Stuff You Need to Know: Miles to Go Before Morales
There was once a time when every actor would get a crack at playing Hamlet. And now, it’s Peter Parker. (Arguably at one point, it might have been Bruce Wayne…but anyway…) The good news is that Sony and Marvel are starting with a clean slate and giving us an MCU Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland (pictured above). The bad news is that I’m going to miss Andrew Garfield, because I actually enjoyed the hell out of his first film. And at last, we had a Peter Parker who could banter. And the sideways news is that a bunch of people are pissed that we’re getting Peter Parker again and not Miles Morales, the second Ultimate Spider-Man. And I get where they’re coming from: as the man said, it’s deja vu all over again. Plus: people love the shit out of Miles and want to see the character they enjoy brought to the big screen.
So before I begin, let me say: I have no dog in this fight. I haven’t liked Earth-616 Peter Parker since Civil War, which ruined him for me. I enjoyed the hell out of the Ultimate Peter Parker, but I left Marvel as a regular reader before Miles arrived. And I’m not necessarily saying I think like any of the points I’m about to make, especially the ones seemingly in defense of the studio(s)–since they’re from the studio’s perspective. I say this because I don’t want you to expend your nerd-rage unnecessarily. Here we go.
Studios Are Ready to Take Risks, But Not as Many as You Want Them To. The movie studios, especially ones as monstrous as Disney, are ready to extend narrative risk-taking, casting risk-taking and so forth…but only so far. I know we’re used to seeing The Studios as massive and imposing beasts…but imagine them as not T. Rexs, but apatosaurs instead. Apatosaurs who have washed down their latest ginormous salad with about fifteen espressos. So while they’re huge and seemingly powerful, they’re skittish as hell. The slightest rustling will make them jump. So the evolution of the Hollywood movie industry is a slow one. It takes an unmitigated, there’s-no-way-to-talk-yourself-out-of-it success story to get people up there to change. Which is why if John Lasseter had not been such a fan of filmmakers like Miyazaki, you would never have seen some of the stateside innovations that Pixar brought to the table. And Pixar was a success story you could not shoot down. And so studios had to admit this and say: “Give me some of that.” So if you enjoyed films like How to Train Your Dragon, you can thank folks like Miyazaki.
Does Anybody Know Who the Hell Miles Morales Is? Remember, don’t kill me for bringing this up. I’m just making this point from the studio’s point of view. They probably think, rightly or wrongly, that if you leap right into Miles Morales then audiences will get confused. If you recall, a previous Spider-franchise felt the need to give you an extensive flashback sequence for something that had happened less than a half-hour earlier. They probably think, rightly or wrongly, that having a non-Peter Parker is like having a character named Ralph Nickleby turning into the Incredible Hulk. But here’s one thing that is true: a single fanbase is not enough to carry a film. If it was, you’d see ads for Serenity 3 in cinemas, coming out this August. So they may be afraid they can’t pull off a huge audience without Peter Parker in the mask–again, rightly or wrongly.
Another Risk is Actually Having a Miles Morales Spider-Man. What was the studio that had an email suggesting that casting Denzel Washington was a risk if you wanted a film to perform well overseas? Oh right, it was Sony. Now, I haven’t gone to check their numbers…nor have I grabbed the last ten really big films with black leads and seen how they did overseas (if they hit the 65% of international box office that the article says studios want), mostly because I am old and tired. But let’s, for the sake of argument, say this is true. As ScottC has pointed out time and again, the studios look to overseas box office like you wouldn’t believe. The studios are definitely taking a global eye–and some of the decisions that make no sense if you’re just looking here (Jesus, another 3-D film?) make perfect sense if you’re looking at it from a worldwide perspective. So if the numbers do reflect this…then this is a serious hurdle to Miles Morales or any other Spandex-Wearing Hero of Color. I don’t like this idea. You don’t like this idea. But it’s the Acanti in the room and we’ve got to face it. Studios are out to make money. If the situation reversed itself, you can bet James Franco would find himself suddenly incredibly available pretty damn quick.
What can we do about this? Well, we can’t do too much. But. My hope is that Marvel is working on this themselves. Think about this: Marvel plays the Long Game. That’s why their plan has worked so far. If you look at their schedule, they are systematically showing they can win at whatever they want to take on. Techno thriller? Done. Sci-fi madness? Okay. World War II period film? Sure. Spy thriller? Absolutely. Movie with a female lead? It’s coming. Movie with a black lead? It’s coming. In fact, they may have already had Black Panther so ingrained in their plans they only wanted to play–excuse the term–the race card once at this point and that just to prove their point. It may be that they’re trying to become like Pixar: “Look, just fuck off and let us work. We’ve got this.” This is pure speculation, of course, but it would fit.
Or This Could All Be According to Plan. Speaking of The Long Game, this could be part of it for different reasons. Like maybe you need an MCU Peter Parker first in order to kill him off and then bring Miles center stage. So what happens if the first film is indeed not an origin story for Peter…but an origin story for Miles? What if Miles is left standing at the end of the first film and Peter is dead?
Or…and here’s what I think might be more interesting…what if there’s a Peter Spidey in the films…and a Miles Spidey on TV. So Miles is more street level while Peter is dealing with crap like Thanos? Now, lest you think I’m giving Miles short shrift, whereas movies are very slow to react…TV is reacting pretty damn fast. We’ve seen American television move more towards the British model of shorter, higher quality series than just banging out twenty-four episodes of something. We’ve seen more complex characters, plots, the whole nine yards. Would you rather see Miles on the big screen? Or on Netflix? It’s something to consider. Then the MCU can have their cake and Edith too. And Tom Holland probably won’t be nearly as expensive to crossover to television as, say, Sam Jackson.
If you’re old enough, cast your mind back to the Hulk TV movies…with their versions of Daredevil and Thor. Back then, we had no idea there would ever be anything better than that. Or…there’s Legends of the Superheroes, even. So be patient. Marvel has been. And it’s worked so far. So as hard as it is to ask for this in a post-Phantom Menace world…have a little faith. Just a little, mind.
UPDATED 6/25/15: Saw this thanks to Wolven and I think it bears addressing: that there is a contract stipulating many things about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, including the fact that he’s straight and white. The article also points out the contract went into effect a month after Miles became Spider-Man.
I don’t think they were trying to necessarily and specifically avoid Peter Parker being made a flamboyantly gay transgendered individual from Japan. I think they were just trying to nail the character down to avoid tinkering. If you want to see some tinkering, find one of those vendors at a convention and grab some unused drafts of comic book adaptation screenplays. Did you know the Kingpin had electrical powers? Did you know Neil’s Sandman would fight the bad guys by punching them? As I stated on Facebook, it’s worth noting that of the important bits of the character, the one thing this apparently leaves out is “He designs ‘web shooters’ for himself.” What’s the biggest tinker that happened on the Sam Raimi version? Organic webshooters. Maybe they knew they had already lost that fight (way back with James Cameron’s “scriptment,” who knows? But anything that’s not nailed down, it’s almost guaranteed to be tinkered with…and usually not very well.
Remember, this is 2011. The idea that Sony and Marvel could happily coexist on a project was a vague myth. The first Avengers film, which proved that the Marvel phase idea worked, didn’t come out until the next year. So I don’t think this ties in to the previous bit about not casting Denzel in things. I could be wrong, but I think this is just Marvel trying to cover their collective ass.