Warning: This article contains spoilers for all things that begin with “Spider” and end with “Man.”
(You’ve been warned, web-heads).
The year was 2017, it was summer and I had been writing articles for Story Screen for almost a full year. Spider-Man: Homecoming had just been released, and it was getting to be my time to pitch another article. “I want to write about all the fucking Spider-Man movies, and tell ya’ll what’s the best one,” and the brilliant Story Screen editors said, “Yeah, that’s fine. Stop yelling and spilling your beer everywhere.” To which I responded, “fine.” I watched what was at the time, all six Spider-Man movies, and it was indeed a rollercoaster, peaking with the nostalgia of the first two Sam Raimi directed films - descending into mediocrity with Spider-Man 3, through Amazing Spider-Man 2, - and then finally starting to do some sick twists and loops upon finally arriving to the MCU Spidey moments in Captain America: Civil War, and Homecoming. After that somewhat bumpy ride, here were my closing thoughts:
So, what really makes a good Spider-Man movie? It’s hard to say. Film is an evolutionary process. My favorite has to be Homecoming, because of its fresh take and nuances, but that’s because six other Spider-Man movies precede it. Amazing Spider-Man knew the greatness of the Raimi trilogy; it’s why it pays so much (too much) homage to it. That original trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart. The little, Robby Anderson I told you about at the beginning of this article that would watch the Spider-Man DVD on a little portable DVD player on every car ride, and on most nights before bed. The greatest thing that movie gave me, however, was the vernacular to talk about movies. I was able to articulate to people older than me, and to friends my same age, why Spider-Man is the greatest superhero ever, and why the Spider-Man movies are the greatest superhero movies ever. Now, as a (kind of) grown up, I’ll always love these movies, but I thank them for giving me a critical Spidey-sense about film.
(For the full first Superpinion experience, follow this link.)
So, here we are now*, in the weird dystopian future that is 2019, and Spider-Man’s still one of the pieces of entertainment that continues to get me through my bad days. The past two years have ushered in a new golden age for the sassy web slinger, and it’s not just the MCU that’s putting out the quality. A few years ago I thought we had peaked with Homecoming, but boy was I wrong. Film is indeed an evolutionary process, and those who are at the helm of the wall crawlers’ cinematic genome keep pushing that radioactive Spider DNA to new heights. So, why exactly is Spider-Man the best he’s ever been?
ALRIGHT, LET’S DO THIS ONE LAST TIME
Let's cut to the chase and talk about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, although I am the type of person who saves the best for last, I think this movie is emblematic of why the Spider-Man brand is so strong right now. Released in December of 2018, this animated masterpiece did something I never thought was possible on the big screen: making the more confusing elements of Spidey’s comic book lore make total sense. I’ve said before that I prefer Spider-Man stories that mostly deal with him being friendly in a neighborhood; typically the kind of stories that revolve around multi-verses, cloning and multiple Spider-folk don’t really do it for me. Guess what? I was dumb. Into the Spider-Verse, features multiple realities, multiple Spider-people, and one of them is a fucking pig and no one gets confused. Words like “super collider,” “quantum theory” and “goober,” are all present within the film, and yet nothing feels confusing or convoluted. Information is organized and doled out expertly, and exposition is usually carried by charm and amazing performances.
The film uses Spider-Rookie, Miles Morales, as the film’s emotional anchor and because it’s not the typical origin story of, “Peter Parker learns that indeed with great power comes great blah blah,” and doesn’t culminate with, “Oh man, this scientist-turned-evil-monster figured out my secret identity and is going to throw Mary Jane off of a building,” we instead get a story that feels both self-aware of Spider-Man’s cinematic history and is trying to do something that will awe and surprise fans. And indeed it did. Into the Spider-Verse, is one of those movies where you don’t hear a single bad thing about it. I could spend pages upon pages gushing about this animated marvel, but let's put a pin in it for now.
YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A MULTI-VERSE?
