Spider-Man became the most boring superhero on film, but Marvel’s changing that

When Spider-Man came out in 2002, I was enthralled with it. Like most people, I thought Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker and a pretty good Spider-Man. When Spider-Man 2 hit, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t capture the same kind of movie magic that I loved in the first one. By the time Spider-Man 3 came out, my fatigue with the character had begun to set in and I left the theater feeling disappointed and, more than anything else, okay with never watching another Spider-Man movie again.

Fast forward five years from 2007 to 2012. Sony has decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise following the disaster that was Spider-Man 3. They’ve brought in a new Peter Parker — played by the charming, boyish and English actor Andrew Garfield — and things were beginning to look up for the studio that was being pummelled by Fox and Disney at the superhero box office.

In another disappointing turn of events, however, The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, were mediocre at best. The villains were boring, the pacing felt rushed and it didn’t seem like Sony had learned from its previous mistakes on Spider-Man 3. The new Peter Parker wasn’t a relatable goofball trying to make every complicated aspect of his life work while still getting decent grades. He was just goofy. As an actor, Garfield was a fine addition, but both movies lacked any heart or charisma and, perhaps worst of all, they didn’t feel like Spider-Man films.

I walked out of the theater after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feeling much like I did when I walked out of Spider-Man 3 seven years prior: exhausted by Sony’s attempts to make me care about Peter Parker and done with the superhero on screen. It’s why I was pessimistic when Marvel confirmed Spider-Man would be joining the Cinematic Universe and the new Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, would debut in Captain America: Civil War.


Spider-Man
Spider-Man

If I was exasperated with the state of Spider-Man on film, worried about having to sit disappointed through more stand-alone movies that he’d star in, Holland’s brief performance in Civil War did everything to eradicate those fears.

This is the Spider-Man we’ve been hoping to see for more than a decade.

Warning: The following will contain light spoilers for events that happen in Captain America: Civil War.

Spider-Man is one of the most cherished superheroes. Like Batman, he transcends the world of comic books. He’s an identifiable figure and a character most people have had some kind of interaction with over the course of their lives. Maybe they watched a Spider-Man TV show, read the comics, saw the movies or even just bought a t-shirt because they liked the idea of Spider-Man. He’s become a staple of culture and, because of that prominence, there’s more pressure for Spidey to succeed.

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the superhero I always wanted to see on film. The Spider-Man that I knew and grew up with was the high school nerd who dealt with traditional, angsty teen problems while taking on the burden of saving New York City day in and out.

This is the Spider-Man we’ve been hoping to see

Like a lot of people, I connected with that Peter Parker. The Peter Parker who didn’t know what type of person he was supposed to be, and who struggled with what to do next, but who felt like he was supposed to change the world somehow. Even more importantly, I identified with Peter Parker’s losses and learning to cope with grief at a pretty young age. Learning to deal with an overbearing sense of guilt when you feel like you’re the reason someone close to you has died and trying to figure out how to rectify that somehow eats up a lot of your youth.

To say Peter Parker was important to me growing up doesn’t even begin to cover it. Spider-Man was a great superhero, but I always adored Peter Parker.

And what Marvel gets right with its introduction of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War more than anything else is how it sets up Peter Parker. Holland, who’s currently 19, looks and acts like a freshman high school student (as I said in my review of the movie). When he’s approached by Tony Stark (Iron Man) to help him out in the battle against Steve Rogers (Captain America), he’s most concerned about missing a math test. He’s also concerned that his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) will find out he’s leaving New York City to go to Germany and that he’ll be grounded for the rest of his adolescent life. On top of all that, he’s still embarrassed by his less-than-ideal costume and, in essence, that fact that he’s a kid without much resources trying to be an adult.

Sony’s biggest problem with Spider-Man was that they created a Hollywood version of a witty, geeky teenager that wasn’t believable.

Spider-Man was a great superhero, but I always adored Peter Parker.

Even Maguire’s Peter Parker was merely an idea of what a teenager should sound like, not how they actually do sound. Marvel strips that hazy questioning of how a teenager should be portrayed and wrote an entirely believable, authentic Peter Parker. This felt like the version of the character I had grown up reading. He was funny in an awkward, adorable kind of way and he was honest. He was unsure and scared, but full of heart and optimism. He felt ripped from the pages of classic Marvel comics. Hell, his costume, based on the work of artist Steve Ditko, just reinforced the idea that Marvel would be returning to what made Spider-Man great in the first place.

Holland’s Peter Parker feels like it could only exist within the confines of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe because, in many ways, the very aspects of the MCU that we love are all inherently a part of his character. The MCU is funnier than most other comic book movie franchises (Deadpool not included) and Parker has always been one of the funnier superheroes. The MCU has been one of the more engaging and emotional cinematic universes, especially in comparison to Warner Bros.’ recent films, and it’s great to finally have Parker’s storyline added to that universe.

For the longest time, Spider-Man felt stale and the stand-alone movies didn’t feel like they were doing any justice to his character. But for the first time in over a decade, I am excited for another Spider-Man movie. Perhaps even better, though, is that I’ve rekindled my love for Spider-Man as a character on screen.

Spider-Man is one of the aspects of superhero cinema that I’m the most excited about. I didn’t think I’d ever get to say that again.

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