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Much of the excitement that surrounded this week’s announcement of the deal between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures to allow Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe revolved around the idea that the wall-crawling hero would get a Marvel makeover and be done “right.” But what does that actually mean? Fans might not have enjoyed Marc Webb’s take on the mythos in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a unified theory of telling Spider-Man stories that everyone agrees on — or is there? Here are 10 things producers might want to bear in mind when building a better web-head.
1. Tone Is Everything
Tonally, a good Spider-Man story is a tricky thing to get right. The character is neither entirely comedic nor tragic; instead, he’s a balance, with an unofficial rule that whenever Peter Parker’s life is going well, it means that Spider-Man’s won’t be (and vice versa). The new movie should reflect that, which requires some skill to stop it feeling inconsistent and uneven to audiences … but then again, Marvel Studios has managed to keep the balance right in Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man, so Spidey might be in good hands with the new partnership.
2. Peter Parker Doesn’t Stand Alone…
Unlike many other superheroes, Spider-Man’s secret identity isn’t just a means to an end, or something to be essentially discarded as soon as he gets his powers. (One thing that the Marvel influence might prove problematic in: None of Marvel’s cinematic heroes really has a secret identity as such.) Instead, Peter Parker’s life as Peter Parker is of primary importance, which makes his supporting cast equally important — especially because each of the core characters therein performs different narrative duties: Aunt May is Peter’s unfailing support (and, at times, cause for internal angst over the cost of his double life), J. Jonah Jameson is both comic relief and a reminder to Peter that Spider-Man is a suspicious, dangerous secret to have, and the love interest of the moment grounds Peter in a setting and drama that the audience can relate to. Collectively, they make Peter Parker more real. Abandoning any of these elements weakens the character, and the new movie should take pains to avoid doing so.
3. But Spider-Man Does Stand Alone
Spider-Man occupies a very strange space in Marvel mythology; all the other superheroes like him well enough, and yet he’s always been somewhat of an outsider in a way that no one can explain. This should continue now that the character is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, now he can meet Captain America, Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers, but he should still feel somewhat apart from them, because he’s genuinely not in their league. It turns out that there’s a reason for that, which is …
4. Spider-Man Is the Everyschlub
The primary selling point for Spider-Man, at least in his earliest days, is that he’s a perennial underdog. Ultimately, it’s the one thing about the character that isn’t up for grabs when re-creating him for a modern audience — look at the original Peter Parker and the 2011 update of the Spider-concept, Miles Morales: The only thing they really have in common is that they can’t win for losing, no matter what, and yet both are recognizably “Spider-Man.” (Both also have an inability to stop wisecracking, which should also be considered a must-have for the character.) In trying to remake Spider-Man for a new movie audience, producers shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, but they also need to remember to keep the qualities that are core to the character.
5. Everything Is Metaphor
Of course, Spider-Man gets in a lot of fights; it’s a genre requirement, after all. But in the best Spider-Man comic books, the fights are never about the actual physical conflicts, but what they inevitably mean for Peter (or Miles, for that matter): Is he missing some important social event to save the city? Is the villain a stand-in for some other problem that’s happening in his life at that moment? If producers treat Spider-Man’s superhero antics as straight-up rock-em-sock-em adventure, they’re doing it wrong. And yet …
6. The Villains Are Key
Spider-Man has arguably the most memorable rogues’ gallery in comic books (Only DC’s The Flash can compete): The Green Goblin! Doctor Octopus! Kraven the Hunter! The Chameleon! Sandman! Mysterio! (To name just a few.) In order to live up to the comic book legacy of the character, the threats that any movie Spider-Man faces have to be memorable both visually and in terms of character. Whereas there has been a tendency in superhero movies to tone down the ridiculousness of characters in terms of their look and overall behavior, those responsible for the 2017 release shouldn’t be afraid to go large when it comes to his primary threat; it’s almost something fans would demand. However, something needs to be borne in mind …
7. The Audience Remembers
Sure, the 2017 release will be a reboot of the franchise, but the faithful Spider-Man movie audience has seen five installments already. They know how he ended up with the powers already, and they’ve seen him square off against a bunch of villains. Offering up a retread of what they’ve already seen is the quickest way to turn them off. This really shouldn’t be a problem — there are many villains who haven’t made it to the big screen just yet, and literally 50 years’ worth of source material to pick and choose from when looking for inspiration. But if there’s one thing that bears repeating …
8. No More Origin Stories
Honestly, this one’s just common sense: Everyone knows about the radioactive spider and Uncle Ben dying and everything by now. No one needs to see it again, and if the new movie really, definitely has to do its own take, please please please make it a flashback that takes up less than five minutes of running-time real estate. And while we’re talking about revisiting the past …
9. Don’t Look Back in Anger, Or Any Other Emotion for That Matter
There’s no way around it: The whole “What happened to Peter’s parents?” subplot of the two Marc Webb movies wasn’t that exciting, even with all the hints that maybe they were spies or something else that was entirely awesome. Spider-Man is supposed to be youthful and of-the-moment; a new movie should emphasize that and not try to build backstory that few people actually care about. Most importantly …
10. Have Fun
Seriously. One of the primary problems with Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man series was that the movies just weren’t fun enough; there’s no need to go grim and dark with this character — and, in fact, if you go too far in that direction, it doesn’t ring true to the Spider-Man everyone has in their heads. If Marvel’s involvement in the reboot means that more joy comes back to Peter Parker’s web-headed alter ego, then we’re off to a good start. Maybe someone can convince James Gunn to offer up some soundtrack tips and maybe a snarky raccoon cameo to help things along.
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