In May of 2012, Marvel Studios broke box-office records and exceeded all expectations with The Avengers, a virtually unprecedented crossover film event that brought together the lead characters from four separate superhero franchises in a fun and surprisingly cohesive way thanks to a sharp script and tight direction from geek darling Joss Whedon. On paper, putting an iron-clad billionaire, a World War II-era super soldier, a mythical god from another realm, a temperamental mad scientist, and a pair of assassins in the same room together just didn’t seem like something that should work in a movie, but the five films preceding The Avengers slowly and successfully established a colorful comic-booky world, light-hearted tone, and self-aware sense of humor, which allowed audiences to buy right into it.
Once The Avengers became lovingly embraced by the entire world, you could just sense that other movie studios instantly began scrambling around to desperately find their own shared universes that could compete with Marvel. That same summer, Sony Pictures released The Amazing Spider-Man, which completely erased the continuity of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy and started entirely from scratch with another retelling of the origin story. Now played by Andrew Garfield, we once again followed Peter Parker’s journey to becoming Spider-Man, which I honestly felt was done way better and with a lot more passion in the original Spider-Man film.
Mostly because it felt a little too soon to reboot this particular franchise, the whole film just fell flat for me personally, but it surely had its fans. However, while The Amazing Spider-Man was successful enough to warrant a sequel, its worldwide earnings of $757 million still fell behind all three of the previous Spider-Man films. I know many moviegoers, myself included, were disappointed that this new Spider-Man franchise wasn’t off to a particularly interesting start.
Regardless it felt like Sony was in it for the long haul, keeping the Spider-Man rights all to themselves with no apparent interest in sharing the character with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and, with this being the same summer The Avengers was released, it was becoming even more obvious, and disheartening, that a solid barrier was being erected between Sony’s slapdash new Spider-Man and the well-constructed and much more fun MCU.
Sony Pictures saw the gargantuan success and ever-growing buzz surrounding the MCU as the perfect opportunity to do something similar with all of the Spider-Man related characters they still owned. Instead of just doing a traditional franchise of Spider-Man films, they made plans for additional spin-offs that would tie back in to a bigger story and the inevitable sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man would officially kick off Sony’s new Spider-Man Cinematic Universe.
An important side note to that development, however, was an updated deal that was struck between Marvel and Sony in 2011. Long story short, Sony was granted the rights to create as many new Spider-Man films as they wanted without paying a dime to Marvel while any and all revenue earned from Spider-Man’s merchandise went strictly to Marvel (which by this time was bought by The Walt Disney Company). Sure, Sony could now do whatever they wanted on film with Spider-Man, his villains, and supporting characters, but ultimately, Marvel and Disney would be the ones getting the last laugh with Spider-Man being by far the world’s leading merchandise-selling superhero, even above Batman and Superman.
Spidey merchandise earns Marvel an average of well over a billion dollars annually, so Sony had to up their game in order to make sure their new Spider-Man films could make at least a billion. Seeing as Sony’s gaming department is way more profitable than their film division, making new and successful Spider-Man movies became a high priority at the studio.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released in May of 2014 but by now, the pressure was greater than ever for the film to be a huge hit since the future of Sony’s Spider-Man Cinematic Universe was completely riding on this one film’s success. Going in to this movie, we were already made privy to Sony’s plans of making two more Amazing Spider-Man sequels, a standalone Venom film, a spin-off starring the notorious clan of Spidey foes The Sinister Six, and even a possible Aunt May prequel (yikes), which I believe was later brushed off as just a rumor.
It already felt like Sony was horribly, and even hilariously, misunderstanding what makes the concept of Marvel Studios’ shared film universe so successful. Marvel's separate superhero franchises are so layered and diverse that it truly feels like different worlds are colliding with each other when these giant crossovers happen whereas Spider-Man is basically the common denominator in all these proposed Sony films, so calling it a “universe” is a bit of a stretch. But even though it felt like they were biting off more than they could chew, Sony had their plans in place, as long as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 laid a solid foundation for the future…
Well, I guess you can see where I’m headed with this.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 saw the return of Andrew Garfield as hipster Peter Parker and Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacey, and joining the fray this time were a few villains too many. We had Jamie Foxx as nerdy engineer Max Dillon aka Electro, Paul Giamatti as the mech-suited Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich aka Rhino and Dane DeHaan as the new version of Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn.
In smaller roles, Chris Cooper plays Harry’s father, a terminally-ill Norman Osborn who dies before ever donning the mantle of the Green Goblin (which Harry later becomes anyway because reasons), and Felicity Jones quickly appears as Harry’s executive assistant Felicia Hardy, whose brief cameo doesn’t at all establish her as an interesting character, it just sets up the possibility of her showing back up as the Black Cat in a future movie.
