cool. “Hipster Spider-Man”, perhaps. The outerwear upgrade to fresh All-Star Chucks and Gap peacoats didn’t help much in the fun-yet-flawed sequel, either.
Enter Tom Holland.
Like Chris Evans, Tom Hiddleston, and Chris Hemsworth before him, not many people would take him as a household name, especially in the American cinephile home, before emerging as an iteration as one of the most instantly recognizable characters from the Marvel Comics library: as of 2016, Holland was our new Spider-Man. His face doesn’t express too much, no. But where that fails, everything else seems to work. Marvel made sure to not revisit the origin yet again--here, Peter has been a costumed superhero for just a few months, eventually getting the attention of Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, co-leader of the Avengers, and most-certainly the Wolverine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To be honest...I didn’t like where this was going.
Hear me out, though. I just thought things were going a little too fast for our new Spider-Man. Fans of the Webhead’s comic book adventures know that he was introduced in 1962, but despite frequent interactions with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, he didn’t join the Avengers until 2005, more than 40 years later. So, what I saw when Holland’s Parker was introduced into the MCU by way of Captain America: Civil War, was a Parker that hadn’t even graduated high school yet, but was already deeply caught up in a conflict webbing up the likes of the Falcon, the Winter Soldier, and Scott Lang’s scene-stealing Giant Man. Not two years later is Spidey already in outer space, jumping through Doctor Strange’s interdimensional portals, and Shadow-Kicking Thanos in the face on his alien home planet of Titan...all right before Iron Man honors him as an official Avenger.
On a spaceship.
On top of everything else, he’s now a victim of the Infinity Gauntlet: deceased, only to be eventually revived as we all can speculate, since the sequel to Homecoming, which has recently been revealed to be titled Spider-Man: Far From Home, will be the first MCU film to be released after Avengers 4.
See what I mean, though? One of Spider-Man’s greatest assets as a comic book character was his position as a solo superhero. He had no crew, and most certainly no super-group, but still knew everybody.
(Heck, he was practically best friends with Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four.)
He was the perfect amalgamation of the A-list superhero of Marvel’s U.S.-based East Coast, and the “friendly neighborhood” street-level hero protecting the little guy in the back alleys. Equal parts Captain America, saving the world one shield-throw at a time, and equal parts Daredevil, dedicated almost exclusively to his piece of the city and the people occupying it. If you ask me, the MCU was a little too quick to want Spidey in their Avengers-based fold, and although his 2017 Homecoming film was a reckless success, Holland’s Spidey has literally seen the best of what the MCU has to offer already--the Civil War, aliens, outer space, and even the Infinity Gauntlet--without remotely developing any one particular story arc for the teen hero. Kid’s not even out of Aunt May’s apartment yet, but he’s rocking that Iron Spider armor and blasting members of the Black Order into space.
What Marvel Studios has accomplished in ten years with the MCU, no other major film studio has truly succeeded in doing since Universal in the 30’s and 40’s with their iconic Monster films and subsequent mash-ups between them. Even modern-day Universal’s revival of that exact Hollywood formula was dead-on-arrival with the unsuccessful and laughably disappointing Mummy reboot. So I have a ton of praise for each of Marvel’s related films--their direction, and their purpose. But a fraction of me still wonders how much of an upgrade Sony’s Peter-and-Mary-Jane-led Amazing Spider-Man 3 could have been from the second one...perhaps if Sony weren’t so focused on establishing their own cinematic universe with Spider-Man, and simply focused on, well, Spider-Man.
Outside of the MCU Spider-Man’s hastey Avengers membership, the only other poor result of his existence in that universe is what Sony has left to use. Instead of continuing their own Amazing Spider-Man films, all they have left are rights to certain characters that exist in that universe, and not in Marvel Studios’. So, this year for example, Sony will be releasing a solo Venom film, starring Tom Hardy. It will rewrite the supervillain’s origin--opting to adapt from comic arc that sees Eddie Brock’s Venom as an anti-hero fighting other symbiote-based enemies--and completely omits Venom’s villainous past, and likely will refuse to acknowledge Spider-Man’s existence.
It would make a little bit of sense, maybe, if Venom’s comic book origins weren’t so intertwined with Spider-Man himself. But they are. And even Spider-Man 3--the worst of them all--understood this and used Eddie and Peter’s relationship as a basis for the creation of Venom character, who is essentially the anti-Spider-Man. Another great point Rebecca Deveaux and I agree upon: we both have little hope for the Venom movie, which appears to have no actual connection to the defunct Amazing Spider-Man universe, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and likely will not contain any version of Peter Parker.
It’s a real bummer that, after eleven years, nobody has really appeared determined to give fans the Venom we deserve--his origin, his evolution, his influence, his look--and when we finally get another shot, it’s all screwed up again. It really is hard to have faith in a Venom movie without Spider-Man. I wonder how well a Lex Luthor solo film would fare without Superman in it, you know? Sometimes, however, a plan like this would work. I hear a Joker solo film is in the works over at WB, one that likely will not involve or include Batman, but do you know why this would even remotely work? Because, outside of Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster, the origins of Batman and the Joker have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Again, this simply is not the case with Venom and Spider-Man. Disappointment seeps in my soul.
I love Spider-Man. In fact, the only live-action film starring the wall-crawler that I didn’t actually love was Spider-Man 3. (Yes, I even loved the convoluted black-sheep ASM2 for many, many reasons). Homecoming was absolutely gorgeous and well-played, especially considering the enormous amount of characters the film had (Spider-Man, The Vulture, The Shocker, The Shocker II, The Prowler, The Tinkerer, The Scorpion, Silk, Hobgoblin, Damage Control, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and Iron Man...among others), and I have nothing but gleeful anticipation for this year's animated film Into the Spider-Verse. But at the end of the day, I just want what’s best for Holland and his contract as the character in the Disney--ahem, I mean, Marvel--universe.
Again, we all know he’ll return after Avengers 4 in Spider-Man: Far From Home. So even if Venom flops, and even if other planned Sony properties like Black & Silver or Morbius the Living Vampire (really?) flop or never come to fruition, I want Spidey to succeed.
Only time will tell how great of a hero the boy will become in the MCU,...