As a long-time reader of Spider-Man comics what sticks in my mind about Peter Parker’s adventures aren’t the villain battles or the crossovers or the epic storylines. It’s the soap opera. It’s the relationship between Peter and his Aunt May, the relationship between Peter and his high school group, the relationship between Peter and the world at large. That old Parker luck, always bad. Characters like Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Betty Brant, Ned Leeds, Jean DeWolff are all a big part of who Spider-Man is to me, and those characters have either never appeared in a movie or have been shunted aside. How is it that after five Spider-Man films we’ve never had a great Flash Thompson storyline?
I hope Kevin Feige agrees with me. I think he does. Talking to him this weekend at the Ant-Man junket I asked about this aspect of the Spidey story and whether we might see more of the soap opera side of Peter Parker’s life in the next film. Feige dropped an atom bomb of a reference in his reply: John Hughes.
“It’s the soap opera in high school, and those supporting characters, that are interesting,” said Feige. “Just as we hadn’t seen a heist movie in a long time, or a shrinking movie in a long time, we haven’t seen a John Hughes movie in a long time. Not that we can make a John Hughes movie - only John Hughes could - but we’re inspired by him, and merging that with the superhero genre in a way we haven’t done before excites us.”
For Feige that aspect - the soap opera, the supporting characters - means that the stakes in a Spider-Man film are not only about the machinations of the villain.
“What’s fun about a Spider-Man movie for us - I think you pointed this out, that Inside Out had the biggest stakes of any movie this summer,” Feige said, referring to this editorial. “Stakes don’t need to be end of the world. Oftentimes, in our films, it is, and in our future films Thanos doesn’t work small. But sometimes the stakes can just be ‘Will this little girl grow up to be healthy and well put-together, or are there too many issues for her to overcome?’ That’s HUGE! That overrides a threat to reality itself. And I think Spider-Man straddles that line in a fun way in his comics. What we wanted was a movie where the stakes could be as high as ‘This bad person is going to do this bad thing, and a lot of people could die’ OR ‘You don’t get home in time and your aunt is going to figure this out, and your whole life is going to change.’
“Particularly at that age, in high school, everything feels like life or death. The tests feel like life or death. Coming home from being out with your friends seemed like life or death. The stakes are high at that age, for the same reason you talk about in Inside Out.”
I think Marvel is savvy enough to understand that part of what will make this version of Spider-Man stand out will be the supporting characters, characters who can take on a life of their own on Tumblr and in the imaginations of fans. Hopefully Marvel also understands that these supporting characters offer a great opportunity to cast in a colorblind way. Peter’s friends need to be multi-cultural.
But enough about the soap opera - we all know what’s going to sell a Spider-Man movie, and that’s the bad guy and the action. We’ve had five Spidey movies with eight villains, including three iterations of the Green Goblin/Hobgoblin. Is the next Spider-Man movie going to be bringing back familiar villains?
Feige says that Spidey has a deep bench of rogues. “That’s the advantage,” he told me. “Right now we’re interested in seeing villains we haven’t seen before.”
So no Green Goblin this time around (although don’t be shocked if Harry and Norman Osborn show up). Could it finally be The Vulture’s time to shine? Or will there be a Kraven the Hunter or a Mysterio or a Molten Man in our cinematic future? I’d love to see Spider-Slayers, or maybe the Chameleon teaming up with a villain who offers more of a physical threat.
Speaking of team ups, as I was leaving the interview I asked Feige a question that I think has been on many of our minds since the Sony/Marvel deal went down: could we see Spidey show up on one of the Netflix shows, as he has one foot in that street-level aesthetic?
“My general answer to that is never say never,” Feige said. “But our current Sony deal is very specific - we’re producing the standalone film, with a certain amount of back and forth allowed.”
That’s the current Sony deal. And we’re definitely never saying never. I'd be actually shocked if it didn't happen.