After months of speculation, Marvel and Sony finally have their Spider-Man in Tom Holland. Holland is a relative newcomer who is best known for his roles in The Impossible, Locke and How I Live Now, but is he the right fit for Spider-Man?
Hypable writers Marama Whyte and Michal Schick share their frustration over this casting choice and the creative direction Marvel and Sony are taking this new reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. Why are we so disappointed?
1. This casting choice is boring
Yes, we said it. Spider-Man is boring. Peter Parker is boring. Cherubic White Guy Gets Superpowers? Is boring.
No, this is not a knock on cherubic white guys. (Seriously, we like cherubic white guys as much as the next frustrated cultural consumer.) This is an acknowledgement of the fact that no one story remains interesting when it exists in repetition with itself.
Creative interest exists because of change. That’s why sequels are so often terrible (as a lackluster repetition of the original) and are only occasionally transcendent — by belying the expectations created by an established story.
Giving the same old Spider-Man another (four-film!) franchise will not — and has not — belied any expectations. As a central hero, Peter Parker is functionally incapable of surprising us. Five movies have already told fractured-mirror versions of his story. Audiences are not just aware of his life and trials — we are studied in the lore merely because it has existed in such a loud and popular form for so long.
Marvel insists that their new iteration of Spider-Man will be different. Their Peter will be a real teenager, and in fact, Tom Holland is 19-years-old. But a Peter Parker by any other age is still a Peter Parker; a higher-pitched voice and a high school setting has no impact on this fact.
It’s understandable that comic fans want another chance to see their ideal Peter Parker on the screen. But it’s crucial to understand that, for the vast majority of the filmgoing audience, there is no “ideal Peter Parker.” No objective scale exists with which to judge the virtually indistinguishable versions that have come before; for most viewers, Spider-Man 3.0 will be just another Spider-Man.
And that is boring.
Now, this does not mean that the character of Spider-Man doesn’t have the capacity to be interesting of himself. His inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe does change things slightly. By all means, throw the kid into Infinity War; let him sling a few webs and drop a few zingers, and help protect the population of Queens as a minor hero on the Avengers epic scene.
This would be Spider-Man in a new context — not only in what the character will have to do, but in how audiences perceive him. But we can’t forget that in doing so, Marvel is forcing Peter Parker into a major role in their Cinematic Universe. They are further delaying the already belated movies that finally headline people of color and women. And that is a distressing shame.
2. This creative direction is not interesting
No, this isn’t the same as being boring. Marama wrote last year (back when The Amazing Spider-Man 4 was hilariously still a thing) about why Sony should transition their Spider-Man films to focus on Miles Morales. When it was announced that in fact The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was being scrapped in favor of another reboot, it seemed the perfect opportunity for the studio to take this step. No transition required, simply introduce Miles instead of Peter.
What we got instead was month after tedious month of rumors about which (almost identical) white actor would play Peter Parker. Like we said, boring.
Some people argue that Spider-Man has to be Peter Parker, and that Peter Parker has to be the same white, heterosexual male he has always been on screen because, “THE COMICS! It’s like that in the comics!” (It’s all about ethics in comic adaptations, guys.)
But Spider-Man was created in 1962, a time when you would be unlikely to find a person of color or non-heterosexual superhero. Yet in 2015, we continue to subscribe to the conservative limitations set up over 50 years ago. Even as we do so, the comics themselves are evolving. We now have a female Thor, a black Captain America, a muslim superhero in Ms Marvel and — here’s the kicker — Miles Morales is replacing Peter Parker as Spider-Man in the Marvel comics (previously he existed in a sort-of parallel universe).
There is only one argument for why Spider-Man has to be Peter Parker (and why Peter Parker has to be a white and heterosexual), and that is, “Because I want him to be that way. I don’t want Spider-Man to change.” It’s not much, as far as arguments go.
Spider-Man is an instantly recognizable property; people go to see these films for the mask, not the man. No one is going to boycott a Spider-Man film because Peter Parker was suddenly not-white or not-heterosexual. No one is going to boycott if Spider-Man took off his mask in the trailer to reveal he was a young half-Latino half-African American teenager named Miles.
And we shouldn’t just discuss this on the negative side. The opportunities and benefits of a genuinely new Spider-Man are enticing from both a creative and social standpoint — and one could even say that Peter’s story demands it.
Peter Parker is a character who comes from relatable hardship and empathetic sorrow. He has experienced both loss and love; his passions and talents (both natural and radioactive-spider-born) present him with both incredible opportunities and painful, dangerous challenges.
In other words, Peter’s origins could — and should — be anyone’s origins. Be it Miles Morales or somebody else, Spider-Man represents the opportunity for the extraordinary to blossom from a mundane and under-appreciated life. The joy of Spider-Man is that anyone could be under that suit.
Continuing to reboot the same tired Spider-Man story with the same tired Spider-Man is simply lazy storytelling that panders to people resistant to change. By refusing to update Spider-Man for the modern age, Sony and Marvel are not just avoiding the issues — they are actively refusing to make a change. This isn’t just a slight to the millions of people who can and should see themselves in Spider-Man’s brave image. It is a slight to the web-slinger himself — and yes, to the curious, quippy, unconquerable boy who started that story.
With great power comes great responsibility. By giving us another Spider-Man reboot with another indistinguishable Spider-Man, Marvel and Sony have not only failed in their responsibilities to their fans, but also to the very character they seem to be trying so desperately to safeguard.