On January 15th 2021, Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will begin with Disney+ airing the initial episodes of WandaVision, the first television program to be produced by Marvel Studios. This was obviously not the original plan as Cate Shortland’s Black Widow and Chloé Zhao’s Eternals were meant to be released last year, but were pushed back due to COVID-19. Depending on how things may go this year, four films and six TV shows are set in the MCU will be released in 2021.
From its inception going back to 2008’s Iron Man, I have always been excited for every new instalment from this shared universe. Even though there have been ups and downs, you always expect the most exciting blockbusters, which they tend to deliver. However, much like the increasing amount of Star Wars content, there is a worry of overload and the quality won’t reach the heights we usually expect. Sure, we’ve had twenty-two films, the majority of which have been praised. However, if there is one upcoming MCU instalment that I am very nervous about is the yet-to-titled third Spider-Man film directed by Jon Watts.
Ever since the first Sam Raimi-directed movie from 2002, every Spider-Man film, good or bad, has been an event for this Spider-fan, who has loved the character going back to watching the 90s animated series at an early age. I am always wishing for the best when it comes to the web-slinger on the big screen. From his debut performance as the wall-crawler in Captain America: Civil War, to his eventual solo movies, Tom Holland rose to stardom in arguably the best portrayal of a high school Peter Parker.
Jon Watts – director of Homecoming and Far From Home – found a fresh angle to the Spider-Man story than what we saw in previous films. This was due to the character’s participation in the MCU, as well as the larger emphasis of the high school setting inhabited by a youthful cast that is more fun than the usual super-heroics.
Throughout the five films he has appeared in (including the last two Avengers films), Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has been through a lot. Fighting alongside and against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, he wanted to prove to others that he is worthy of being an Avenger. He messes up and learns an important lesson from his mentor Tony Stark. He goes into space where he does become an Avenger, gets dusted for five years, returns from the Snap, only to lose his mentor.
This leads him to prefer vacation than following his responsibility, leading to him messing up again, but redeems himself by saving his classmates, including his best friend Ned and eventual girlfriend MJ. Having got his life sorted as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the young hero’s secret identity is outed to the public, thanks to doctored footage broadcasted by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons gloriously reprises his role from the Raimi films).
The stage is set for a story we have not seen before in a Spider-Man film. But based on recent reports about the possibilities of where this currently-shot film is going, why am I not excited? The first surprising news to come out of this movie is Jamie Foxx will be reprising his role as Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Then it was announced Alfred Molina and Kirsten Dunst would return to their respective roles as Doc Ock and Mary Jane Watson from the Raimi films. With rumors about both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield returns to don the Spidey gear, signs suggest that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker will be dabbling into the multiverse, most likely under the mentorship of Doctor Strange as it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch will reprise his role.
Looking at the plans for Phase Four with projects like WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the concept of alternate realities will be a recurring theme as it was touched upon in Avengers: Endgame and even joked about in Far From Home. Looking back on the previous cinematic incarnations of Spider-Man, both film series by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb didn’t end on high notes. This is despite future plans such as a potential Spider-Man 4 that never happened and a shared universe built from the two Amazing Spider-Man movies that went through a fate as bad as the Dark Universe. If Watts’ Spider-threequel is set to give a positive send-off for these previous incarnations, then what arc will the MCU’s Peter Parker go through?
As much as I have loved the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its mixture of action, wit and characterization, I will agree that only a handful of the movies are driven by growth and consequences. The reason why Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest superhero movies is not only it’s a great example of the bigger, better sequel, it is a character study about the consequences of having great responsibility.
Considering the MCU is not about secret identities, that is a key part of who Spider-Man is, and the Jon Watts-directed films embrace that and even though there is a sense of danger when Peter’s secret identity is revealed on numerous occasions, the light-hearted tone doesn’t always lend itself to the dramatic tension. However, the mid-credits scene of Far From Home sets up a potential storyline for the next film, which is how does a high-schooler cope with his secret identity as a superhero being outed by the press, as well as the worry of villains targeting him and those he cares about. This is where growth and consequences become important.
If you look at the comics, such as Civil War, in which Spider-Man unmasks at a press conference as a show of support for the Superhero Registration Act, this led to consequences, culminating in the controversial crossover storyline One More Day. After his aunt was shot, Peter seeks help to save her life, leading to him encountering the demon Mephisto, who offers to save her life if Peter gives him his marriage with Mary Jane.
Due to this decision of erasing this history, as well as the world’s collective memory of Spider-Man’s secret identity, this isolated a huge section of the Spider-fandom, who grow up reading Peter Parker’s life and his relationship with MJ, which played a huge part. The subsequent direction Brand New Day may have gained a new readership, but for long-time fans, the damage was done. If the new Spider-Man film heads towards a similar direction where the exposure of Spidey’s secret identity is no big deal, that will be a missed opportunity that would diminish any excitement towards this movie.
Going back to the multiverse, yes, I need to bring up Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again on this site. 2018 was a spectacular year for the wall-crawler through comics, movies and even video games. Whether it was the transition from one creative team to another in the comics, Insomniac Games developing one of the best superhero video games ever made, or the most groundbreaking piece of cinematic animation since the first Toy Story, there was a series of Spider-Man stories that all felt unique. It didn’t matter if you’re a comic reader, a gamer or a film-goer, everyone has their own gateway into Spidey’s world.
Into the Spider-Verse ended that year on a high note and despite all the well-deserved accolades, there is an audience that still haven’t discovered this masterpiece. A live-action Spider-Verse wouldn’t necessarily lessen the impact of the animated one, but most likely will grab a grander audience that prefers the standard spectacles of most superhero outings.
At this point, no official synopsis has been released regarding the MCU’s third Spider-Man movie, whilst producer Kevin Feige has confirmed that not everything you’ve read is right, but it’s not wrong either. With a fourth film is also in development, whilst Jon Watts will be directing the MCU debut of the Fantastic Four, there is some confidence about what is to come. As a Spider-Fan myself, I’m hopeful that Watts, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and Spidey himself Tom Holland will give us another satisfying romp with the wall-crawler, otherwise we will be getting another third instalment that was as disappointing as the one where our hero danced to jazz.
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