Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures brokered one of the biggest deals in cinema history last night. Going forward, Spider-Man will join Captain America and Iron Man as a proud member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
That this move is a game-changer cannot be understated. After slogging through a botched Sony reboot, audiences can finally expect Spidey, one of the most esteemed — and valuable — superheroes ever created, to take his rightful place beside the Avengers. As Marvel’s statement reads, "Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios share a love for the characters in the Spider-Man universe and have a long, successful history of working together. This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future." There’s just one problem: With Andrew Garfield allegedly out, we don’t need Peter Parker at the movies anymore. We need Miles Morales.
We need Miles Morales
Who’s Miles Morales? (Minor spoiler alert.) He’s the Spider-Man of Marvel’s Ultimate comics imprint, a half-black, half-Latino 13-year-old who took on the role of Spider-Man after Peter Parker’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin in 2011. He’s also the Spider-Man who deserves a place in the MCU.
Now, no one can question that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are inexorably linked and have been for more than half a century. That said, Miles Morales as a character is something fresher, and he’s someone who’s more than just Peter Parker’s successor. It took Parker dying for Miles to take up the mantle, and he has come into his own as a superhero in the years since, complete with a supporting cast and rogues' gallery that’s grown up and out of Peter’s. He’s lost loved ones and triumphed over adversity just like the original Spidey did, but he’s not at all a carbon copy of what came before. He’s something new, all while being an extension of everything that made Parker great to begin with.
Miles is one of Marvel's most beloved newer characters
You still have archvillains like the Green Goblin, of course. You still have characters like Gwen Stacy and companies like the Daily Bugle. But here you find a kid who grapples with the fear that he’s tainted by his family’s dark past — a kid who watches his mother die in his arms after an attack — and manages to rise above it. He's earned his webshooters. Ultimately, though, Miles is just a kid trying to do the right thing, but figuring out how to do it on his own terms. It should thus be no surprise that he’s one of Marvel’s most beloved newer characters to date, and by now he can stand on his own.
All of this matters because of the real and practical problem of reboot fatigue, making this the right opportunity to change how Spider-Man works at the movies. When Sony was forced to relaunch the Spider-Man franchise in 2012, fans and critics alike were already put off by the fact that Spider-Man 3, despite leaving a stain on the series, hit box offices only five years prior. It didn’t matter that Andrew Garfield made the role his own. It was the same story with a few new wrinkles. Given that Marvel is promising an introduction to a whole new Parker before his solo film in 2018, even the deftest of screenwriter’s hands can’t get around the fact that we’ve all been there and done that as viewers twice now. Peter Parker may be an iconic character, but there are only so many ways you can tell an origin story.
But most important is the fact that Miles Morales represents the future of comics, not just of Spider-Man, and that future needs to live on movie screens. It was no accident that the #donald4spiderman campaign gained such momentum back in 2010, right before the first reboot. If you imagined Donald Glover as Spider-Man then, try it again now. If 2012 wasn’t the right moment, now is. Peter Parker doesn’t have to look like a white guy from Forest Hills, Queens. He can be a Black Hispanic kid from Brooklyn, right alongside a kooky Japanese motorcycle racer with a giant robot. The point is, he can be anyone, and we’ll still know that with great power must also come great responsibility.
Spider-Man can be anyone
Marvel must know it has a heavy duty when it comes to the people it chooses to play its superheroes. At a time when comics companies are collectively getting better at acknowledging their entire fanbases on the page, they shouldn’t be slow-footed in theaters. And steps have already been made; Fox execs already cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Just because they could. Studios should be willing to take these risks, and now’s the time. Whoever Marvel and Sony choose to play Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will get to play one of the finest superheroes out there, likely for years to come, and that’s a tremendous honor. Still, aren’t we ready for something different?