Alright, Marvel Studios. You just nabbed a powerful box-office prize for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Spider-Man. But let’s not forget what Uncle Ben taught us in the million-and-a-half times we’ve seen him die on the page and on the screen: With great power comes great responsibility. Your responsibility here? Let Ben die offscreen and free us from the tyranny of origin stories. Let’s just get on with the storytelling, okay?
The late-night press release that went out yesterday promises a “new Spider-Man” who will show up soon in an as-yet-unnamed Marvel Studios flick, then get his own solo movie in 2017. It’s nice to hear that he’s starting out in someone else’s movie, because that suggests we might first glimpse him as a fully formed character in medias res. Thank God, because audiences will certainly already know who the guy is and what the basic contours of his shtick are. Not to mention, probably of any character in comics, Spider-Man’s powers are the most intuitive: His name is Spider-Man; he does spider stuff. No one will complain if he just shows up and gets right down to the web-slinging.
There’s precedent here: Marvel has done it before in The Incredible Hulk. Remember Hulk, the 2003 Ang Lee superhero-origin movie? Well, Marvel would prefer that you didn’t, so when it picked up Bruce Banner’s story thread in 2008’s Edward Norton Hulk outing, it gave us a very brief summary of the whole science-accident thing, then swiftly moved on to a story set long after the Hulk came into existence. The movie had its problems, but I don’t think anyone walked out of it saying, “Gosh, I really wish I’d seen two hours of Bruce Banner figuring out he’s the Hulk and learning how to use his powers to fight evil!”
So here’s hoping this new Spidey will just get a quick flashback about getting bit by that fateful arachnid and regretting his uncle’s death, and leave it at that. Or, better yet, Marvel and Sony could take a page from the greatest onscreen superhero narrative of all time, Batman: The Animated Series, which legendarily never depicted Bruce Wayne’s parents getting shot. Because you know what? Icons like these are already firmly lodged in our imaginations. In this era of superhero saturation, origin stories are hack. We’ve had to see, read, or hear about Peter Parker’s hand-wringing hero’s journey plenty of times. It’s time to stop insulting audiences’ intelligence, for (literally and figuratively) Pete’s sake.