Over the past few years, the Spider-Man franchise has changed a few hands. Sony and Disney are playing nice with the property and are both putting out their own takes on the web-head’s lore. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be mass brand confusion. 2018 saw Tom Holland’s performance in Avengers: Infinity War in April, and in September Sony also published the incredible video game Marvel’s Spider-Man for Playstation 4, featuring a story that is fresh and doesn’t tie into any cinematic Spidey property. In October, we got the not so critically acclaimed but box office success, Venom, (which wasn’t my cup of tea but hey, if you wanna hear Tom Hardy talking to himself for two hours, that is the movie for you). Then finally, Into the Spider-Verse was released in December, bringing home the greatest year for Spider-Man we’ve ever seen. All of the entertainment forays mentioned above were a financial success, and most were critically acclaimed, (WHY DO YOU EXIST VENOM?! YOU SHOULDN’T WORK).
I think that part of the reason that no one seems confused with the over-saturation of this particular property is that… ya’ll a bunch of nerds. Nerd culture is becoming more and more mainstream, and audiences are becoming more and more hip to what these juggernauts are doing with the property. I also think we need to praise the creators of these various Spider-tainments for staying in their own lanes with their visions. Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4 might be one of the greatest superhero video games ever made. You feel like you ARE Spider-Man, and it tells a story that feels traditional and fresh. Into the Spider-Verse gave us something COMPLETELY different, and that’s exciting, we are no longer bound to just Peter Parker; they could spin off a million spin offs, just like a spider’s web, (sorry) and I guarantee they’d all be entertaining and unique. Venom is a villain that audiences have wanted to see “done right” on the big screen for years, and well… that movie made a bunch of money and is getting a sequel. Then there’s the MCU’s Spider-Man, giving us the best version of a “young” Peter Parker that is deeply intertwined with this cinematic universe, and gives us the Marvel team-ups we’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.
YOU’RE PRETTY TOO
One of the things I was critical of in my last article, was the female representation in most Spider-Man films. In the Raimi trilogy, MJ is literally just a plot device for Peter/Spider-Man. She’s thrown off things just so Peter can save her. She is not given a real arc in the films. She’s essentially just a carbon copy of “the girl next door trope.” In the Amazing Spider-Man franchise, Gwen is more than just another girl for Peter to fall in love with, she’s intelligent and the onscreen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone made the character’s relationship feel real. Still, neither of these female roles amounted to much more than a ‘love interest’. Luckily, some of these newer Spider-Man properties have made great strides to correct this error.
The prime example of this progression is probably the character of Spider-Gwen in Into the Spider-Verse. Gwen takes no shit, and is just as capable a Spider-Person as anyone else on the Spider-Verse team. Her chemistry with Miles could be interpreted as either romantic or platonic; it isn’t forced on us, it is just good chemistry. In her quick vignette explaining her life in her universe, we learn that Peter Parker turns into the Lizard and she has to defeat him, turning her off from having “friends.” Gwen has a very strong arc in Spider-Verse, a FANTASTIC costume, and is a great character to watch on the big screen.
Over the past few years we’ve also seen two very different interpretations of Mary Jane. Zendaya’s performance in Homecoming as the darkly hilarious Michelle who is eventually revealed to be ‘MJ’ (is that considered a reveal?) is an interesting take on the character, but I wasn’t sold on it. But since seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home, I am here for this character. She brings chemistry to the Peter/MJ dynamic that is both romantic and fresh. The way she chooses to play the more brooding, millennial MJ adds a new texture to the character that I hope they continue to push and expand on in different ways going forward. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, Mary Jane takes the role of a Daily Bugle Reporter, and is a playable character next to Spider-Man. This is a brilliant remix on her character, and it makes her just as integral to the story as Peter is. While there is always work to be done to push the boundaries of good female representation in film (and more specifically, in Spider-Man films), I think that the franchise in its many tendrils, has made strong strides in the right direction.
