So I finally saw Spider-Man: No Way Home (waited to catch it with a friend), and then spent some time thinking about it.
SPOILER ALERT. I’m going to assume, as late as I was, that anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it isn’t planning on catching it in the theater.
First, let me unburden myself of the one real complaint I have about this movie; Dr. Strange.
Really? I mean really? I understand why Peter asked Strange to cast a spell altering the memories of everyone on Earth to make them forget he was Spider-Man (and altering reality to some degree in the process, considering the spell had to also erase the video evidence that had been dropped on the net and downloaded a jillion times). But for Strange to say, “Okay, I’ve got a handy spell that could potentially break reality, but I’m the GOAT and I can handle it,” is . . . simply insane.
But moving on, since this decision had to be made to give us the fantastic movie we got . . .
NWH was amazing. I don’t know if Tom Holland has more Spider-Man movies in him, but I hope so. I love the current cinematic continuity for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. NWH accomplished something I’d thought impossible, or next to impossible; it was a work of pure fan-service, while at the same time giving us a compelling movie. This was one of the rare times that I wished a Marvel movie could have been longer. Why? I wanted flashback scenes for both McGuire-Spidey and Garfield-Spidey, showing just a bit of what they went through getting drawn into a strange New York City. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have seen McGuire-Spidey kissing his MJ and swinging out to patrol the city before getting sucked into an inter-reality vortex? And Garfield-Spidey stumbling up to a kiosk and reading a Times Magazine headliner about the outed Spider-Man, complete with comparisons between him and the Avengers. The what?
I’ll bet fanfic-writers are already busy fanficking these scenes . . .
A certain death in the movie was very jarring (I’ll avoid one spoiler), but I thought the meeting of the Spider-Men was incredibly satisfying. Mostly because the framework of their meeting was essentially a redemption-arc for one villain I’d felt great empathy for (Doc Oc) and secondarily for McGuire-Spidey and Garfield-Spidey; both of them got to make saves that . . . didn’t change anything in their timelines, but nonetheless addressed their own failures and regrets. Having Garfield-Spidey catch a falling MJ and save her was deeply satisfying.
I didn’t enjoy all of the Spider-Man movies produced with McGuire/Garfield, but both had turned in memorable and relatable performances as the wall-crawler and so it was cool for Marvel to write their realities into the multiverse and give them some closure.
But the movie inspired a meditation on Spider-Man as a hero, and why he is so enduringly popular. I mean, serious, eight movies in less than two decades? McGuire swung onto the silver screen in 2002, and the franchise survived the wreckage of his Spider-Man 3 and Garfield’s Spider-Man 2. What is it about Spider-Man?
Thinking about this inspired me to drop an informal survey on the Wearing the Cape Facebook page asking responders to name their favorite cinematic superheroes. Here were the results:
Captain America: 4
Black Panther: 3
Iron Man: 1
Scarlet Witch: 1
The Tick: 1
I wish I could have gotten more replies, but it was enough to establish a theory; the best-loved superheroes are superhumans who have always been heroes.
Cap led the list, because Marvel understood him so well and showed him to us, from the beginning, as a man who–even when his body limited his ability to act–instinctively acted heroically to the point of self-sacrifice. (I mean come on, throwing yourself on what you think is a live grenade to save a bunch of mooks who’ve done nothing but rib you and dunk on you since you joined their squad? Really?) Spider-Man and Superman, from the beginning of their stories, unselfishly used their powers to help other. There was no question. (Well, in the beginning Peter acts unheroically with his new powers, but he gets over that very quickly, and shifts into serve-and-protect mode rather than dark avenger mode, for which we give him props.) T’Challa practically exuded nobility.
The other superheroes on the list can be described as flawed heroes. (Well, I’m not sure about The Tick.) They learned and earned their heroism. Arguably this makes them more human and relatable, and yet . . . they didn’t hit the top of the list.
Which is not to say that any of the Top 4 are perfect heroes; all of them make mistakes in the course of their stories. But they’re instinctive heroes, and I think this may explain their popularity. To bring it home, it may explain why so many readers like Astra. I didn’t do it intentionally; really I just didn’t want to give her a stereotypical “growth-arc” where she goes from being self-centered (which most of us are) to self-sacrificing due to some kind of Uncle Ben experience. I wanted her instinctive reaction to gaining super-powers to be to wear the cape (even if she was a bit “Oh man, now I’ve got to go be a superhero.”) so I could get on with her story. Looking back on it, making her fear for others the trigger to her breakthrough was genius. (If I can lightly pat my own back.)
And I think it’s this quality of heroism that explains how I’ve managed to put out nine Wearing the Cape books, each well received (as of this post, Joyeuse Guard has more Amazon reviews than all the rest except Book 1). Hope Corrigan is a Steve Rogers or Clark Kent. She was raised with that sort of moral compass, so when she got the call she went with very little complaining. And for all of the modern trend of deconstructing heroes, that resonates with us.
Which makes it cool that in all three Spider-Man incarnations (more if we include Into the Spider-Verse) we see the same thing. Come what may, Peter Parker is always a hero.