Why Marvel's teenage Spider-Man movie approach makes sense

It appears that the next big screen rendition of Spider-Man will be portrayed as a cracked-voice, hormonally addled zit-face. Thanks to recent confirmation from Jon Watts, director of the new Web-Slinger’s yet-to-be-titled 2017 solo movie, we now know that our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler will be all of the tender age of 15! The role will require a bit of crank-back of the onscreen age odometer, even for the young 19 year-old actor cast for the part, Tom Holland (pictured below), who will be 21 when the solo outing finally hits theaters. Regardless, it does appear that the latest live-action rendition of Old Web-Head will be anything but old.

Indeed, it has been known for quite some time now that the Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios collaboration that will finally bring Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast the part under a mandate to go young. However, the idea of a Spidey barely old enough to get a learner’s permit is certainly not without its detractors; some of whom are more accustomed to an adult version of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man as he has been portrayed in the majority of the character’s 53 year existence, beset with awkward social woes and barely scraping by as a freelance photog for the Daily Bugle. By contrast, there is also another camp regarding this adaptation who are not so much hung up on age, but can’t stop name-dropping Miles Morales, the young man who took up the mantle of Spider-Man after Peter Parker died in Marvel’s alternate “Ultimates” comic book continuity. And there are some who simply think it's time we got a look at another chapter in Peter Parker's life. 

Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that when the expediently rebooted big screen Spider-Man makes his debut next year in Captain America: Civil War;  he will be depicted as an intriguing, pubescent upstart, making an enormous impact in an Avengers-dominated movie universe. With the subsequent solo movie still likely to feature high-school exploits, I think his young age will be just the shakeup that the traditionally adult-oriented lineup of the MCU needs; giving them an excuse to delve into storylines that skew to the lucrative teen demographic. I will (attempt to) explain why that’s necessary for the larger universe.

Teen Angst, Minus the Annoying Angst

Tom Holland in the 2015 BBC TV mini-series Wolf Hall

You know the formula. Awkward outcast and nerdy science-geek teen gets bitten by radioactive spider, gains powers, gets cocky, lets a burglar go free, Uncle Ben’s dead (taking instant rice off the menu at the Parker house), “with great power comes great responsibility,” cue tears. We’ve seen this movie before; twice, to be precise. With two distinct versions within a decade portrayed by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, the traditional origin tale of Spider-Man (arguably the greatest story ever put to a comic page,) is officially overdone, despite being a terrifically tragic tale. Thankfully, MCU overseer, Kevin Feige understands that trap, as do the Spidey solo film’s writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, who confirmed that the 2017 Spider-Man movie will be an origin-free outing. In fact, Feige described the approach to the teenage experiences of Holland’s Peter Parker as being inspired by the elements ofJohn Hughes movies.

It is an interesting evocation, since the protagonists in Hughes movies tend to start fully-formed and typically endure their awkward plot-driven social experiences throughout the film with a sarcastic, empowered, sometimes prodigious strength (And, in the case of Ferris Beuller, emerge without even the slightest change). Likewise, with audiences having already been acquainted with Tom Holland’s Spidey in Civil War, the 2017 movie won’t be taking us down Peter’s sad, familiar path; instead opting to web-swing right into the thick of the action. This will be especially advantageous when tackling a teen Spider-Man, since the MCU movies tend not to dwell on the puerile emotional issues that typically come with teen stories; choosing instead to focus on the pure pathos of the superhero dynamic.

Of course, that is not to say that he won’t be dealing with traditional teen issues. In fact, Daley and Goldstein have made it clear that Holland’s Peter will still be “a geeky outcast kid” (Unlike Garfield’s angst-ridden, skateboarding, hipster loner). However, they further explained that much of the film will focus on the alienating aspect of his powers-imbued “wish fulfillment.” Yet, managing to avoid the obligatory origin arc, our new Peter Parker, while still young and dealing with his repertory youthful awkwardness, could have experiences that are contextually different, but analogous to what was depicted in the early issues of the comic title and the previous movies. While he could still endure the bullying of Flash Thompson or the painfully awkward attempts to nab a date for some dance, it may never be a genuine emotionally existential threat to him, character-wise. While he’ll be anything but Mr. Popularity, he will never be completely pitiable at any point in the film, because he will (presumably) be the alter ego of an already established Spider-Man from the very first frame.