Let me just put it this way. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made me miss Spider-Man 3, and if you’ve read the previous parts of this article, you know I’m no fan of Spider-Man 3. After not even catching the original Amazing Spider-Man in theaters and reading some pretty harsh early reviews of this one, I remember only seeing this in theaters because I received a free ticket when I purchased Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies on Blu-ray.
And even with a free ticket, I still wanted my money back. I can barely call this movie a movie at all. It felt like nothing but one big cynical and shallow husk of a product that was meant to do nothing but mimic Marvel’s success so Sony could go ahead with the other two dozen Spider-Man sequels and spin-offs they apparently already had in the planning stages.
It really didn’t help either that Sony had divulged all these ambitious plans for future films before TAM2 even came out because I think that even further tarnishes what little enjoyment you could get out of this. You just watch it and know that this movie was not trying to be a movie at all- just pure, desperate seed-planting at its most obvious. If the final film itself is any indicator, the script was completely amateurish with its uninteresting character cameos, laughable villain motivations, and completely clichéd plot devices (like we needed yet another summer blockbuster featuring magic blood).
I don’t want to dwell on this film too long because that’s a whole article in and of itself, but is there anything positive I have to say about it? Well, maybe a few things. First, Spider-Man’s suit is probably the best one ever featured in live-action up to that point. It was a huge improvement over the yellow-eyed, muted-color Tobey Maguire knock-off from the first Amazing Spider-Man and if nothing else, Garfield still did a good job at portraying a Spider-Man who just can’t stop cracking wise and throwing out playful insults at his enemies during the battle sequences.
Additionally, Peter and Gwen’s chemistry continues to be the consistently best element in these two films, despite the somewhat heavy-handed (and, again, I have to say amateurish) foreshadowing of her (SPOILER) ultimate demise where she’s constantly telling Peter that she’s planning on moving overseas for college. Of course, it’s an obvious bait-and-switch for her death at the hands of Harry Osborn’s Green Goblin towards the end, which does happen to her in the comics, but this film just jumps the gun and destroys one of, if not the best part of this whole franchise, and to do it in a movie that’s supposed to be setting up a bunch of future installments is just an odd creative decision to me.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2's negative critical and audience word-of-mouth got around pretty quick and, while yes, the film ultimately raked in a decent $709 million, it was still the lowest grossing Spider-Man movie ever. It certainly wasn’t the billion-dollar hit Sony needed to make their merchandising deal with Marvel pay off and it definitely wasn’t the best groundwork for an entire cinematic universe going forward.
Because of this film, I personally went from being somewhat indifferent towards Sony’s new Spider-Man endeavors to actively rooting against them. Having Norman Osborn’s Oscorp Industries essentially be the launching point for practically all of Spider-Man’s villains we hadn’t seen yet just felt extremely lazy and uncreative and I found myself completely disinterested in any of these proposed sequels or spin-offs. Even if Marvel Studios came calling at this point, I wouldn't have been crazy about them awkwardly shoehorning this iteration of Spider-Man in to the MCU.
However, in the fall of 2014, mere months after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released and not given the warmest of welcomes, online rumblings were already starting to circulate around about Sony possibly starting to backtrack on some of their upcoming Spider-plans. Meanwhile, director Marc Webb was planning on leaving the franchise after the filming of The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and Andrew Garfield was possibly looking to move on once his three-film contract was fulfilled.
Despite fans clamoring louder than ever for Spider-Man to return home to Marvel, Sony was not going to give him up so easily since the franchise as a whole has been one of their biggest cash cows and earlier that year Sony was facing possible bankruptcy. Yet, rumors continued to swirl that Sony and Marvel Studios were possibly negotiating some kind of deal and during the 2014 holiday season, these rumored talks were confirmed in one of the most shocking and unexpected ways.
Sony was gearing up to release the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview, a film that was being touted as a loud-and-proud satirical spoof of North Korea and their leader, Kim Jong-un. This certainly did not sit well with the North Korean government and what resulted was a massive security breach at Sony by a group of hackers that stole and publicly released confidential files, private personal information, and countless corporate e-mails from the studio’s computer networks. They also threatened to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S. if The Interview was released in theaters.
Certain private e-mails that were released confirmed that Sony and Marvel had indeed been working out a deal for Spider-Man behind closed doors. This revelation excited fans even more but there were still reservations. Nothing official was confirmed at that time and just because it was revealed that Sony and Marvel had been talking didn’t mean the negotiations fully panned out.
That is until it was announced in February of 2015 that while Sony would formally retain the rights, a new Spider-Man film was indeed moving forward as a co-production between Sony Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and many have speculated that the big reason why this deal eventually moved forward was due to the discussions going public during the Sony e-mail hack.
