In 2002, a few weeks after seeing Spider-Man’s first big-screen outing, I found myself in a local Wal-Mart’s toy section.
As I beheld a towering display of toys and merchandise devoted to the film version of my favourite childhood superhero, my inner eight-year-old grinned from ear-to-ear.
The little kid who bought five different Spider-Man comic titles every month at the drug store in St. Peter’s had no idea that, in his late 20s, he would go to a theatre in Sydney and see an actual big-budget flick featuring everybody’s favourite wall-crawler.
After years of overhyped Batman adventures, Spidey would finally get his own Hollywood movie. Even better, he would get a good movie, far-removed from the cheaply-made late-‘60s cartoon series and worlds away from the slapdash late-‘70s live-action TV series featuring one of the shoddiest Spider-Man costumes I’ve ever seen.
At the time, neither my inner eight-year-old nor my outer nearly-30-year-old figured that director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire would team up for two sequels to that ground-breaking, game-changing movie. Nor did we foresee that two different actors would take over the role after 2007.
And we certainly didn’t envision a time when our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man would launch a financial dispute between two major movie studios, a Battle Royale that would rival the web-slinger’s greatest comic-book battles and set the Internet aflame.
In August, we learned of a spat between Disney and Sony Pictures over the use of Spider-Man in films released by the two Hollywood powerhouses. Sony had held the character’s rights for the previous two decades, but then reached a cost-sharing agreement with Disney in 2015 to allow Spidey to appear in several films produced by Marvel Studios, an entity purchased by the Mouse House a year earlier.
That all fell apart this summer, with Disney allegedly demanding a 50-50 split of any future Spider-revenues with Sony. As a result, the character’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as well as Tom Holland’s current run of portraying Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego, are both in limbo.
I am far less upset about this concept than I expected to be, and I’m certainly calmer about it than the countless fans – including several friends of mine – who have spent weeks griping about this on social media.
Why? Well, partly because I feel like I’ve been spoiled rotten by the prevalence of Spider-Man in our multiplexes over the past two decades. He’s had eight stand-alone movies, including last year’s Oscar-winning, Sony-produced animated adventure Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That alone would have satisfied my inner eight-year-old. But Holland’s Spidey also wound up in three other Disney/Marvel movies featuring other MCU characters. Even James Bond hasn’t shown up on-screen 11 times over the past 17 years.
Conversely, however, Spider-quantity hasn’t always resulted in Spider-quality. Raimi and Maguire misfired with 2007’s Spider-Man 3, a bloated misadventure with too many villains and storylines. Maguire’s replacement, Andrew Garfield, couldn’t recapture the magic in two Sony-helmed Amazing Spider-Man flicks released in 2012 and 2014.
By the time Holland made his first Disney/Marvel appearance in the familiar red-and-blue tights, in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the producers decided to rework the character as an Avenger-in-the-making, a wide-eyed kid attempting to fit in with veteran superheroes. So instead of the wise-cracking rogue I had come to love as a kid and embrace anew as an adult, we got a golly-gee-whiz version of Spidey, beholden to the likes of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.
Now, to be fair, I have enjoyed Holland’s portrayal of Peter/Spidey. 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of the most flat-out entertaining superhero movies I’d seen in years – that film and Into the Spider-Verse are on my personal superhero-flick Top 10 (the first two Raimi-Maguire outings occupy the top two slots). Holland also fared well in this summer’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Sony’s biggest worldwide blockbuster of all time, and I have to admit that I still get a kick out of his overly-enthusiastic cameo in Civil War.
Through it all, though, I’ve had the nagging feeling that this isn’t really my Spider-Man. The web-slinger of my youth made his own decisions, for better or for worse. He was his own boss. He got to grow up; he even married Mary Jane Watson. The current MCU reincarnation of Spidey seems stalled in nervous-teenager mode and suggests that his true goal is to join and/or lead somebody else. You know, four or five box-office hits down the road.
So, I’m all right if the celluloid Spider-Man takes a breather for now. I have no doubt that he’ll be back someday, and I’ll be ready for him. Hopefully he and his handlers – and his fans – will all be a little older and wiser by then.