It didn’t matter that his name was in the title: I struggled to give two hoots about Captain America going into Civil War. It’s all Spider-Man’s fault. The character’s been dragged headfirst through one too many duff movies recently, so seeing him back on form (and integrated into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe) was nerd nirvana. Better yet, nobody felt the need to dredge up his origin again. He’s a kid who can stick to walls, shoot webbing and generally flout the laws of common sense . We get it.
Still – and I hate to admit it – diving right into the action does have one snag. It closes doors. Although I’m loathe to rehash old ground (nobody needs to see Uncle Ben bite the dust for a third time), starting later in Spidey’s career makes it tricky to explore some of his best material. There’s only so much you can do with the flashbacks I’m sure we’ll get during Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Back when he hit the stands in 1962, superheroes were flawless champions of a vanilla variety. By contrast, Spidey was flawed before and after gaining his powers. Rather than beginning as a crime-fighting do-gooder, Peter Parker stumbled on the idea by accident; in fact, he was more interested in making a quick buck. After winning the wrestling match we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Peter became an overnight celebrity. His stunts would sell out auditoriums and he was featured on TV talk-shows. Then Ben’s murder came knocking. Unsurprisingly, the fun was sucked out of stardom. Being Spider-Man wasn’t just a reminder of Peter’s biggest mistake. It personified the arrogance that’d caused his uncle’s death in the first place. The only reason he kept appearing on stage was to pay for the bills his family couldn’t afford, not to mention his Aunt May’s medical care.
Things got steadily worse from there. When an accident left him barred from performing again, Peter answered the call for photos of a wanted felon – Vulture, who’s due to make his debut in Homecoming – and ended up stopping him as a happy by-product. This became a regular occurrence with supervillains such as Sandman and Electro until the wise-cracking boy-scout we have today was born. It’s a shame we won’t get to see that on the big screen. At least, not all of it. For me, Peter’s reluctant heroism is a crucial part of what makes him stand out.
All the same, there’s evidence to suggest Spider-Man has already been through this trial by fire before we meet him in Civil War. A quick browse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki would suggest he’s already causing a stir amongst journalists when Ant-Man takes place. Remember the reference to folk who can swing or cling to walls? Considering how soon after being bitten by the radioactive/genetically altered spider this must be, Peter’s clearly been showing off. In a world of thunder gods and green rage monsters, he’d have to if he wanted to get their attention. I love the idea of him making waves on a programme like America’s Got Talent. It modernises a classic comic arc and leaves room for the hero worship that made him so unpopular with media outlets (enter J. Jonah Jameson and The Daily Bugle. Dan Slott’s excellent Learning to Crawl explored this idea a couple of years ago. Inspired by Spidey’s exploits, another high-schooler followed Peter’s example and tried to play at superheroes. He then took things too far and became his idol’s first enemy.
Even if future films skip that plot, this version seems to take inspiration from another we didn’t see enough of in the last two iterations. Indeed, Peter seems every bit as hard-up for cash as his comic equivalent. Besides a cobbled-together 90s computer and his habit of raiding dumpsters for kit like a cheap-as-chips DVD player, his first concern when meeting Tony Stark was the money he could bring to the table. This suggests he and Aunt May aren’t so well off as her catwalk-worthy fashion sense and their swanky flat would suggest. Are they struggling to keep up with the rent now Ben’s gone? Could May be pulling extra shifts to compensate as with The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Perhaps this is why Peter’s concerned about her ‘freaking out’; the demands of her job might be stretching her too thin. If Marvel wanted to emulate the comics, this might even be chipping away at her health. If you want to go down the rabbit hole further still, maybe she’s got something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that makes working difficult for her. I know how much of a pain in the tush that can be.
Anyway, we’ll probably get answers as to what Spidey’s been up to next year when Homecoming comes out. But for now? I’ve got my fingers crossed it’ll explore this side of the character. It’s what makes him who he is in my eyes, and it’s also what makes him different. Not just from the competition; from prior versions as well.
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