The year 2004-2005
My Elder Brother: “See Batman is the real hero. He has no powers. He has to rely on his skills and gadgets and still has the courage to go out and fight crime.”
Me: “ That’s why he sucks! He needs gadgets and the Batmobile. Look at Spider-Man, he is just a regular kid but accidentally given superpowers. He has to balance school and a job and fight crime! He is just more relatable. He isn’t just brooding emotionally in the night all the time. He smiles, falls in love and has an Aunt to take care of. He is much more relatable and that’s why he’s my favourite!!”
We were 18 and 12 respectively at that time. A lot of things have changed since then including my choice of favourite superhero. While growing up in a small town called Aurangabad in India didn’t afford us the means of buying actual comics, our tryst with comic book heroes was through cartoons or movies. I had always been a Superman fan as a kid, I mean who isn’t? My impressions of live action Batman weren’t that great either with reruns of the campy but enjoyable 60’s Batman show and the nothing but campy Schumacher’s Batman movies being my first impressions. But being the hungry nerd that I was, I even digested those multiple times. Though Batman the animated series would come later on to salvage that image, my mind was already hooked on to another animated series which premiered in India when I was just entering my teens.
Though I had seen the 60’s Spider-Man cartoon show as a kid and knew about him, the 90’s animated series was entirely something else. It repeated its limited episodes and I watched every one of them till the point I had it all learnt by heart. I had always admired DC characters because they were awesome but grew to admire Spider-Man and the X-Men because they appealed more to my growing mind at that time. With the X-Men and the Raimi Spider-Man movies releasing in a span of 2 years my geekdom had reached another level. Somehow the real emotion and drama appealed more to me than the campy Batman and Superman movies (I was not a fan of Burton Batman as a kid). Yes, my dear friends there was a time when Marvel movies were handling themes like racism, identity crisis and teenage problems while DC movies were about turning the Earth in reverse to turn back time (I always hated that even as a kid) and ice puns.
HOW THINGS CHANGE
It can be said that Spider-Man was my gateway into comic book movies and geekdom in general because he took my understanding of superheroes to a deeper level. He therefore always occupies a special place in my heart even if Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy would make Batman my favourite superhero since then.
Business and copyright complications kept the Sony owned Spider-Man from appearing in Disney’s increasingly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe which had to make Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man their most iconic character. Even if the franchise got progressively superficial and campier for my tastes, the only reason I was still invested in Civil War was that finally Spider-Man would make an appearance. Tom Holland seemed like a perfect casting for a younger high-school going Peter Parker.
However, I would walk out of the movie mildly disappointed. Not just with the lack of any actual CIVIL WAR but with Spider-Man felt just shoved in. Tony Stark bringing in a random super-powered kid from New York as a part of his team seemed like the worse way to integrate him in the story. But I gave it the benefit of doubt. The action scenes involving Holland were good and I still had hopes for Homecoming.
Many including myself believed that with a studio capable of handling comic book movies well (yes I was naive), we would get quite possibly the best Spider-Man movies ever. Would we get Kraven ? Or my favourite Venom ? (Done well I mean . Not Eric Foreman as Venom) or Hydro? Or Morbius?! Or maybe see him interact with Daredevil. Fuck that would be something amazing to see! They already had a Netflix series going on, having 2 New York late night crime fighters interact briefly would’ve been great fan service.
But no…I mean we got to see him fight Vulture. Yay (?) I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Keaton as Vulture. He was again a very relatable villain. An every-man whose life changed due to the appearance of these god like heroes. But the problem wasn’t him. The problem was Peter Parker. Maybe I had grown up but he just wasn’t relatable anymore. Where was the Peter Parker who had to come up with everything himself? Where were his dilemmas? Where was his motivation? Where was Uncle Ben?! (I know we have seen him die twice already, but I’d have like to have at least seen a flash back). Bowing to the ‘shared universe’ part which is an important selling point for the MCU, Tony Stark was Peter’s father figure now. But Iron Man’s overall popularity ensured that Homecoming was over-dependent on Tony Stark. While I get the message of this movie was precisely showing this Spider-Man to learn to be on his own without the Stark tech, it still didn’t feel like a Spider-Man movie. Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for a while even when he appeared in Civil War. He didn’t even need Stark tech to begin with, even within this movie’s rules. The villain’s origin and Spider-Man’s arc all revolved around Tony Stark.
