There are a lot of things that Marvel fans don’t want out of the latest — and third — iteration of a live-action standalone Spider-Man film, and if there’s one cringeworthy, trite piece of the wallcrawler’s origin story that’s uncalled for, it’s the iconic death of Uncle Ben and his “with great power comes great responsibility” piece of advice.
It’s difficult to watch both a foolhardy, amateur Spider-Man abuse his powers and a young, emotional Peter Parker disrespect the aunt and uncle that raised him. The character is frustratingly immature in both aspects of his life. It takes the death of his Uncle Ben — which can and should be presented as more or less Peter’s fault — for Peter to wise up and become a better kind of hero.
We’ve seen two different older men within the last 20 years take on the role of Uncle Ben. Cliff Robertson was 79 when he played a loving yet assertive version of Uncle Ben in the 2002 version of Spider-Man. And Martin Sheen was 72 for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. The characters were virtually indistinguishable. Likable, albeit vaguely grumpy old men just itching to share their age-earned wisdom and die in the street from a gunshot wound.
Sheen’s rendition veered away from explicitly delivering, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but it hardly mattered because the base sentiment behind his advice to Peter remained the same. In fact, much of the origin story in The Amazing Spider-Man was remarkably similar despite attempts at more subtle changes.
The 2012 rendition of Spidey’s origin had mechanical instead of organic web shooters, more mystery about Peter’s parents, and an entirely different love interest in Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Parts of the movie were actually refreshing — but not enough. Sheen’s Uncle Ben still died because Peter acted selfishly and irresponsibly. Neither viewer nor Peter himself felt the impact of Ben’s death. It wasn’t until Gwen Stacy’s death that Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker finally became the Spider-Man New York City needed, just in time to hang up the onesie for good.
Remember: The message of “grow the fuck up” takes on a whole new meaning when you can lift 10 tons. And there’s only so many times we really want to experience that in cinematic form, especially when maturity isn’t really an issue with the 69 other heroes in Infinity War.
When 2016’s Captain America: Civil War finally debuted actor Tom Holland as a much younger Peter Parker, fans in the theater erupted into gleeful applause when QUEENS boldly slapped across the screen and Tony Stark boldly recruited the young hero to fight his battles.
But there was also a moment of tension as well. Viewers knew very little about what to expect aside from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) being surprisingly hot.
As it turns out, Uncle Ben was already dead, which was the best thing the MCU could do for Peter Parker and Spider-Man because it forced them to rethink the character and present audiences with something fresh rather than rehash the same generic origin story.
In Civil War, they bring Peter dangerously close to talking about what might be the loss of his uncle, and his reasoning for being a hero is a dilution of that same base principle: “When you can do the things I can, but then you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” So … be responsible if you have power?
Thankfully, we’ve known for a long time that the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming won’t be the kind of origin story shown in the previous Spidey flicks, and there isn’t even an actor playing Uncle Ben at all, which is a welcome sign.
Co-producer Eric Hauserman Carroll confirmed back in April:
“We thought that, to keep this fun, light tone, as soon as they have to have their, like, ‘Let’s remember our dearly departed father figure’ — it derails that a little. And again, what we’re trying to tell is this sort of fun story of the kid who is doing all the wrong things for the right reasons. And once you do that, it stops becoming a fun movie about a kid trying to be a kid. He’s mourning the loss of a parent.”
Instead, Spider-Man: Homecoming hopes to be more of a fun romp where, if anything, Tony Stark is the surrogate father figure that will 100% live to fight another day in Infinity War and beyond.
Now we’ll just have to wait and see how much responsibility Peter needs to learn in Homecoming.
Spider-Man: Homecoming will be released July 7, 2017.
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