Why Has Spider-Man Become Such a Movie Mess?

Why Has Spider-Man Become Such a Movie Mess?

All told, Spider-Man is one of the weirdest high-profile superheroes. Peter Parker will always be famous, and that means anything he ends up headlining will just eventually have an odd aura around it. Look no further than his own movies: after Sam Raimi’s trilogy, Sony didn’t maintain the proper hold it had on the franchise, eventually resulting in a shared custody deal with the character which brought him to the Marvel Cinematic Universe via Tom Holland.

Holland’s Peter Parker made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, and has ultimately split his MCU time as a guest star and three-time headliner. Of the current trilogy, the sophomore effort of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which released on July 2, 2019, came with baggage greater than 2017’s Homecoming. Coming just over two months after Avengers: Endgame, the movie got right to the point and positioned Peter as a potential MCU anchor now that most of the Avengers (and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in particular) either retired or died. Adding onto that is that while Endgame brought the Infinity Saga to a close, Far From Home was the actual Phase Three capper rather than being the start for Phase Four, which held a throughline of young and new characters stepping up to the forefront.

Image: Sony Pictures/Marvel

In the same way Homecoming was about Spider-Man being ready to hang with the big leagues, Far From Home asked if Peter (and by extension Holland) had what it takes to be a new major player. The answer is… kind of complicated; Far From Home is a generally fine movie, but it really highlighted the weird corner Sony and Marvel put themselves in. Holland brings 110% to Peter’s youthful energy and physicality, but the Home trilogy is more interested in him as a vessel for action than as a character. If Andrew Garfield’s Peter from the Amazing films was too handsome and modern, this take on Peter lacks the edge or agency seen in other versions, live-action or otherwise. It’s a weird thing, to see how much lacking in interiority this one is.

Let it not be said Far From Home didn’t deliver some goods, though. It made $US1.132 billion, becoming the first Spider-flick to cross that threshold and Sony’s then highest-grossing movie ever. But the movie couldn’t bask in that glory for too long: the following month, Marvel said it’d no longer produce Spider-Man films, potentially putting Peter back in Sony’s hands. Money was the root of the dispute, with Sony reportedly confident enough in its own Spidey-related plans it was willing to just let that partnership fizzle out. Despite the success of both Venom and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018, no one was willing to wait and see if Sony had the juice; fans called on Marvel Studios to save Spider-Man (and maybe even used bots to do it), and even Holland and Kevin Feige openly advocated for a renewed partnership.

What makes Spider-Man is so interesting as a movie property is how each live-action version has been unable to escape corporate interference. While Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 had that struggle presented directly on the screen, Far From Home refreshingly had its corporate clash go on after the fact. It’s one of the first instances in recent memory where the general public was made aware of how studios operate, and it doesn’t hang over the film as much as the Disney/Fox merger hung over Dark Phoenix and New Mutants or Legendary’s licensing deal with Toho does its MonsterVerse movies. Can future Spidey films avoid this weirdness? That’s hard to determine since Sony very clearly wants to milk the Spider-Man brand for as much as it’s worth and Marvel Studios to treat this version as a walking flex it can trot out whenever Sony gets too big for its webs.

Image: Sony Pictures/Marvel

Ultimately, the two corporations struck a new deal, saving Holland from getting tangled in whatever the hell Sony’s doing with the likes of Madame Web and Morbius. Even so, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s next. Since the weekend after Spider-Man: No Way Home lit the world on fire in 2021, it’s been a big question mark for if Holland will suit up a fourth time. No Way Home gave Holland a clear ending to go out on, along with a jumping off point for a new, hypothetically smaller series of films. No doubt Sony wants to keep him on call, but he’s not getting any younger, and the studio has also been open about getting someone to tag in as Miles Morales once Spider-Man 4 is out the door.

Given how popular he is, Spider-Man is often asked to bounce between mid-size adventures in New York and larger globe (or universe)-trotting epics alongside the Avengers, X-Men, and whoever else. Typically, he and other Spider-characters like Miles, Venom, and Gwen can straddle this line fairly well, but it really shows when the balance is off, usually when it leans toward the epic. In MCU Spidey’s case, this is the Home trilogy’s greatest fault: he’s too small for the bigness of these films. Like Garfield’s Peter before him, Holland’s incarnation is caught up between different masters and agendas. If we actually are going to see this Peter again in a fourth movie, hopefully Marvel and Sony give him a chance to just do his own thing without lording over him.


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