While the first movie might have been forgiven as introductory entry and hence needing all that connective tissue, ‘Far from Home’ should’ve taken it into a different direction. Stark Tech and a villain with connections to Tony Stark’s past were again present in this movie. Of all the things they could’ve done to advance Peter Parker’s arc they still didn’t. I have no clue if Feige and Co had a proper arc for Peter Parker planned where we would finally get to see a Spider-Man story and not a Stark dependent story. But in a way it was good that Sony and Disney had to split up over Spider-Man recently and that he is not with Disney anymore.
I can understand why MCU fans might have been upset by the news but you have to realize the mistreatment given to Spider-Man. Instead of letting Marvel’s most iconic character be its own thing and the connectivity just an added point, Disney decided to keep him in Iron Man’s shadow. From any of the Infinity Saga Phases can you ever recall a Thor or Captain America movie having so much dependence on any other character? I mean Winter Soldier, Ragnorak, hell even Ant-Man and Dr. Strange were its own thing. Then why the step-fatherly treatment to poor li’l Spidey? If you are talking about progression and consequences then one needn’t look any further than Marvels most insanely successful solo movie – Black Panther. Its the perfect template on how a spin-off is can be done well.
Both Black Panther and Spider-Man made their appearance in Civil War. Black Panther was a perfect template in setting up a spin off in a team based movie and then giving them a solo. It was self-contained with no more connection than needed to the larger universe and can be enjoyed on its own even if you haven’t watched any previous movies. It is very surprising that while a lesser known character like Black Panther would get his own independent story with barely any of the Avengers showing much less being referenced, Marvel Comics’ most iconic character would somehow need hand-holding via Tony Stark. It’s also understandable that they wanted some sort of lead-in into Homecoming so that the general audience realizes he is being set up to be the main Marvel character after Tony but to have the same trend continue into the second one was just lazy.
Those claiming Sony will not do Spider-Man justice has to see Into that Spiderverse to understand the crazy shit you can pull off with a Spider-Man movie. Not just that but they somehow pulled off a financially successful Venom movie without even having Peter Parker in it. They have Andy Serkis to direct the sequel now. I believe Spider-Man is in great hands now going forward.
For Spider-Man fans it’s a chance at seeing some awesome villains like Kraven on screen for the first time. With Disney not being around, they can even go for some more violence and gritty storylines. While the Tom Hardy’s Venom was enjoyable but had its issues, Hardy is great as Eddie Brock/Venom and to see Tom Holland or perhaps a new Spider-Man interact with Venom is nothing but exciting. Also, a Morbius movie starring Jared Leto is being shot, to have a Spider-man someday interact will be exciting. Also the rumored Sinister Six movie is now a possibility. (Also finally we’ll get posters that don’t look like they were created in Microsoft Paintbrush).
For the general audience, what do they have to lose? I am not saying the general audience is completely unaware of comics and shared universes etc. But if tomorrow an enjoyable Spider-Man movie is being released who is to say they won’t buy tickets just because the production co. is different? Maybe it can get confusing but if we know something about the general audience is that they don’t really care. They showed up for Aquaman and Venom without worrying too much about their connection to any universe. One of my friends when going to Venom asked me if there is any backstory he should know before going in and when I answered that it’s not at all connected to anything, he was relieved. Sometimes the general audience just wants a fun time. A new Spider-Man movie where they don’t have to worry about 6 movies of back-story would actually be appreciated by them.
Finally for the MCU fans, well what exactly are you losing out on? I get that a lot of you love Tom Holland and I think he is good as Peter Parker. But maybe he’ll still continue the role or you’ll have movies where Nick Fury or Tony Stark’s ghost doesn’t have to show up for him to be important. He can be his own person like Dr. Strange or Black Panther. Also, if you really thought Marvel was going for an Avengers style team up anytime soon, think again. Looking at their slate for the next 2 years, there are no signs you’ll get Spider-Man leading some kind of new super-hero team up. Disney is going for a new kind of universe because they know lightning doesn’t strike twice but that’s an article for another day. Just realize that Spidey has just broken free of a web that would’ve limited his scope. Now with great freedom will come great possibilities.