Either way, recent headlines have signified the start of a whole new web within the Marvel universal empire. And like that, we’ve swung into the long-awaited Sony and Marvel Studios collaboration, not just in the production house, but as an ensemble on screen as well.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton said in the announcement: “Marvel, Kevin Feige and Amy (Pascal), who helped orchestrate this deal, are the perfect team to help produce the next chapter of Spider-Man. This is the right decision for the franchise, for our business, for Marvel, and for the fans.”
Even though Spider-Man is one of the younger mainstream heroes, his licensing with Sony predates the creation of Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Spider-Man has had to finish up with his mandatory Sony high school curriculum before he could even consider applying to the elite ranks of Marvels’ Ivy League roster. And he’s definitely had a few staffers writing some stellar letters of reference to get him early acceptance (cough, cough, Amy Pascal).
A lot of content floating about the web (power pun!) focuses on this pairing of production house titans, or how the deal came together thanks to Amy Pascal (here is a succinct article on her involvement and the industry highlights that brought us to the cinematic Spidermen of today. Also of interest, however, is how the collaboration of the relatively young, angsty Spider-Man(that movie audiences have come to know after two continuities rife with melodrama) and a team of semi-deities and powerful, *mature* adults, will mesh on screen. While the idea proved a successful amalgamation in the comic book world, there are no guarantees that the transition will come off as smooth or effective cinematically. (Contrary to the saying, not everyone loves an orgy.)
Spider-Man is arguably the most recognizable of the Marvel superheroes. His trials and tribulations have been defined in large part as those inherent to youth. He’s goofy, prone to PG-rated zingers. He’s fielded high school bullies, fluffy love triangles, and teen-drama-filled breakups. We’ve watched him struggling to keep up with school work, deal with his mommy and daddy issues, adhere to the teachings of his Aunt and Uncle, and hide in his room to sulk (which lead us kicking and screaming into the Emo phase). Both continuities suffer from this tiresome cycle of adolescence in part because they have both been reliant on early-era Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s origin story.
Through Sony’s constant circling of Spider-Man’s birth, the franchise did successfully establish the canonized comic characteristics of Spidey in the cinema; youth, goofiness, humility, inner-sadness, alongside light-hearted sensibilities. He’s particularly grounded as far as superheroes go. A distinctly different tone than the heavier content, more serious delivery, and larger-than-life personas that comprise the Avengers. It’s a comparison between the dry, intellectual sarcasm of Cap v. Stark, and Spidey’s pantsing of a not-so-adept Rhino in the middle of a New York side street. Between Hulk smashing for a touch of comic relief and Parker dancing his way through a jazz club while he tries to discover himself. Between saving the world from alien domination and keeping a city’s streets safe from crime. It’s not that the Avenger films and other Marvel Studio productions are all straight-faced and demure. But the prevailing youthful elements that make up the core of Spiderman’s character, if true to the iconic Peter Parker incarnation, will certainly alter the dynamic of the already successfully established team.
Will Spider-Man’s childlike exuberance and angsty mood swings make the Avengers more appealing to a younger crowd? Or will the production team age Parker slightly, so that he’s presented as a seasoned veteran, an experienced protector more suitable for a mature audience and a weathered team of superheroes?
Speculation is that this next cinematic-Spidey reboot will happen in an iconic comics-Spidey story arc. Spider-Man will mediate between Captain America and Iron Man in the mutant registration plot playing out in Captain America: Civil War (Cap’s third installment). Mediation is a task best suited for a mature and bipartisan figure though. Perhaps this avenue would prove efficient at transitioning Spider-Man from youth to adult. Watching Spidey as a grown up (or shedding some of his adolescence) could be a new and ultimately more befitting tone for the upcoming partnership.
But is that what the audience wants? (And is that what will make the franchise optimal cash?) Do they want a Nolified-Spider-Man? A Spidey that’s a little more morose, noticeably darker, and accompanied by grittier, worldly content. This version of Spider-Man would pair up seamlessly with the Avengers… whilst simultaneously infuriating a whole school of superhero purists.
Peter, even in his youthful exuberance, has the smarts to keep up with both Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. He has the wit to banter with a jovial Thor and a deadpan Black Widow. He has the right moral compass. He wears more than enough spandex. And he’s the only hero in the group that’s still managed to keep his true identity hidden behind a mask. He is worthy of the team, even if his fire-power is comparatively limited and his scope of worldly experience (in film) doesn’t extend far past the New York bubble.
Perhaps these differences are enough to keep Spider-Man an anomaly on the team. He can represent more of the honorary Avenger he is in the comic world. Or, perhaps these differences will not be enough. Maybe the powers that be will take this opportunity to usher in a bigger change to the Spiderman franchise.
Peter Parker has a large fan base, but Marvel Studios has been making motions towards injecting some long-overdue, long-term diversification into their iconic universe. Miles Morales, of African American and Hispanic descent, is the next Spider-Man in the world of comics. The Morales character has its detractors, but he’s been a part of the Marvel for four years now. And with this opportunity for yet another Spider-Man reboot – this time in a successfully established backdrop of the MCU – Morales could be more than the gimmick of which he is sometimes accused. He can take his first solid steps into the mainstream by becoming part of a juggernaut movie franchise that can do no wrong. Logistically, of course, the introduction of Miles Morales would need more focus and backstory than would be allowed from a cameo in another superhero’s movie. The likelihood of Sony/MCU choosing this direction, therefore, is low, albeit tantalizing.
And so, hope lies in the chance that Spider-Man will grow up just enough to help us escape having to relive his puberty one more time. He can still be the wacky sidekick to the straight man that is the Avengers team. He can still swing in with a zing! and swing back out having prevailed as the underdog. It may even be enough to see a Peter Parker not defined by his love interests, hanging out with a whole new set of friends.
It’s a delicate dance, becoming an adult. And it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be. But we all have to do it sometime. Six movie incarnations seems like ample time to me.