Flashback : Why Raimi is the true father of Spiderman films
Sam Raimi did to Spiderman, what Chris Nolan has done to Batman. There, I said it. Even though the trilogy stands nowhere near Nolan’s realism in the superhero genre, Raimi captured the essence of the ‘nerd in red tights’ in its entirety. Borrowing heavily from his earlier Evil Dead films, you can easily notice Raimi’s signature style seeping through the screenplay which is fast-paced, a tad melodramatic and also comic at times. This template which would have tanked if applied to the dark world of Batman (the Joel Schumacher treatment) worked surprisingly well for Spidey.
Spiderman, which came out in 2002 and is the best film of the three, in my opinion, gave us a meek, introverted Peter Parker who struggled to even talk to his crush who had lived next door to him his whole life. Tobey Maguire’s natural good-boy personality was our imagination-come-alive on the screen. Growing up watching Spiderman cartoons on TV, we all had an image of what he would have looked like in real life and Maguire was it. Period. Raimi made Spiderman into a superhero figure who could stand on the same footing as the giants in the same universe such as Captain America and Iron Man, even Superman and Batman if we are not being picky about DC and Marvel.
Then, Sony ruined it. And for that, it is important to understand why Sony owns Spiderman even though it’s a Marvel character.
Why does Sony own Spiderman anyway?
During the boom of the late 90s when Superhero films were proving to become a force in influencing culture, Marvel started to license out its creative properties to create a sustainable business model. However, this didn’t really work out for the company and it eventually had to file for bankruptcy in 1996. In order to liquidate themselves into a more favourable position, the rights for some of their characters including Spiderman were sold to Columbia Pictures which is a Sony-owned company. This led to the current agreement between Sony and Marvel that Sony would finance all Spiderman films and would also own all profits. However, any sales and profits from the merchandise relevant to the character would go to Marvel. To add to this strange arrangement, Sony is also legally required to release a Spiderman film at least every five years, otherwise, the Spiderman character would legally become the property of Marvel.
So how did Spidey become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
After the mixed reception that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman films received, it became clear to the head honchos at Sony that Spiderman couldn’t exist in an isolated space any longer. The Amazing Spiderman 2, which was slated to rake in $1 billion, waned out at $706 million which was lesser than the new kids on the block Guardians of the Galaxy. They realised that Raimi’s formula had been milked to capacity and the audience expected something more out of the character. This led to a new deal between Sony and Marvel wherein Spiderman was formally included into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The producer duo at Marvel Studios – Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal, were instrumental in this tie-up with the sole idea that if there was any character who could make a splash among the Avengers, it was Spiderman!
Introducing – The (truly) Marvel-ous Spiderman!
Marvel’s clever cameo of the new Spiderman in Captain America: Civil War was a pilot of sorts for Spiderman Homecoming. And since then, we have had a deluge of clips and videos with Tom Holland, the new Parker, doing somersaults, performing lip-sync battles and doing dance-offs. The MCU-effect in marketing a rebranded image of Spiderman has been obvious and effective in bringing the character out of the comic books into an actual person who possessed similar qualities to what Spiderman does. Marvel has successfully done this with other characters like Iron Man and Logan where the characters have been able to retain their identities even outside the silver screen.
Jon Watts’ film does not go through the motions of showing a curious Parker being bitten by the itsy-bitsy radioactive spider and discovering his powers with a “Woohoo!”. Instead, we are plunked into a video clip being shot by Parker as he is whisked away to Berlin for a secret assignment which turns out to be the mind-blowing hangar scene where the clash between Captain America and Iron Man is going down. Tom Holland fangirling with excitement over all the amazing powers and gadgets flying through the air, is basically all of us. This teenage avatar of Spidey is invigorating and infectious with his young, vibrant energy. He has already been through the spider-bitten phase and is already aware of the powers he has. After tussling with Cappie’s team, he is smitten with how “cool” the Avengers are and can’t wait to get back on to the next mission. This is where Jon Watts weaves magic into the character. He takes the inherent insecurities of Spiderman and uses them to ground him to the everyday struggles of life such as coming back to the alley where he had left his clothes only to find that someone had nicked ’em. If you are observant for references/easter eggs, you’d catch a scene where he is in the suburbs and doesn’t have any skyscrapers to swing off of. So, he dashes through people’s yards, passing awkward comments as they watch some dork in red tights jumping over their barbeques and fences.