I DON’T FEEL SO GOOD MR. STARK…
Not all of these Superpinions are positive. With Spider-Man being so strong right now - seemingly making almost all the right moves as an intellectual property - it has made my love for the Raimi trilogy wane. These Superpinions are my own, and I find it harder and harder to return to those nostalgic superhero films. I’ll always love the train fight from Spider-Man 2, and I’ll quote Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin until I’m dead (put “YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I SACRIFICED” on my grave). Spider-Man 3 is borderline unwatchable, and the more time that passes, it becomes more difficult for me to watch MJ getting thrown off of a building. Action blockbusters and superhero films owe a lot to those original three movies, but even with my nostalgia glasses on, I find little interest in re-watching those films. The Amazing Spider-Man films are fading so much into obscurity it’s almost as if they hadn’t existed at all.
I don’t like Venom. I don’t like that it exists. It’s not the interpretation of the character I want, and I think because of its financial success, that I may never see the version of the villain I think the world deserves. There’s still hope that Insomniac Games, (creators of Marvel’s Spider-Man,) could bring a version of the Venom story to Playstations around the globe, so I guess I’ll just hold out hope for that. Even though Sony absolutely killed it with Into the Spider-Verse, the rest of their ‘villain only’ films don’t appeal to me at all after Venom. The “Morbius” film and the “Kraven the Hunter” movies don’t sound all that appealing if they never fight Spider-Man, or Spider-Folk. We shall see. The future of Spider-Man and friends (or foes) is far from bleak, but if you mix enough bad with the good then you may have trouble walking the tightrope between giving fans what they want, and over-saturating the fans. Despite all these anxieties, my Spider-sense isn’t tingling yet.
IT’S A LEAP OF FAITH
It’s never been a better time to be a Spider-Man fan. This article is focused on the Spidey iterations on the big and small screens, but even some of the wall crawler’s newest comic book runs are also excellent, (I highly recommend “Spider-Man: Life Story” and the newest Miles Morales run written by Saladin Ahmed). Between games, movies and franchises, if you like Spider-Man, there is some quality out there for you. What does the future hold for Peter? Miles? Gwen? Spider-Ham? Spider-Man Noir? Eddie Brock? Mary Jane? Zendaya’s MJ? Penny Parker? Aunt May? Vulture? Mysterio (Oh man, he’s so good in Far From Home), Doc Ock? Kingpin and all the rest? I don’t know. But I do know that Uncle Ben is dead, and with great power comes great responsibility. Let us not be afraid of Spidey’s future, let us not regret Spidey’s past, let us instead leap into Spidey’s present, and keep swinging through the streets of New York.
*UPDATE: This article was written prior to the divorce between SONY and Disney, prior to the custody battle over Tom Holland and Director Jon Watts, and obviously prior to my heart being smashed into a million little pieces. The Story Screen editors and I agreed it was best for me to add a little update to the article and briefly discuss my thoughts and feelings on the superhero shake up. As you can imagine, I’m very disheartened by the news, Spider-Man truly shines when he’s with his super friends, and some of the best comic books stories in Marvel’s history include epic team ups with Spidey and the Avengers. Many fans including myself were overcome with joy when Peter got to join the MCU, and over time he’s been intricately woven into this complicated yet satisfying web of super powered drama. If you’ve read this whole article and ended up here, you can imagine I’m pretty bummed. I hope this split up wont stick; I don’t think SONY has the resources and knowledge to pull off their own Spider-Man movie, even with the talents of Holland and Watts. The moment we traveled to Queens in Captain America: Civil War, and met a Peter Parker that was inexperienced, but already learned the hard lessons of power and responsibility, that was a victory for us, the fans. Sure, through the most cynical lens, maybe it’s just a cash grab, a deal that benefitted both parties until it didn’t. While this doesn’t mark the end of Spider-Man, I’m worried that this new golden age of the web slinger is already coming to a close.
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Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RoBaeBae