If you’ve been on the Internet the past two days -- which I guess we can assume you have been, unless you’ve subscribed to our new carrier pigeon feed – you’re reading and talking about Spider-Man. After Monday night’s news broke, we've all come to live in a world in which the friendly neighborhood webhead is getting a ZIP code in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of course, even though Spidey is going to appear in a MCU movie, the movie rights to him will remain with Sony. I won’t spill too much ink (or bytes) on the Marvel/Sony deal, but Spider-Man is going to show up in Captain America 3: Civil War, set to premiere May 2016). Also, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige will be loaned out to help produce a stand-alone Spider-Man movie for Sony, set to premiere July 2017.
This is exciting news for fans of both comics and superhero movies. Following the disappointing Amazing Spider-Man and ASM2, this connects one the most popular (if not the most popular) heroes to his funny pages brethren on the big screen. In one fast “thwip!” Sony wiped away the taste of two profitable, but poorly received, Spider-Man movies – three, if you count Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Meanwhile, considering the goodwill Marvel has with fans, it gives a new hope that the wallcrawler will get the excellent treatment the studio has lavished on its other heroes. In fact, the only folks that shouldn’t be excited about this development is Warner Bros. This counts as a big win for Marvel when WB hasn’t managed to connect any heroes universes yet. But I digress; that's a conversation for another day.
But it isn’t exactly smooth webslinging just yet for Spider-Man. With the great power of Spider-Man comes great responsibility, and Marvel and Sony have a lot of work ahead to rehab the character and re-launch him. Civil War is only two years since his on-screen adventure in Amazing Spider-Man 2, and that isn’t a lot of time for a character overhaul. With that in mind, here are eight ways to patch up Spidey’s web at the movies.
1) No Origin Stories
Krypton goes boom and Kal-El ends up with a nice couple from Kansas; Thomas and Martha take a walk in Crime Alley, get shot, she drops her pearls and Bruce gets obsessive; Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, becomes a self-absorbed wrestler, fails to stop a thief and Uncle Ben pays the price as a result. No one is clamoring for yet another retelling of superhero origins. They typically drag on even with characters new to the mainstream, but are especially overdone with the most well-known ones.
Next time we see Spider-Man, let’s just skip the entire visit to the lab with really loose radiation/genetic manipulation safeguards. And please don’t bring back Uncle Ben; not even in flashback form. The Ultimate Spider-Man comic added more depth to Ben Parker, but other than his catchphrase, he isn’t a very interesting character.
Or maybe Ben’s mantra could be used against Spider-Man. Tony Stark could bond with Pete over something science-y, and then Tony could manipulatively connect Ben’s sense of responsibility with the Super Hero Registration Act.
2) Give Spider-Man Experience
Spider-Man was introduced in 1962, graduated high school in '65 and graduated college in '79. By 1987, he was married. Over 52 years, there are a lot of great, memorable stories that took place when Spider-Man was an adult. Instead of revisiting the high school and college Peter Parker, as we’ve seen in both Raimi and director Marc Webb’s movies and as it currently seems is the plan, Marvel/Sony should give us a Spider-Man who has a few years under his belt.
This is a Spider-Man driven by the lessons and death of Uncle Ben, but it is no longer such a fresh wound. He should understand the full range of his powers, be a hero that has proven his mettle, and have faced off against big bads like Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. He gets beaten and he gets back up. He isn't still doing the "Spider-Man No More" schtick every few movies, but fights hard and gets worn down - but is still trying to live a normal life while still being a hero. Make him the anti-Batman, where he feel his everyday problems beyond a dead uncle and girl problems. Put him in a world where he was already working at the Daily Bugle, and maybe even did his best on the street level to fight the New York City invasion we saw in The Avengers.
Basically, this panel kind of sums up the point to me:
And by taking him out of high school, Pete can be portrayed as a mid-twenties, brilliant scientific mind. He would be confident enough to verbally spar with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Stark and ethical enough to debate Chris Evans' Cap in Civil War. They can make him look up to Captain America’s integrity -- and where he came from as a fellow poor New Yorker -- but relate more to Stark’s methods and genius. By aging him a bit, it creates more complexity. An amateur hero caught between two veterans is less interesting than a established adult hero choosing between two nuanced worldviews.