I remember the internet that night. It was much like the Ewok Celebration scene from the end of Return of the Jedi. The impossible finally became possible and the fan response was bonkers. Not only did Sony finally back down from their dreadful Amazing Spider-Man franchise, but they were now getting creative help from the folks at Marvel who clearly understand the characters in their library. Finally, we were going to get a new Spider-Man that took place fully within the MCU and who could pal around with Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the like.
I think the biggest questions at this point were- how were they going to make a third attempt at Spider-Man feel fresh and how much creative control was Sony going to allow Marvel Studios to have? As it turned out, quite a bit, which is exciting because over the years, Marvel has rightfully earned their glowing reputation of knowing how to adapt their own comic book characters the right way. At that point, the studio had just released two of what I still consider to be their strongest films, Captain America: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy, and now with Spider-Man back under their banner, anything was possible.
Aside from Spider-Man getting another reboot and his own solo franchise of Marvel Studios films, it was also announced that he would actually debut as a supporting character in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, which was just over a year from being released. Introducing your new Spider-Man in a smaller role within an ensemble film already felt like something intriguing and new for the character.
You could tell Marvel’s new Spider-Man was going to be something completely different right at the outset, when British actor Tom Holland won the coveted role of this newer, younger Peter Parker. However, anyone who wasn’t closely following all these developments likely rolled their eyes at the prospect of yet another Spider-Man reboot. I, for one, couldn’t have been happier. Spider-Man was getting a clean sweep and finally coming home!
When the title of the new Spidey film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, was revealed in April 2016, it was initially met with fans scratching their heads, but one thing you couldn’t deny – it was different, and I think that is what’s most important here. The fatal flaw of the Amazing Spider-Man reboot was how similar it felt to the original Tobey Maguire films and I think with Spider-Man being back in the hands of Marvel Studios, some major changes needed to happen to make this a radically different Spider-Man, and hopefully, the best one we’ve ever seen.
Not only was the new title unveiled, but so was the pulpy and colorful new logo, which I personally think is just wonderful. The arched red and yellow lettering set against a blue backdrop just screams classic Spider-Man, straight from the ‘90s animated series or even the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comic books from the ‘60s. The entire logo itself has a big point to make – that Marvel is taking Spider-Man in bold and exciting new places while bringing him even closer to his comic book roots than any of the films have so far.
And the somewhat vague subtitle, Homecoming, is definitely not something we were expecting to see in the title of a Spider-Man movie but it could quite possibly be a clever double meaning. On one hand, it could be referring to an actual homecoming dance and thus stressing how steeped in the high school experience this film is going to be, which is one of the most defining aspects of the overall Spider-Man mythology that all of the previous films just kind of glossed over. On the other hand, the more meta explanation is that the character of Spider-Man finally returning to Marvel Studios is certainly one momentous homecoming.
Director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) has confirmed that the tone of his film will be very much inspired by the classic works of John Hughes, the writer/director of such quintessential high school-based comedies as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Weird Science.
Hype for Captain America: Civil War was reaching a fever pitch. The movie itself was the highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron where the creation of a new government document that regulates superhero activity triggers an ideological clash between Robert Downey, Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. That concept alone was going to get butts in seats, but the film was also bringing in most of the Avengers cast as supporting characters, along with Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Chadwick Boseman debuting as the Black Panther, and the introduction of Tom Holland's brand new Spider-Man.
However, unlike the rest of the Avengers, Spider-Man was never used in any of the film’s promotional material until the final theatrical trailer where right away, you notice how different the new suit looks from previous versions. It’s the perfect blend of classic Steve Ditko and John Romita artwork mixed with the more realistic watercolor renderings of Alex Ross, but most notably, for the first time ever in live-action, Spider-Man’s eyes would move like shutters on a camera lens, allowing him to actually be somewhat expressive through his mask.
Finally, Captain America: Civil War was released and much to my surprise, the film starts off rather dire and serious when compared to your typical Marvel fare, but with Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo back at the helm, it’s no surprise that Civil War feels like a very natural stylistic extension of Winter Soldier's darker tone. I get so wrapped up in the story that I almost forget about who the movie has yet to introduce us to. And then it happens.
Cut to Queens, New York. I suddenly hear a very subtle giddiness start to rise up from the audience in my relatively crowded theater. Oh, they knew. There he was, our new Peter Parker entering the apartment where he lives with his Aunt May, now played by Marisa Tomei, and much to his surprise, he sees her casually talking with billionaire Tony Stark, who has come to Peter with a proposition.
