In the last two decades, the Spider-Man movie franchise has reinvented itself three times – and only in the last few years worked itself into the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each of those three separate continuums had its high and low points – and you could even argue that they make up three different eras of the nearly 60-year-old comic book franchise. Tobey Maguire’s incarnation feels like a throwback to the character’s original appearance in the 1960s-70s – successfully blended with the inventive charm one can expect from director Sam Raimi’s movies – and 2004’s Spider-Man 2 for a time set the high water mark for comic book movies. The reboot with Andrew Garfield offered a grittier, modern Manhattan, with more aggressive villains and revealing a darker side of the character.
The latest incarnation, portrayed by Tom Holland, has found a balance – appearing in films that take place in the world protected by the Avengers – though this film offers some of the darkest moments for the character. Unlike the Marc Webb films, which seemed to follow the darker tone of the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy from the same period, however, the darker moments feel true to the characters – rather than deliberately contrived to make the story feel edgy. The loss of Aunt May – who has served as Spidey’s moral compass in each of the Spider-Man movies – is a tragic blow that forces the friendly neighborhood superhero to reconsider everything he’s fought for.
Inevitably, whenever a comic book movie comes out – or is even in pre-production talks, there’s a flame war going on somewhere over one or any number of leaked details and how true this new adaptation will be to the source material – even if the people engaged in these online arguments don’t always consider why changes inevitably had to be made. After the reemergence of JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019, an actor who also played a pivotal role in the DC extended universe film franchise, the screenwriters decided to take the third installment in the Spider-Man Marvel trilogy in a surprising new direction – something that they hinted at further in a trailer that revealed Alfred Molina would again resurface as the menacing, tentacled Doc Ock.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s already established that multiverses are a thing – and so here it’s possible for multiple Peter Parkers – all three cinematic incarnations, to exist in multiple universes – who must learn to co-exist and work together for their own survival – as their respective villains from overlapping universes see a chance at not only reliving their lives but also gaining unlimited power. This time, we see Spidey finally embrace growing up under the tutelage of those who have been following the same path before he did – while also having a laugh about the flawed moments from previous entries. They needn’t exist in a vacuum – and the themes they explored – power, redemption, and dealing with loss, all remain relevant.