Big screen Spider-Man entries have been the very definition of a mixed bag. This genuinely breath-taking 1970’s entry gives Superman IV a run for its money in stretching the suitability of the term “special” effects. We then had a merciful two-decade period of respite before Spidey followed hot on the heels of the X-Men in ushering in the modern comic book adaptation era. Sam Raimi’s trilogy is generally very good and continues to hold up well. Some of the effects from the first film haven’t necessarily aged well, but the performances and story-telling are great, so overall it remains a solid and enjoyable entry.
Spider-Man 2 continues to be one of the great big-screen superhero films, as strong as anything Marvel or DC have given us over the past 20 years, but then it all took a horrible nose dive with the bloated Spider-Man 3. A few good ideas were wholly lost amidst unnecessary ret-conning, a surfeit of overblown CGI and some surprisingly shonky acting.
All of which (despite great box-office returns across the trilogy) led to Raimi moving on and Spidey getting rebooted with Andrew Garfield donning the spandex and Mark Webb calling the shots. It was likely too soon for a hard reboot, and The Amazing Spider Man suffered a little at the box office compared to Raimi’s trilogy, but the two Garfield entries are enjoyable, Emma Stone makes a great Gwen and the setup in Amazing Spider Man 2 for what would have been an ongoing Sinister Six arc was enticing.
Sadly, BO returns did it for what might have been, but the intention of building up a wider mythology, planting seeds for future germination and the strong work of Garfield remain clear positives for this iteration of the web-slinger.
Part of the issue with both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire is that although they are both fine actors (Garfield made a better Spidey, Maguire a more convincingly nerdy Peter), they were already too old (or at least too old-looking) when they took the roles on and so seemed increasingly unsuitable as even a college-aged Peter Parker in subsequent films. Obviously the comic books have the same advantage that cartoons like the Simpsons enjoy – the characters can remain frozen in time, living for decades at high school age – but it always felt like an obvious point that a more youthful Peter Parker would be a better starting point, even if we were inevitably over a 5-6 year arc going to have to follow him through college and into working life.
Although he’s not quite as young as he looks, Holland was at least just about still a teenager when Civil War went before the cameras (he’ll turn the grand old age of 23 next month) and so hope springs eternal that, as Feige has hinted, they have a good number of films planned for Holland as Spidey, whilst still keeping him at high school for as long as possible.
Whilst these matters are of course entirely subjective, Holland appears to be the best Parker/Spider-Man we’ve had so far. He’s nerdy as Parker, he’s funny and cocky as Spider-Man, his interactions with his school friends is terrific and considering there were two entire pre-MCU Spider-Man franchises before he came on board, he has been so seamlessly and completely integrated into the MCU that it is hard to imagine this world without him as a part of it. Off the back of little more than Stark’s recruitment of him in Civil War and his mentoring role in Homecoming, the “loss hurts both ways” finales of Infinity War and Endgame were hugely affecting and effective. Spider-Man has been absorbed, whilst still remaining distinctive and with all of the upheaval of Endgame now in the books, it looks like Spider-Man will be a core element of the ongoing evolution of the MCU.
If they can keep the tone right (that means no “Emo-Parker” á là Spider-Man 3) Spider-Man seems ripe to become a lynchpin for the MCU as we now move into Phase 4. The latest trailer for Far From Home is looking like tapping into the multiverse ideas of last year’s superlative animated Spider-Man adventures, which is exactly the sort of non-complacent, expectations-pushing step that MCU needs. With Peter Parker having lost so much already (this 3rd iteration wisely avoided redoing Uncle Ben, but clearly he’s gone) and having to carry that load, Holland seems to have the poise to balance the dark and light shades of his story arc and with the films seeming to share tonal DNA with Ant-Man, in the best possible way we find ourselves looking forward to a very different but very exciting MCU.
Robert Downey Jr appeared significantly in 9 MCU films without any audience fatigue setting in and in fact we were able to watch and enjoy the evolution of Stark in a way we can only hope Holland can match as Peter Parker. With Far From Home, Holland is 5 films in (if we count his admittedly brief contribution to Endgame) and if Kevin Feige can manage him correctly here’s hoping that another 10 years from now we’re saluting all that Holland has contributed to the franchise. The future’s bright, the future’s blue and red.