In private, Stark reveals to Peter that he has been keeping tabs on him ever since YouTube videos began surfacing of a super-strong costumed figure swinging around New York City and committing heroic acts. Peter is an underprivileged kid genius who loves building gadgets out of whatever he can find in dumpsters and he wants to use his newfound powers to help people. There’s an instant connection between him and Tony Stark as Stark sees Peter as a younger version of himself had he not grown up surrounded by money. Quickly and efficiently, the film makes us care about Peter and his aspirations of being a superhero.
Stark asks Peter to assist him in apprehending Captain America, now a fugitive, at a German airport. Peter arrives on the scene in a slick new red and blue suit created by Stark himself and what follows is one of the greatest superhero battles ever put to film. Aligned with Stark, Peter uses his mechanical webshooting wristbands to immobilize a couple of Cap’s cronies, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier and Sam Wilson aka the Falcon.
He’s able to show off his superhuman strength by easily blocking a powerful punch from Bucky’s prosthetic metal arm and, in true Spider-Man fashion, he relentlessly runs his mouth during the entire fight sequence. Once Peter has a mini-skirmish with Captain America and helps take down an over-grown Gi(ant)-Man, Stark ships him back home to Queens with a black eye and a spiffy new light-up Spider-signal. Thus ends our thrilling, hilarious, and heartfelt introduction to the Spider-Man of the MCU.
I’ll say right now that Tom Holland is the best live-action Spider-Man yet. Now, that may be a bold statement to make considering all we’ve seen of him so far is the roughly 20 minutes of total screen time he has in Civil War, but after all these years of wondering what a Spider-Man within the MCU would feel like, those 20 minutes exceeded my expectations. Whether or not his inclusion in Civil War was absolutely necessary to the overall story is somewhat debatable, but what we got was a great way to build excitement for his further adventures and an early look at the dynamic between him and all of these other established superheroes.
As much as I still love and respect what the original two Tobey Maguire films did to elevate the comic book movie genre, I anticipate next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming to feel the most like the classic Spider-Man I was familiar with from the old cartoons, action figures, and the occasional comic I read. Besides, can’t we all agree that Marvel Studios is a pretty reliable brand by this point?
Interestingly, it’s established in Civil War that Peter has had these superpowers for about six months, so we likely won’t be getting yet another unnecessary retelling of his origin story where we see his Uncle Ben get killed once again. Seeing as he and Aunt May live alone in an apartment and Peter is already saving people, it’s a sure bet that those events have already happened. Maybe we’ll see some flashbacks in Homecoming, but at least it won’t dwell on those events too much because Marvel knows that we are all very familiar with the story.
By far the youngest actor yet to portray Peter Parker, Holland was barely 20 when he filmed his scenes for Civil War and yet he looks and sounds like a 15-year-old still going through puberty. Homecoming will take place during Peter’s sophomore year in high school and will fully immerse us in the life of a kid trying to balance his social life, his studies, and his superheroics. It’s even been confirmed by Marvel president Kevin Feige that they will be treating this new franchise much like the Harry Potter films where each movie will chronicle a single year in Peter’s life, meaning he won’t even graduate high school until the third film.
It has even been confirmed that Spider-Man will face-off against a villain that has never been featured on film before, the Vulture, who will be portrayed by one of my personal favorite actors, Michael Keaton! I guess once you’ve been Batman and Birdman, where else to go but Vulture? And it’s been said that Vulture’s high-tech flying gear is firmly grounded within the technology of the established MCU where we already have other similar flight suits used by Iron Man, War Machine, and the Falcon. So, not only will it be cool to see what Homecoming has in store for this new solo Spider-Man franchise, but also how it plays around within the larger Marvel sandbox, which of course will include an appearance from Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark.
Besides the Vulture, other classic villains that are said to appear are The Tinkerer and Shocker but hopefully, Homecoming can avoid the too-many-villains problem that has often plagued previous Spider-Man movies. At least these days, the idea of an ongoing shared universe gives this new franchise more room to breathe where they won’t feel obligated to cram too many characters into a single trilogy.
Well, after this insanely long recap of Spider-Man’s history on film, I think the biggest takeaway here is that his track record under Sony Pictures was spotty at best – two good movies out of a total five does not make for a highly successful run and it’s even debated among fans whether or not those first two Sam Raimi films still hold up these days. I know I still enjoy them but I think all those missteps that occurred in the years since were crucial stepping stones for the greatness we’re about to get. We could’ve had a whole series of lackluster Spider-Man movies to not look forward to for years to come, but thankfully, Marvel Studios reached out their hand and is making sure Spider-Man’s future in movies is going to be brighter and more prosperous than we could’ve ever imagined.
Welcome home, Spidey!
David Rose is the creator of Happy Dragon Pictures and The DVD Shelf. He’s an illustrator, animator, videographer and aspiring billionaire/crimefighter…but still needs more training.