An experienced Spider-Man also solves a narrative problem for the MCU. In the comic book Civil War story arc, Spider-Man chooses sides in the battle of superhero registration and unmasking. But the MCU has not placed much (if any) emphasis on secret identities. Tony Stark (and, as a result, Pepper Potts) is open about his Iron Man identity. Everyone knows Steve Rogers is Cap, Bruce Banner is Hulk, and Thor is, well, Thor.
If a slightly older Spider-Man chooses to reveal himself as Peter Parker on screen, that changes everything for his world. Peter doesn’t live in Stark Tower, or on Asgard, but is just in an apartment in New York. His love interest (hopefully Mary Jane) and Aunt May are exposed and vulnerable. And he can kiss the job at the Daily Bugle goodbye, since boss J. Jonah Jameson loathes the webhead. A more experienced hero might have more of a complicated internal struggle with that choice than a younger one.
3) Cast An Older Actor
An experienced Spider-Man needs to look just slightly older. To be fair, Tobey Maguire was 25 when he was first cast, and Andrew Garfield was 27, but they were both cast as characters in their late teens. Peter Parker doesn’t need to be in his thirties, but it would make sense to cast a slightly older actor who can look about 25. I was thinking of someone who can tone down the high school pathos, but still be witty and a little neurotic. And when Spider-Man gets pissed, he should be a guy strong enough to cause some damage but mature enough to pull punches (after all, he is physically stronger than Cap). Instead of Puny Parker, this Peter should be humble and more popular, but still not a cool kid – and not too smarmy, as Garfield’s Parker often seemed.
In a conversation with my cohorts, Sam Huntington jumped to mind. The actor is 32, but has the physique of a Peter Parker, and easily passes for a guy in his twenties. It may be because I was just talking about his former Being Human castmate Sam Witwer as The Crow, but Huntington has shown he has comedic chops but can also do drama. His character, Josh, on Being Human has shades (albeit quirkier, and with OCD) of Peter Parker. Currently, Huntington is taking the lead in the spy/action flick The Throwaways, which is streaming now on Sony Pictures’ Crackle site. At least in the trailer, there is potential Parker in him. Hell, he can even grow scruff to show when he's had a long few days fighting bad guys. Spider-Man has actually rocked that look a lot over the years, so let Spidey have scruff, by god!
4) Hire Joss Whedon
My colleague Don Kaye and I were chatting about this one online. He suggested that Marvel should just back up a truck full of money onto Whedon’s lawn. Although it would be swell to see Whedon direct a Spider-Man adventure, that’s likely not going to happen. The man wants to work on his own creations, and who can blame him? Still, Whedon can be the godfather to this new Marvel/Sony baby. They should bring him on to be a script consultant, and like any good godfather would, tend to the spiritual growth of our hero. Also, like my godfather, he can teach Spider-Man to tell some jokes and sound funny. Hire him to polish the dialogue and Whedon’s gift of gab would sound perfect coming out of Peter Parker’s mouth.
5) Bring Back Mary Jane
I never knew Gwen Stacy when she was alive. She existed only in back issues as Peter Parker’s ex-girlfriend who met an untimely end. For me, it was always about Mary Jane. Since he was married in 1987, I grew up more with a married Spider-Man than a single one -- at least until the controversial "One More Day" arc undid that. Though I doubt we’ll see Pete and MJ as a hitched couple on screen, it would be fresh to see a romantic pairing that is dynamic and fun (I don't think Pepper Potts and Tony Stark quite got there). So much time was spent worrying about whether Peter and MJ or Gwen could make it in previous films that it feels tiresome.
Plus, Mary Jane was always the more interesting love of Spidey’s life. She was way out of his league but had her own baggage. They began as confidants following Gwen's death, and Pete actually proposed to her early on in 1978, which she refused. They had issues, and ups and downs, and it was more interesting than the cliched "I'm a crimefighter so I can't be with you." Mary Jane fell in love with Peter the man, knew his big superhero secret, and stuck with him despite a bad job, lousy apartment and super villain attacks. Gwen should remain a spectre from Peter Parker’s past, but Mary Jane should be his present. Make MJ and Pete a couple that works, with her hating the webslinging but understanding why he needs to do it.
More importantly, with Spider-Man in the Civil War movie, he needs a supporting cast whose lives are impacted by his choices. If he unmasks, suddenly the lives of Mary Jane and Aunt May are on the line. That adds heft to his decisions.
