In terms of pop culture, we live in the age of superheroes; they control the conversations surrounding nearly any and all forms of media, whether we find them in video games, television shows, or the newest medium for them, film. Superhero films have existed for decades, but no films have made quite the same impact on the genre as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Without Raimi’s trilogy, which ended in 2007, there would likely be no Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor films that today’s audiences love so dearly. Spider-Man has controlled the superhero conversation for nearly 20 years, with new iterations and actors captivating audiences. Currently, Spider-Man holds our attention as we await what will happen with the new Tom Holland-led films, which have now switched distributors and have exited this thing we call the Marvel Cinematic Universe, containing all 23 and counting movies made from Marvel properties.
When comparing the films of Raimi and director of current Spider-Man movies, John Watts, the biggest difference between these sets of films is not the actors playing the titular hero themselves, but rather the character that they play.
Holland and Tobey Maguire both play Peter Parker, but there lies a large disparity between them: wealth.
Maguire’s Peter Parker spends most of his free time working odd jobs around New York City. He delivers pizzas, works as a freelance photographer, even attempts to get paid for winning in an underground wrestling match. Peter is desperate to pay for college and support his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), which becomes harder and harder as she ages and faces illness and eviction. Peter is incredibly intelligent and kind, but the world is consistently cruel to him.
Peter’s greatest villains in the Raimi trilogy are those that use money or power for evil. Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) as the Green Goblin uses the resources of his multimillion-dollar company to develop weapons and assassinate his opposers, who realize he’s gone mad with power. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) becomes Doctor Octopus, using his intelligence and technology for evil. Ironically the villain who seems almost human is the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), who is struggling to support his family and is forced to turn to a life of crime.
The complete opposite is the case for Holland’s Peter Parker. Peter is not faced with the burden of the working class, and any possibility of this being the case for him was thrown out the window by the MCU. The comic book figure of Uncle Ben, the motivator for Peter to use his powers for good, is replaced with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a man worth billions who has an endless supply of resources at his disposal. Gaining an internship at Stark Industries gives Peter everything he needs to become Spider-Man; he is provided with the suits, the web-shooters, any weapons or technology he needs.
In my opinion, the most problematic aspect of the MCU is the way it worships the character of Tony Stark. His word, especially after (SPOILER ALERT) his death in Avengers: Endgame, is gospel, as his face is painted in every country that we see, despite the fact that many villains in the MCU are of his own creation. The world mourns him, even though we’ve seen that his company has hurt many working-class individuals. None of that really matters, as Peter never questions this about Tony, especially in Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). He spends more time crying over Tony than asking why so many people seek vengeance against him. In Spider-Man’s past, the owner of a multimillion-dollar company was one of his biggest threats, but today is his greatest ally.
We all know that billionaires only pose problems for our society. We know that about 100 companies are responsible for the majority of global emissions. We know who to blame for our climate crisis. Point to anyone who owns several housing/apartment complexes, private jets, islands, and more. This class is largely responsible for greater climate change, the housing crisis, and displacing indigenous people from their lands.
It’s chilling to look at the difference between the main distributors of these films when comparing their villains. Disney, a billion-dollar monopoly, frames working class and economically struggling people as the world’s greatest villains. They represent those that are forming together in groups (possibly seen as a worker’s union) as our hero's greatest threats. Meanwhile, the comparatively small Sony features show impossibly wealthy people using their money and power for evil, often trying to harm the everyday people of New York City. So when we look at the underlying messages, why did so many view Sony as the bad guy in the Spider-Man deal with Disney that fell through? Why did Spiderman lose his humbling life story? What is it about this film that hates the working class?