How Spider-Man Put Queens on the Map

11:53 AM 7/9/2019

by Jessica Ariel Wendroff

A New York native looks at the ways Spidey's big-screen adventures accurately portray the borough.

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Marvel Studios' latest movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, has hit theaters. And while it's the first Spider-Man movie to largely take place outside of New York, Peter Parker will always have his heart in Queens. Here, THR.com photo editor Jessica Ariel Wendroff examines how the series of films starring Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland and Shameik Moore have gotten the borough right.

As a born-and-raised Queens kid, most people I talk to in my new home of Los Angeles look a bit puzzled when I tell them where I'm from — that is, until I quickly remind them that where I grew up is the same place that their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man learned to websling. If it weren't for Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, that heartfelt connection that bridges us together would not exist.

Locals realize that growing up in Queens means much more than the likelihood of Peter Parker being a Mets fan who scarfs down Romeo's pizza in Fresh Meadows and hums along to Alicia Keys' "New York" on the 7 train. Spidey's birthplace signifies his exposure to all of the colorful cultures, sweet and sour scents, foreign accents and slang that make the borough what it is. Queens truly is an epicenter of diversity, with residents representing more than 100 nations and speaking over 138 languages.

Given the communal interactions in Queens, it's no wonder how Peter Parker came to be so relatable, caring and understanding of others. Don't be misled, though — it's not some magical, harmonious destination where everyone holds hands and gets along like in Dr. Seuss' Whoville. Queens is a place where people tell it like it is. People are not afraid to speak their minds there, and Parker's fast-paced speech while in the Spidey suit is indicative of that notion. 

Below, I explore some of the the ways Spider-Man brought Queens to life on the big screen.

  • Commuter Lifestyle

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    Subway cars are teeming in Spider-Man's big-screen world. The heavy presence of the subway in Parker's life makes sense, as most New Yorkers commute with Metrocards in replace of driver's licenses. In Queens, just 38 percent of people drive to work, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's 2018 census. Residents don't need a car in this borough, as bus stops and train stations are everywhere and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority runs 24/7. 

    "Stepping off the subway in Queens one can feel like he or she has arrived in another country. Which country? That depends on the neighborhood into which one steps," the Wiley Online Library website states.

    The subway exhaust noises are the inhale/exhale of New York City, which is why we see Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland's Peter Parker all interact with subway cars in one way or another, whether strategically riding on top of them or inside of them.

    In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), audiences notice a subway map of the five boroughs fixed on Parker's wall. The disarray of Parker's room speaks to the hustle and bustle of the young teen's busy life that is often seen in commuters — always rushing to their next destination, just like Spider-Man is always hurrying off to seize the next criminal.

  • Diverse Friend Group

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    In Queens, I was able to experience different ways of life every time I slept over at someone's house. At 15, I saw how some families ate with their hands only, sans utensils; how others used chopsticks exclusively; and how some didn't eat at all during a religious fast.

    Through my friends, I got a personal look at what people encounter everyday on the streets of Flushing, Woodhaven, Astoria, Forest Hills and the like, a viewpoint that fellow Queens kid Peter Parker also must have grown up with.

    The diversity of Queens is reflected in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), with key players such as Spider-Man's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) played by actors of color. And last year's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was praised for its inclusion, including bringing multiracial Spider-Man Miles Morales to the big screen for the first time. 

  • Close Quarters

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    True to Peter Parker's home in 2002's Spider-Man, I, too, had a visibly open backyard where my neighbors were within earshot of my business over a chain-link fence. In fact, his home in Spider-Man is only 10 minutes from the house I used to live in in Queens. Peter picks up the arguing coming from the home of his love interest, Mary Jane. Frustrated after a fight with her father, MJ retreats to the backyard, where she is met and comforted by her classmate.

    It's not uncommon for residents to overhear a neighbor's quarrels in Queens, since houses are practically glued together. When Peter triggers a car alarm after catching a criminal in Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's no surprise that the neighborhood vocalizes its agitated state. Even Stan Lee threatens Peter in a cameo, shaking his finger at him while saying, "Don't make me come down there, you punk!" 

     

     

  • Soft Spot for Pizza and Bodegas

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    Throughout the Spider-Man films, one might guess that "pizza" is Peter Parker's middle name, given how much of a fan he is. From personal experience, most New Yorkers would say that the best pizza in NYC is in Queens, which is probably why multiple outlets have covered the pizzerias there, a la Thrillist, Trip Advisor and CBS. Peter wears his love for pizza on his sleeve, almost literally, in Captain America: Civil War (2016). When Tony Stark comes to visit, Peter is shown rocking a pizza shirt playing off Leonardo da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man drawing.

    Viewers once again see Peter's love affair with pies during Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). A depressed, single, middle-aged Peter Parker fills the cracks of his broken heart with pepperoni pizza during some emotional scenes. Marvel fans even see their hero hunched over on the floor of a bathroom with a comfort slice wedged near his toilet seat, only an arm's length away.

    Peter does more than just adore pizza for its cheesy taste and familiar source of comfort — he also delivers them in Spider-Man 2 (2004) when he takes a job as a delivery boy. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we also see a halal stand, which is common to the city, and a bodega, which is especially standard in Queens. Sometimes bodega owners have pets roaming around the store, like cats, which we see in Homecoming with a kitty named Murph.

    Bodega owners often get friendly with their customers and get to know them, so it's not unusual that the Italian owner, Mr. Delmar, knows Parker's sandwich order by heart and takes an interest in his academic performance.

  • Love for People Watching and Photography

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    Queens, and New York City in general, is a great place to people watch. Every street corner is like its own unique museum exhibit showcasing everyone imaginable. There are plain, kooky and eccentric characters from Queens Boulevard to Fulton Street and beyond.

    It's no wonder that Peter takes a shine to street photography when everything around him is worth looking at. He captures neighbors, friends and strangers in the same way that the photographers of the photoblog Humans of New York document the beauty of people in everyday life.

    It's no coincidence that a poster for Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) is plastered to the wall in Peter Parker's room in The Amazing Spiderman (2012). It serves as a mirror to Parker's hidden crime-fighting life as well as his interest in people watching.  

  • Nods to Skateboarding and Parks

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    Equal to his passion for photography, the Andrew Garfield version of Spider-Man loves skateboarding and being outdoors, which is fitting as Queens is jam-packed with playgrounds and parks.

    Despite some of Peter's introverted characteristics, the boy wonder lives up to his "spider" moniker as he enjoys crawling around the parks of his hometown borough during his spare time. Spidey sits atop a jungle gym in Spider-Man: Homecoming after being rescued by his mentor, Iron Man, and in The Amazing Spider-Man, audiences see skateboards piled high in his bedroom wall and Parker cruising through the halls of his high school. As an homage to his hobby, there is even a poster of the skateboarding doc Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

    Stacy Peralta's Dogtown and Z-Boys follows the evolution of skateboarding from the '70s to the '90s and zeros in on the innovation of the Zephyr skateboard team. 

    In Queens, the Unisphere at the US Open is a well-known spot to shred. Skateboarders flock to the stairs there for the scenery and great meeting point.