Finally, Emma Stone is pretty unforgettable as Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spider-Man films. In fact, she was one of the best parts, as was her chemistry with Garfield. No disrespect to Kirsten Dunst from the Raimi films, but her Mary Jane was never compelling – or particularly memorable. It would be easier to cast a new actress who could craft a strong MJ than it would be to make us forget Stone only two years later. Oh, can you imagine a strong, self-possessed and sexy Mary Jane delivering Whedon's dialogue? Call up Jewel Staite or Eliza Dushku right now.
6) Yes To Peter Parker, No To Miles Morales
My colleague Trent Moore is taking the complete opposite stance on this, and I see his point. Using Miles wipes the Peter Parker slate clean. Suddenly, we jettison the baggage of Amazing Spider-Man and we get an entirely new Spider-Man backstory to tell.
But it also muddies the narrative waters – especially since he is part of Civil War. We need to already know this Spider-Man, and audiences need to get what he’s about as soon as he spins that first web in the MCU. As I previously mentioned, we have to be invested in Pete’s world, and care about loved ones like Aunt May and Mary Jane. Miles complicates that, and suddenly necessitates an origin story. You know how I feel about that.
I really dig the character of Miles. His character can and should be told in movies at some point, but give us a great Peter Parker first. Create a Spider-Man who can hang with Iron Man and Captain America. This doesn’t mean Pete has to be a white dude, either. I want the MCU to have a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and want the powers-that-be to cast an excellent actor, not cast a race. Personally, I’m not feeling Donald Glover in the role as much right now, but I supported that bit of dreamcasting a few years back. Maybe I just miss him as Troy in Community. But if his FX show Atlanta ends up being solid, I can see myself being back in his camp. But, whoever takes the part, make mine Parker.
7) Single Villains/No Sinister Six Film
As of now, it sounds as if the planned Sinister Six movie is being de-escalated, but let’s hope it’s scrapped, entirely. A giant villain team-up sounds cool; wearing down a superhero through a continued, outmatched fight is an interesting concept that has worked well in comics. Plus, it’s kind of fun to watch villains join forces, bicker, pursue their own ulterior motives, etc. But Spider-Man is better paired, at least for now, with a singular baddie. Too many villains sunk Spider-Man 3, and even ASM2 was a weird, rushed hodgepodge of Electro, Green Goblin and the mystery man. For the stand-alone Sony Spider-Man film, pit the wallcrawler against a big bad who poses a threat all his/her own.
Personally, I’d love to see Kraven show up in town to hunt down our protagonist; a non-superpowered threat in a world of superheroes who wants to show he is better, and smarter, than these modern gods. He doesn't want to rule the world, or turn everyone into a lizard, or whatever. He simply wants to bag a big game, and show off his strategic genius. Borrow heavily from the emotional center between Peter and MJ from "Kraven's Last Hunt," and really allow Kraven to kick some butt.
And while Venom will show up eventually, give audiences time to enjoy our new Peter Parker before introducing his most famous adversary. Although, wouldn’t an alien symbiote storyline work really nicely a few years down the road after –- oh, I don’t know -- the cosmic-themed Infinity War?
8) Daredevil/Spider-Man Bromance
The friendship between Daredevil and Spidey is hands-down my favorite amongst superheroes. Both Matt Murdock and Peter Parker are New Yorkers, and have protected a lot of the same turf. In the comics, they would team-up, and Spider-Man even stood in for Daredevil on numerous occasions. While DD is even more of a street crime fighter, the two are more alike than other Avengers. Since Charlie Cox is playing Daredevil in the upcoming Netflix Marvel series, and all the Marvel projects are connected, it would be amazing to see Murdock cross over into Spider-Man’s world. I would be happy to see Murdock show up as Pete’s lawyer, but this needs to happen. It gives Peter Parker a super friend and sounding board to confab with (and lawyer) right in his hometown. Soft crossovers with other New York City/Netflix heroes like Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and even The Punisher would also be pretty swell.
Speaking of which, bring Spider-Man back to Queens. Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man filmed in Brooklyn, and Garfield’s accent always struck me as too Brooklyn-y. Peter Parker is from the Forest Hills 'hood of NYC’s largest borough. Don’t mess with that.