Look, Ma, Spidey Is Ageing Backwards!


Spider-Man: Homecoming features superhero Peter Parker aka Spiderman as a high school student balancing his headphones and existence. It makes sense to see him younger and in that context.

By Gautam Chintamani 

There is a saying — ‘you can only be young once but you can always be immature.’ With the average median age of the world hovering between 15 and 39, the world is poised to grow younger, each passing year, and rest assured, there will be an increase in the number of ways we can display our immaturity. One such unlikely demonstration of the idea of being young, translating into an exhibition of the silly, could be the upcoming Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. The latest in the bevy of superhero franchises that are undergoing a makeover, Spider-Man: Homecoming features Peter Parker aka Spiderman as a 15-year old high school student balancing his high school existence and being the hero, Spider-Man, who has to deal with threats such as the Vulture. Nothing wrong with that, but one look at the teaser poster and you know that you can’t take this guy seriously. What else can one make of an image that shows Spidey “chillin” next to the river, in a “Midtown School of Science & Technology” jacket over the Spiderman costume, with a pair of headphones?

In a day and age when films and characters based on comic books are being analysed for deeper meaning, (Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the Wolverine off-shoots of the X-Men franchise) or being seen as real flesh and blood emotional creatures (Iron Man, Deadpool or even Kick-Ass), it was only a matter of time before the life-changing stakes in Peter Parker’s life, too, became real. Truth be told. Peter Parker/ Spider-Man is but a high school student, therefore, it makes sense to see him in that context.

Those who grew up in the India of 1980s would recall their first introduction to Spider-Man in the animated TV series that was aired on Doordarshan. While the biggest audience of the show were school children, barely anyone remembers an episode that focused on the troubles Peter Parker/ Spider-Man faced in school. When Sam Raimi began his trilogy of the new-age Spider-Man in 2002 (Spider-Man), the narrative began with Parker (Tobey Maguire) in school and followed him to when he starts working for the Daily Bugle and takes on the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Much like the onscreen character, even the actors playing Spider-Man are becoming younger. Maguire was 27 when he first became Spider Man and when the series was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, who replaced Maguire, was 29. By contrast, Tom Holland is 20 and his Spider-Man is five years younger.



Besides rebooting the franchise, Spider-Man: Homecoming is clearly looking to cash in on the younger audiences and let the series ‘grow’ with them. And this is the reason why Sony Pictures is ‘Benjamin Buttoning’ Spidey. Tom Rothman, the Chairman of Sony Pictures believes that the ‘Homecoming’ in the title not only confirms that the film is set in a high school, but also believes that Tom Holland as Spider-Man outdoes the previous incarnations portrayed by both Maguire and Garfield. “This is it”, says Rothman and adds that the character of Spider-man is “in all of its youthful complications” where he has to save the world and get homework done. The title also plays on the word ‘homecoming’ to convey the return of Spider-man to the universe where he belongs, where two major studios, Sony Pictures and Marvel, have collaborated to create the unique cosmos where Spider-Man would also rub shoulders with other Marvel characters such as Iron Man. Even though some of the biggest money-spinners in recent times have been superhero films, studios still do not want to leave any stone unturned to hit bull’s eye. So, here one would also see Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Michael Keaton, the once upon a time ‘Batman’ as Vulture, which in other words can be read as a wonderful commercial idea.

For the more classicist fans, such as this writer, the entire makeover appears to be a tad too simplistic. The narrative in superhero films for a while now has focused on exploring certain darkness that engulfs the characters that are both blessed and cursed at the same time. Tim Burton sowed the seeds of this change in his second Batman film, Batman Returns and this facet stood out in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi began to go beyond the obvious in Spider-man and tried presenting a darker shade of the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger. Perhaps in the years ahead, the franchise could take that route as well, but from the looks of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it appears that the character would rather go the Little Archie way — utterly pointless. Can you imagine this superhero battle any inner demons or be hit by a bout of existential angst? Of course, this isn’t to say that a 15-year old cannot have existential angst, but you know, well, forget it.

In the end, for Hollywood studios the mantra is simple – “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” Unfortunately, what they seem to forget is how Nietzsche put it; “the mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.” For some, it is not the makeover that is as intriguing, but certain changes such as the inclusion of Maria Tomei as Aunt May. There had been a massive backlash following the announcement of Tomei’s casting, for fans of the comic book believed that she was “too young and attractive to portray the character.” This also reveals why Hollywood is biased when it comes to casting women. If Peter Parker can be made realistic and natural by featuring a 20-something actor playing a 15-something character, then why would his aunt be made to look like his great-grandmother? Tomei even added that she was shocked when she was cast and even made a case to age herself, but the filmmakers decided to go with her natural look.



— Gautam Chintamani is a film historian and the author of the best-selling Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (2014) and The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema (2016). Tweet him – http://www.twitter.com/ gchintamani