Hollywood’s First Teenage Spider-Man Swings Into Our Hearts

  |  Topic: Entertainment, Media Analysis, Movies, Opinion
Written By: Khalil Shipman
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The locally shot “Spider-Man: Homecoming” releases  July 7 as the fifth live-action Spider-Man movie and the sixth big-screen iteration of the character. What’s groundbreaking about the July release is not only a new suit, supporting cast and leading actor to boot, but for once in more than a decade of Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker is played by an actual teenager.

Tom Holland, of “The Impossible” and “Captain America:Civil War” acclaim, was only 18 when he landed the role of the friendly neighborhood high-schooler. With “Captain America: Civil War,” Holland’s Spider-Man entered the grayscale landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016 as the wall-crawling, super-strong teenager who nearly turned down the chance to fight alongside Iron Man because he “had homework” to do.

While two trailers have kept fans and critics alike buzzing for “Homecoming,” some still wonder why this is the third Spider-Man we’ve seen in just 15 years. Well, most of the onus falls upon Sony, who controls how the character is portrayed on film. The rest is on Marvel studios, which, after 18 years with no hands on Spider-Man, just recently regained creative control of their amazing, spectacular, superior Spider-Man.

The Incredible Hulk of 1991, inexplicably paired with a machine gun.
The Incredible Hulk of 1991, inexplicably paired with a machine gun.

The feature film rights of the character (and those closely associated with him) were sold to Sony in 1999 for $7 million. This was due to a harrowing drop in Marvel’s comic-book sales during the 1990s (maybe it was all the pouches on characters back then, maybe it was how extreme with a capital E-X-T-R-E-M-E they were (inexplicably, they gave the Hulk a machine gun), or maybe it was just all the mullets. . . who knows?).

Either way, in order to pull themselves from the brink of near financial destruction, Marvel sold the film rights to such popular characters as Daredevil, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men (along with their never ending cast of associated characters) to various studios, including Sony.

So, in order to cash in on their investment, Sony released “Spiderman” in 2002, as the first individual superhero movie for the modern era. The film starred Tobey Maguire as the titular character and was directed by horror master Sam Raimi, best known for his work on “The Evil Dead.” The film was released to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Praised for its fast action, comedic wit and earnest portrayal of the character, the movie was a success, grossing over $400 million  and kickstarting the comic book movie industry as we know it today. In the time between the release of the first and second Spider-Man movies, a slew of comic based films were released with many dozens more on the way. The  X-Men, The Hulk, The Punisher and Hellboy all arrived in theaters as the comic book movie craze kicked off.

While the comic book film industry continued to boom, however, the Spider-Man franchise hit its first bump: “Spider-Man 3.” Suffering from an oversaturation of villains, phoned-in performances and the infamous emo Peter Parker, “Spider-Man 3” (complete with a black spider suit), quickly became the trash talk of the comic book community and the lowest grossing Spider-Man film until 2014.

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Tobey Maguire [left] and Andrew Garfield [right] as Spider-Man.
All of a sudden, Spider-Man didn’t seem so strong any more. The illustrious series that had gotten so many people loving comics wasn’t so well liked now that the third leg of the trilogy had fallen short. What was Sony to do? Return the property to Marvel or keep on trucking with soiled goods? Ultimately, the Spider-Man franchise was rebooted in 2012 with a new lead, love interest and lease on life. They pulled a full James Bond, too, as a new British actor took up the role of Peter Parker.

Comic fans were shocked with the casting announcement of 29-year-old Andrew Garfield as “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Some said he was “too cool looking” to play the bespectacled dork, Peter Parker. Some said his accent was faulty or that he was just too damn old to play a high schooler. The film ended up grossing an estimated $230 million, nearly half of the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man.

The reluctance of fans and neophytes alike to give the new guy a chance was apparent by the box office reception.

One thing kept “The Amazing Spider-Man” swinging, however. The extremely believable on-screen romance between Garfield and his costar Emma Stone had caught the eye of critics. The movie currently sits at a just comfortable enough seventy seven percent on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not quite a certified “fresh” grade, but the executives at Sony did not seem to mind. The comic to film industry began to heat up and the first billion dollar comic book blockbuster was released, Marvel’s “Avengers,” that same year. Sony was left with only one choice, to follow Marvel’s lead and expand.

Its sequel in 2014 would, unfortunately, halt those plans. If “Spider-Man 3” was oversaturated, than “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was just plain drenched with failure. Sloppy filmmaking, poor script writing and an incomprehensible storyline contributed to the failure of this film and the inevitable reboot that led to Sony’s current deal with Marvel Entertainment.

These 15 years of Spider-Man have, admittedly, been quite the rollercoaster. As the past began to paint a portrait of plight for the web-head in the hands of Sony, Marvel began to look to the future for hope. And beginning in 2016, the future again looks bright.

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The poster from the upcoming “Spider-Man Homecoming” features the teen web-slinger with headphones.

Gone are the days when movie high-schoolers are portrayed by 20 and 30 somethings! In 2015, when Marvel announced its choice of BAFTA award-winning 18-year-old Tom Holland, the message was heard loud and clear. Not only is this a fresh start for the web-head (back to the slums of high school hallways for Peter), but a teenage Spidey will help the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

As seen in “Captain America: Civil War,” our teenage nerd from a Queens apartment complex is completely and totally psyched to fight with (or against) The Avengers. A character like this, one who idolizes his world’s heroes as much as the audience, can breathe new life and color into the too often monochromatic Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel’s opportunities in regaining one of the most marketable characters in all of fiction are only amplified by Holland’s youth, proven acrobatic ability, and enthusiasm to play a faithful and finally teenage version of Peter Parker.

Like divorced parents fighting for a beloved child, Sony has admitted to mistakes made in past iterations of the character but is still making an attempt to hold onto it and raise it the right way by seeking help through Marvel. The very least these $2 billion dollar movie studios can do for life-long fans of all ages is to continue making movies faithful to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original creation: an awkward kid, crawling his way through high school (who happens to have super powers).

Khalil, 16, a junior at Druid Hills High, devours comics in a single breath.

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