Teenagerdom is the Original Essence of Spider-Man

An idea that is often forgotten in the shuffle to reinvent Spider-Man belatedly in the MCU is that the original intent of the character, created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, was to introduce the then-revolutionary idea of a teenager who was the main hero. At that point, teenagers in comics were, at best, sidekicks like Robin, Bucky and Speedy, who served as vicarious conduits through which young readers could imagine themselves helping the actual emotionally flawless, Greek god-like granite-chinned hero. In fact, the essence of the pitch Lee made to Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, actually centered on the idea that Spider-Man would be a teenager. The whole idea of spider powers was seemingly secondary to that aspect. As Lee told ABC News:

“Martin told me three things that I will never forget. He said people hate spiders, so you can't call a hero 'Spider-Man.' Then, when I told him I wanted the hero to be a teenager, as he was in the beginning, Martin said that a teenager can't be a hero, but only a sidekick. Then, when I wanted him not to be too popular with the girls and not great-looking or a strong, macho-looking guy, but just a thin, pimply high school student, Martin said, 'Don't you understand what a hero is?'"

Marvel was just coming off another revolutionary concept by Lee along with Jack Kirby with a superhero team that had relatable issues and never got along in The Fantastic Four. Lee and Ditko’s approach with Spider-Man was to create an equally groundbreaking moment by showcasing a teenage superhero whose alter ego faced life not as an ace reporter or a millionaire playboy, but as a high school student dealing with problems with which young readers could identify. While that basic approach of a superhero with everyday problems seemed to be maintained for the most part as Peter got older and attended college and later evolved into an adult, the quintessence of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character in its purest form goes back to the awkward, pimply teenager. How could it not be done that way for the MCU?


 “I’m Spider-Man!”

Using a Lee/Ditko-inspired ethos while forgoing the motions of the origin story and the whimpered sufferings of a bullied, pre-powers Peter Parker, the approach to the 2017 movie could end up resembling the structure of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. That film, which is possibly the most important comic book movie of all time, successfully utilized a formula of hitting the ground running by not just telling us who Batman/Bruce Wayne was with dialogue and drama, but actually showing us, unapologetically jumping right into the thick of the action as Batman pummels and puts a scare in some parasitic Gotham street thugs before violently grabbing one by the collar and famously declaring, “I’m Batman!”

Additionally, everything we need to know about the reclusive duel nature of Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is also shown to us quite quickly, with his backstory artfully dripped in throughout the film in brief, sporadic flashbacks. That film, if anything, is a masterpiece in pacing. Likewise, with our teen Spider-Man similarly empowered from the get-go, it creates a different kind of vicarious teenage experience. As young Peter Parker roams the halls of Midtown High, we will never have to pity him, regardless of the disrespect he absorbs. In fact, we get to laugh at Flash and the other “popular” kids, reveling in the ignorance of their hilarious hubris, knowing that the meek Peter Parker and the Spider-Man that’s making headlines across the city and garnering their admiration are one and the same. 

Such a dynamic is akin to the feeling we get as we watch Keaton’s Bruce Wayne holding a fancy soiree for Gotham’s high society, as we see reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), the jealous wannabe love interest of Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), indignantly scoff at the seemingly useless and superficial, too rich for his own good playboy .0001 percenter in Bruce. An underestimated protagonist may not be an original concept, but it’s certainly something that the MCU has yet to fully embrace.


The Hero the MCU Deserves AND Needs Right Now

I felt the same skepticism as many fans with the idea of rebooting Spider-Man so soon after The Amazing Spider-Man movies - a series that also arguably arrived too quickly in 2012 after Spider-Man 3 had only just hit in 2007. However, when it comes to the state of the MCU, the time is perfect to roll out Spider-Man and NOT just A Spider-Man, but THE Spider-Man in a form as pure as possible to the original mythology, crafted snugly within the confines of the MCU.

While the MCU has been a wild ride, 7 whole years since it launched with the original Iron Man, things are bound to start getting long in the tooth. As Kevin Feige and the creative teams make their way down the mapped path to 2019 with the two Avengers: Infinity Wars films and the eventual shift towards Inhumans, this remarkable, unprecedented movie continuity will need an injection of youth. While the MCU just debuted another refreshing underdog of sorts in Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, this teenage Spider-Man will get to be the irreverent, snot-nosed upstart of the superhero scene, while simultaneously enjoying an iconic commercial status, and he'll be set to be a big player in the continuity for years to come.

Do you have a take on how the new 15 year-old Spider-Man should be adapted into the MCU? Chime in to the debate in the comments below!

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