For most of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in a rush to grow up. After a taste of what it’s like to hang with the big boys during Captain America: Civil War, the desire to become an Avenger – and ostensibly to become an adult – consumes Peter. In the end, Peter learns that he has a lot more to learn; he’s better off “staying close to the ground” and being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. There’s plenty of time for the trials that come with adulthood.
An adult Spider-Man is not part of Marvel Studios’ Spider-Plan. Marvel, which gets to decide the creative direction of the character, whose film rights are still held by Sony Pictures, plans a 5-movie arc for the wall-crawler that keeps him in high school throughout. As Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained to the Toronto Sun:
“We are looking at a five-movie storyline — Civil War, Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, untitled Avengers, Homecoming 2 — as an amazing five-story journey for Peter Parker. In the way that the events of Civil War directly inform the opening of Homecoming and his state of mind as he goes back to high school, so too will the events of the next two Avengers movies as he continues with high school.”
For many Spider-Man fans however, no matter how much they enjoyed Peter’s youthful exploits in Homecoming, there’s also an impatience to see him grow up. After all, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third cinematic iteration of the character since 2002, and every single movie version of Spider-Man begins with him in high school. While Marvel Studios’ Spider-Plan lets down some fans who want to see a mature, experienced web-slinger dealing with the myriad problems that plague him as an adult, young Spidey is the only movie Spidey we will see in the foreseeable future. This is also the smartest game plan for Marvel to take. Just as Peter learned at the end of Homecoming – Spider-Man should definitely stay in high school.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in 1962, they were aware that they were creating a revolutionary character. Prior to Spider-Man, youthful characters in superhero comics were kid sidekicks to adult superheroes, with Robin the Boy Wonder as the prototype for the trope. Lee and Ditko’s innovation was to make a teenager the superhero, with the powers of an adult hero, but plagued with all of the problems and social anxieties of a teenager. Spider-Man was an instant sensation with fans and continues to be immensely popular because he is someone we can readily identify with. None of us are billionaire vigilantes, flying men from Krypton, or immortal Amazon princesses, but we all can relate to Spider-Man’s growing pains.
Whether it’s through the movies, cartoons, or the thousands of Marvel comic books about him, most people become Spider-Man fans when they are still young. Indeed, Spider-Man carries a special resonance for young people. His values, summed up by his core beliefs gifted to him by his late Uncle Ben – “with great power comes great responsibility” – have inspired fans for generations. However, there’s always been something extra powerful about Spider-Man’s exploits and the problems he faces as a teenager. Peter Parker, an outcast ridiculed by the “popular” kids who wrestles with the same insecurities and fears every teenager struggles with on top of being a superhero, is undeniably appealing and easy to feel empathetic towards.
There is an argument to be made that Spider-Man, who has been continuously published by Marvel Comics since 1962, only spent the first few years of his adventures in high school, and the bulk of Spider-Man comics are about him as adult. Peter Parker has gone on to graduate college and has long since settled into the “man” part of being Spider-Man. Most comics fans are more familiar with Spidey as an adult than with his high school adventures, though much of Homecoming was inspired by the popular Ultimate Spider-Man run by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, set during Peter’s teen years in the Ultimate Universe.
It’s not hard to understand the desire to see movies about Spider-Man as an adult, which is relatively uncharted movie territory. The Sam Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire only took Peter as far as his early twenties. Maguire’s Peter was still in college, but had a job at the Daily Bugle, and at one point wanted to propose to his one true love Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). The comics from recent decades have famously seen Peter and MJ get married, and have included epic sagas involving Spidey being cloned and mentoring other heroes including a younger Spider-Man in Miles Morales. Peter has recently evolved into a billionaire tech mogul as the head of Parker Industries. Movies based on these stories of a fully mature Spider-Man are a long way off.
There’s a Marvel youth movement happening across film and TV, with more and more projects centering around younger Marvel characters. Freeform is soon to launch two series aimed at YA audiences: Cloak and Dagger, a romance centering on two teenagers from different backgrounds who discover superpowers and a mysterious bond with each other, and New Warriors, a comedy about six young people with superpowers trying to be a team. FOX’s X-Men franchise is currently in production on New Mutants, about teenage students in Charles Xavier’s school. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed an injection of youth of its own. There is simply no better choice than Spider-Man to bring much needed youthful exuberance to the MCU, which is now almost a decade old.
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