Spider-Man has famously taught us that with great power comes great responsibility. But apparently there are a few other, less talked-about things that come with great power. Like, for example, a willingness to fall 80 feet and break one’s neck.
On a chilly May evening in Harlem, a mystery man in a skintight red-and-blue spandex suit nervously paces in the dark shadows of a towering overpass. He’s deep in his own world, alone. An elaborate system of rigs and wires is suspended from the underbelly of a trestle eight stories high. Soon he’ll be up there. And with the help of some million-dollar movie magic, he’ll discover for the first time what it’s like to slingshot through the night sky on sugar-spun webs of thread. Before he does, though, there’s a more mundane concern: Spider-Man has an itch. So the masked man reaches up and peels back his bug-eyed hoodie, revealing…the guy from The Social Network.
It’s been four not-so-long years since Spidey and his science-whiz alter ego, Peter Parker, last defied gravity on screen. But since then, almost everything about the Marvel superhero has been scrapped and built back up from the studs. When we left off, actor Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi were shattering box office records with the same radioactive powers they used to trounce Doc Ock and the Green Goblin. But back then, even the most die-hard diehard had to admit that when the end credits rolled in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, the signs of franchise fatigue were abundantly clear. That third chapter had too many villains, about three times too many story lines, and a silly black suit of goo that seemed to be a metaphor for how weighed down in broody, dark-side funkiness the series had become. Commercially, Spider-Man was still swinging; creatively, it seemed on empty.