Why the next Spider-Man movie needs to take things back to basics
Huw Fullerton can’t wait to see if Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield turn up in No Way Home – but then let’s never do this again.
New Spider-Man movie No Way Home looks set to blow the doors off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, reintroducing a gang of familiar foes (and possibly heroes, cough cough Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire) as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) battles to save the fabric of reality itself.
It looks set to be an epic, exciting adventure that’s (possibly) one of the biggest adventures the MCU has ever seen. I can’t wait to watch it. And then I hope they never do it again.
Well, for Spider-Man at least. While it’s been great to see the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies raise the stakes and offer new challenges to the webhead, it feels like we’re getting further and further away from the core of who and what Spider-Man is.
Yes, Spider-Man has often faced world/universe-ending threats in the comics (remember when he became Captain Universe?), but his greatest stakes have always been more personal, emotional – a grudge match in the mud with an obsessive foe, rather than zapping a sky beam to save the multiverse.
If there is a Spider-Man 4 (and come on, there definitely will be) it needs to take things back to basics. I want to see Spider-Man struggling with his double life, forced to let people down because he has a responsibility they don’t know about. A Spider-Man who doesn’t have a billion-dollar drone programme at his beck and call, or an array of superpowered homies he can call up if things get too tricky.
Basically, I want to see Tom Holland’s version of the real Spider-Man – the struggling, against-the-odds but scrappy hero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko all those years ago. The last few movies’ Marvel Universe-centric story has been fun, and a necessary tonic after two Spider-Man adaptations (the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb franchises) that followed similar lines in quick succession, but as time has gone on we’ve drifted away from the core of the character.
Yes, this Spider-Man still has struggles – and the storyline in No Way Home where he’s hated and potentially prosecuted for crimes he didn’t commit is pure Spidey – but he’s got too big a support network, too much help. Some fans have wondered whether the end of No Way Home will see Peter forced to wipe his true identity from the minds of everyone in the world, including his loved ones, cutting himself off from those he cares about in order to save everyone.
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That sounds brutal. I’m super into it. Give me Spider-Man in misery! The Peter Parker who can’t afford fresh milk and gets dumped by all his girlfriends, just so he can be beaten up by a criminal wearing a high-tech quilt! Think Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker in animated movie Into the Spider-Verse – that, for me, is what Spider-Man should be.
A soft reboot like this could detach Peter from his supporting cast and reinstate the Spider-Man status quo, while also giving him the kind of weighty consequences for his actions that have characterised the wall-crawler ever since his Uncle Ben decided to go for an evening stroll.
In the comics, other heroes don’t get as tough a ride as Spider-Man. Plenty of other heroes get paid for their good works, be that in money, adulation or respect. Spider-Man tries to turn a buck by wrestling once, and it essentially kills his uncle, while media moguls lead a hate campaign against him. Other heroes get private jets and fan clubs – Spider-Man regularly gets his costume torn up and has to re-sew it himself.
This is something that the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films understood perfectly. Rewatching them in preparation for No Way Home, I was struck by just how well Raimi adapted the character beyond the obvious suit, powers and basic backstory. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man lives in a world of missed opportunities, terrible living conditions and personal sacrifice – even the reviled Spider-Man 3 (which is still bad, even on a revisit) understands that.
Whatever you think of Andrew Garfield’s personal performance, it’s one of the many things the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man films got wrong. Garfield’s Peter lives in a world of slick labs, has a Pinterest-perfect little home, wears stylish clothes. When Tom Holland first arrived on the scene in Captain America: Civil War it seemed like the lesson had been learned, with some truly humble beginnings given to this version of the hero.
But as this Spidey was held closer to the bosom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that dissipated. Is he really Spider-Man if most of his capability comes from a high-tech suit that somebody else made for him? Is he really Spider-Man if at any point the “grown-up” characters like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) or Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) can sweep in and teach him the facts of life?
Taken to its logical conclusion, there’s an argument for the fact that Spider-Man doesn’t make a load of sense in an interconnected superhero world anyway. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – but would you really feel that responsible if there were dozens of superheroes more powerful than you doing loads of stuff already? And plenty of them doing way less for the community than you without being cruelly struck down by fate (I’m just saying, Ant-Man and Hawkeye aren’t fighting a lot of crime).
Still, even within a co-existing MCU, it’s possible for Spider-Man to be his own, struggling hero. I really hope that we’re seeing the first shoots of that storyline in the trailers for No Way Home – assuming, of course, that this isn’t all just a set-up for some even bigger event movie in two years’ time.
As I say, the “Home” trilogy of Spider-Man movies has a lot going for it, and it's really fun. But I’ll like the movies even more if it turns out that this whole time they’ve all been leading Peter Parker to become a more solo hero with the weight of the world (or at least, New York City) on his shoulders.
After all, you have to leave home as you get older – and it’s high time this version of Spider-Man finally struck out on his own.