This is a direct tribute to the following scene in the classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
In another hilarious sequence, we see him swinging around the city trying to find something useful to do while he waits for a call from his hero Tony Stark. He flies over people’s heads asking them – “All okay here ?”. He stops and gives directions to an old lady who is lost. He even does back-flips on special requests from passers-by. Instead of a superhero who is supposed to do great things, we see a teenager who just wants to feel included and not be treated as a child that he is. Tom Holland’s boyish mannerisms bring in a lot of authenticity to the character who is a gangly teenager straight out of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books.
This is a very different film in many aspects besides Spiderman himself. For instance, we do not have Uncle Ben here. Based on the interaction between Aunt May played by the ravishing Marisa Tomei and Peter, it is apparent that they have moved on. Peter does not harbour any angst or feeling of revenge which has pushed him into the life of a vigilante. He just lives in a time when the world is changing and he just happens to be in a position to be able to make a difference. Even in the trailers, we see that Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr…Do I even have to say this?) is very protective of him in his own platonic and distant way; but he is the closest thing to Uncle Ben that Peter now has. Through the few moments when we see them interact, Stark gives him some of the best life advice that he could get. After an especially dangerous fight with the bad guys where Spidey goofs up, Stark takes away the super-suit that he had given him, saying – “If you’re nothing without the suit, you shouldn’t have it…”. By the way, the new suit is slick! It has its own Jarvis-like AI assistant and all sorts of uber-cool paraphernalia.
Talking about his abilities, many die-hard fans have complained that this version of the Spiderman does not have the tingling spider-sense that makes him so unique and has saved him on several occasions. However, Kevin Feige has mentioned in one his interviews that this was intentionally done to portray this ability as something which was second nature to him. This was not such a particular focal point which needed CGI to show it on screen. And that makes sense to me. How would you feel if Batman’s thought process were shown as in the TV series Sherlock? That would not only be distracting but also take away the appeal of the character. Having said that, there was one thing that irked me the whole time. Peter kept addressing his aunt as – “May”. What’s up with that you goshdarn millennial ?!
One thing that Marvel is great at, is introducing characters. You don’t have to know them, you don’t even have to have heard of them but Marvel would make you invest in them as if they had been here for ages. Adrian Toomes’ character as the Vulture takes on the helm of Spidey’s antagonist in the film and he quickly establishes a space for himself. He is not even given an official villain-nym in the film but that doesn’t matter as he commands the screen every time he makes an appearance, with his intimidating vulture-like contraption. Michael Keaton is so convincing in his skin that it makes you want to go watch Birdman again after the film and lament on his imaginary exit from his glorious career in the MCU to become a theatre actor who’s trying to be relevant again.
If the aforementioned aspects of the film make it different, the next angle just makes it distinctly stand out. Spiderman Homecoming is the most diverse film yet. Unlike Harry Osborn, this time Peter Parker’s fellow-geek buddy Ned Leeds, played by Jacob Batalon, is of Hawaiian origin. Flash Thompson, played by Tony Revolori aka Zero Moustafa from The Grand Budapest Hotel, who is typically a white beefed up jock, is a Latino here who participates in Inter-school quizzes. Last but not the least, Parker’s high-school crush this time is the beautiful dusky lady named Liz Allan played by Laura Harrier, quite unlike Parker’s usual white girlfriends Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy.
For an ardent Spidey fan like me, Spiderman Homecoming is the next step of evolution in the character arc of Peter Parker and Spiderman himself. This fresh new outlook gives him ample time for development and a much larger space of the MCU which has now been made available to him. Even though he would be a full-time Avenger, he still has to find his own way in more ways than one.
Thank you, Jon Watts, for bringing back the web-slinger with all his essence intact. As Stark very perceptively says – “Why do you want to be an Avenger? Why can’t you just be a friendly, neighbourhood Spiderman?” Okay dad, got it! *swings away*
Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of Sony and Marvel and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.