Yesterday you probably saw the trailer for Spider-Man: Far from Home, the latest from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trailer was met with excitement, as most superhero trailers are, but I’m frankly surprised more fans weren’t insulted by its mere existence. At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the last film to feature live-action Spider-Man, there is an emotional scene where he pleads for his life before he fades into dust in Iron Man’s arms. It is arguably the darkest scene in any Marvel film, and not a year later we see Peter Parker again, happily jumping from rooftop to rooftop as if Thanos’ plan for intergalactic genocide never happened.
Of course, no one who loves comics every really expects for their favorite hero to die forever, and yet the way we learn of Parker’s amusement treats any emotional investment as if it’s the punchline in a cheap joke. Spider-Man is a beloved figure for legions of fans, and part of the reason why is that he seems more mortal, more sensitive than his hulking superhero counterparts. The announcement of this film erodes that implied trust between fans and creators.
In the last live-action Spider-Man film, Homecoming, we saw a lot of the vulnerability and personality that draws people to him. Ably played by Tom Holland, this is a Spider-Man who is too eager and naive, but knows in his heart that he is capable of greatness. Anyone – or should I say everyone – can relate to the frustration he feels in Homecoming. Still, what makes people initially gravitate to the character is his agility, and how he is able to use urban environments to his advantage. The Tobey Maguire mined a lot from New York’s skyline – the original, ultimately scrubbed ad for 2002’s Spider-Man saw a helicopter caught in a web between the Twin Towers – but Homecoming uses DC as its major setpiece.
Parker is still a high school student in Homecoming, and he goes on a class trip to DC. His classmates visit the Washington Monument, and they get stuck in the elevator thanks to an evil plan. Parker races up the building, saving his classmates at the last possible minute, but police helicopters interrupt him along the way. In a way, this is the least DC scene of any movie that features the city. It focuses on the most iconic structure in the city without much else (at least The Winter Soldier includes some clever, smaller-scale DC scenes). Still, by taking DC’s cityscapes and reducing them to their most basic, Homecoming does something that few films set in DC actually accomplish: it makes the case that Washington, DC is a world-class city.
No city is worth its salt unless it’s been used in a broadly appealing superhero film, sort of like what Superman 2 did for Paris, or what The Avengers did for New York. Far From Home will soon do that for Venice and London, with the unfortunate wrinkle that that Peter Parker is now more “super” than “hero.”