As you may have heard, Sony and Marvel Studios signed a deal that will share Spider-Man between them and will allow the web-slinger to appear in existing Marvel franchises such as The Avengers. This was greeted by much rejoicing from fans who have been hoping for years on end that Marvel could reclaim their biggest superhero from Sony, but it leaves one question: Considering that the Spider-Man film franchise has been struggling, what should Marvel do to revitalize it?
After the box office disappointment and middling to negative reaction The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TASM2) received, it’s likely that the new Spider-Man films will be quite different. Marvel said in a press release that they are taking it in a “new creative direction”, whatever that may mean. This might be for the best, since Sony has struggled with the current incarnation of the series.
The main problem is that Sony’s Spider-Man films have felt messy and unfocused for years, starting with the three-villain chaos of Spider-Man 3. In speaking to The Daily Beast, Andrew Garfield said that he believed TASM2’s middling box office returns to be in part due to studio meddling, saying “certain people at the studio had problems with certain parts of it”, implying that Sony retooled the film. The fact that the final film again had three villains jammed into it and how it felt like an overly elaborate set-up for endless sequels and spinoffs point to bad creative decisions on Sony’s part.
Garfield is unlikely to return as Spider-Man, so Marvel will need a new actor and preferably a new take on the character if they hope to steady the franchise. A solution that has been popping up a lot in the media over the last few weeks is the idea of scrapping Peter Parker and going with an alternate version of Spider-Man named Miles Morales. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Morales is an African-American/Latino version of Spider-Man that was introduced in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series to replace Peter Parker after he was killed fighting the Green Goblin.
That idea sounds radical, yet it has potential. Giving the role to Morales gives Marvel an easy out from having to deal with telling Spider-Man’s origin story yet again. He would also bring more diversity to Marvel’s lineup of heroes. The issue though is that he has very little brand-name recognition, which makes it likely that Parker will keep the mantle of Spider-Man going forward.
Assuming they keep Parker, what Marvel might benefit from is going back to some of the original comics that defined modern era Spider-Man. During the early 2000s, his flagship series The Amazing Spider-Man was defined by the inconsistent, yet intriguing work of Babylon 5 writer J. Michael Straczynski. One of his first moves was to suggest that Spider-Man’s powers had supernatural origins and that there was a much deeper meaning to why Parker received them. In a more maligned storyline, he rewrote the usually pure and idolized Gwen Stacy to have had a sexual relationship with Norman Osborn that resulted in two children. Controversial as they were, moves like this shook up the status quo in Spider-Man’s universe, which may be perfect for future films.
What was also so wonderful about Straczynski’s stories was how well they depicted Spider-Man stepping outside of his usual boundaries and interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe’s heroes and villains, such as Doctor Strange, The Avengers, and even Loki. Stories like those are more ripe for adaptation than ever before due to the interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the five hundredth issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, he penned a poignant tale where Spider-Man bounced through time with the assistance of Doctor Strange and ultimately saw a troubled version of his future self be killed by the police. Stories like those were imaginative and downright fun to read, which is just what the film series needs.
Regardless of where they draw inspiration from, Marvel needs to pay attention to the mistakes of the past and craft something that breaks the Spider-Man film mold. Whether that be giving us the first ethnically diverse Spider-Man on film or telling a crazy time travel story, it can’t be just another Spider-Man film.