One of the biggest film announcements of the last week was that Marvel and Sony had finally reached an agreement that would allow Marvel to introduce Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by a solo film co-produced by the two studios. Of course, bringing the web-slinger back to the MCU has been a dream for fans ever since the first Iron Man movie became a success – and why not? Peter Parker is clearly one of the most recognizable and beloved heroes in the entire Marvel lineup, and being able to incorporate the character into the MCU should be a huge triumph for the studio.
Unfortunately, Marvel is facing several huge hurdles with the character. The biggest of these? A string of underwhelming, often bizarre Spider-Man films that have left fans wary of new material. After the wild success of Sam Raimi’s first two films, the third Spider-Man film left fans unsatisfied and baffled. Then Sony’s misguided reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, spawned financial success and a lackluster sequel, but Andrew Garfield’s well-received performance couldn’t outweigh the fact that fans felt like they’d seen this story done better before, and not that long ago.
Now it looks like Andrew Garfield is out as Peter Parker, and the franchise is set to reboot yet again. The shocking news of Spidey’s return is enough to grab attention, but Marvel is going to have to pull off the nearly impossible and keep it now. And while Marvel has proved itself as a studio time and again, they’re going to have to show us a distinctly different side of Spider-Man in order to really earn fans’ initial excitement.
With any luck, the plan to introduce Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War will mean that they’re avoiding Peter Parker’s origin story, which while tragic, has been done to death at this point. About every ounce of possible emotional turmoil has been wrung out of Uncle Ben’s death at this point, and deciding to portray it onscreen for a third time may be enough to lose fan interest. Marvel is going to have to take Peter Parker’s story somewhere that we haven’t seen onscreen yet, and retreading the past endlessly isn’t the way to do that.
However, there’s an even bolder move that Marvel could and should make regarding Spider-Man, and it boils down to casting. When Peter Parker was initially conceived as an outcast, the “skinny smart kid with glasses” stereotype worked well. However, as time has gone by, the stigma of being a geek has almost completely vanished. Being a white nerdy guy – at least the way Peter Parker does it – no longer is an immediate indicator of being at the bottom of the social heap. And while the last two Spider-Man franchises have relied on it, using that stereotype in 2015 is quite honestly lazy. So what should Marvel do in order to update Spider-Man for a different decade?
Cast a non-white actor.
It’s no secret that the MCU has a lack of diversity. They cast three white actors named Chris in leading roles before a non-white or female superhero film was announced. The fact that the studio will have been producing movies for a decade before a non-white actor plays a leading role and that Ant-Man became a film before either Black Panther or Captain Marvel (arguably two much more popular characters) is absurd. The MCU is nowhere close to being as diverse and interesting as the roster of Marvel Comics. However, now both Black Panther and Captain Marvel have been pushed back even farther in order to make room in the MCU schedule for the addition of a Spider-Man film. Should fans really have to wait even longer for the MCU to make strides towards representing all their fans?
Casting a non-white actor as Peter Parker would solve many of these problems. Marvel would show that they’re genuinely interested in depicting a superhero universe as diverse as the real one. New York City would have an onscreen superhero that more realistically represents the racial diversity of the city – after all, no one can really argue that the majority of NYC residents are white. And there’s nothing about the character of Peter Parker that would fundamentally be changed by casting a non-white actor. His struggles – excluding of course those caused by pesky spider bites – are those that can be experienced universally, not just by a select group of young white males.
There are already early rumors about actors being considered for the role, most notably Logan Lerman and Dylan O’Brien. With no disrespect to the actors themselves, both young men are exactly the kind of actors fans expect Marvel to cast, a fact that makes them glaringly obvious choices. They’re safe, predictable, and boring. The mainstream media isn’t even considering names like Dev Patel, Osric Chau, and Donald Glover, all actors who could be interesting, talented, and incredibly appropriate choices for the role. Well, Marvel should be. They haven’t been this successful for this long by ignoring the changing landscape of fan culture. And after all, they themselves introduced Miles Morales, a young black man of Hispanic heritage, as the second character to take up the role of Spider-Man. The time couldn’t be more right to introduce a non-white Spidey to the MCU.
Of course, we shouldn’t even be having this discussion in 2015. It shouldn’t be a bold or risky move for one of the biggest studios in the world to cast a non-white actor. It shouldn’t feel like starting an argument to suggest that anyone other than a white guy be cast in a role. The idea of casting a proven, high-caliber actor like Dev Patel shouldn’t be something that causes interest in a film to peak for any reason other than he’s a great actor and could raise the quality of the production. But unfortunately, until we live in a world where non-white actors have the same opportunities to choose between serious drama, comedy, and superhero schlock as white actors, these are exactly the kinds of choices that need to be made.