Some things just can’t be stopped. There’s just too much money, too much corporate power to thwart the carefully laid plans; regardless of war or plague or pestilence, some things are inevitable. And so, coronavirus be damned – we’re getting a new Spiderman movie. The filming’s been completed, despite the ongoing end of civilization, and the preview trailer was finally released last week, to the predictable oohs and ahhs of the internet.
Well, not entirely predictable. At least not to me.
You see, the upcoming Spiderman movie (Spiderman: No Way Home, if you want to get technical) is the movie where they’ll be employing some multiverse shenanigans to join all of the previous Sony Spiderman movies, covering three separate continuities, into a single movie. (I have Some Thoughts about how much we’re coming to rely on notions of a “multiverse” as a go-to form of pop escapism, but we’ll save those for another post for now.) We’ve known this for a while now, as contracts have been negotiated and tidbits have been leaked. The trailer teased this with a few fleeting glimpses of what might have been villains from previous movies (you have to read a lot into shots of electrical bolts and swirling sand, but internet nerds have significant practice with that). It gave us a pumpkin bomb from Sam Raimi’s original 2002 Spiderman, along with a familiar cackle from Willem Dafoe. And then, the big finale – the reveal of Alfred Molina, returning as arguably the best realized of comic-book villains, Doctor Octopus. Internet audience goes wild, title card comes up, everybody’s excited to see the film. As you’d expect.
What I didn’t expect – what’s taken the wind out of me all this past week – is the number of people who are excited because those Raimi Spiderman movies are beloved cultural artifacts from their childhood. The sight of Alfred Molina sporting those tentacles is something that terrified and mesmerized them when they were children. In 2004. The online conversation about this upcoming film is being driven by people who were in grade school seventeen years ago.
By contrast, I was in my 30s and thought it was a fun popcorn flick. The children who might have been in the theater with me at the time, seeing it with their moms and dads, are now the adult moviegoers driving the online discussion of today’s cinema.
So yeah, that’s a little disconcerting. Especially since the math checks out – nineteen years have passed since that first Sam Raimi movie. Almost exactly two decades. That’s a whole generation right there. Of course those children have grown up. And of course I’m that many years older. That’s how math works.
But even so, there’s something else going on here. In my own lifetime, the closest equivalent would have been the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999. I was a child when the original Star Wars came out (sorry, but I’m old and cranky and refuse to call it A New Hope); I was just entering puberty when Leia wore that chainmail bikini in Return of the Jedi. Sixteen years had passed since that film; it was indeed remarkable that we were, after so many years of rumors, getting a new Star Wars movie (ah, those halcyon days before we’d actually seen the prequels). But it didn’t feel like my childhood was being restored to me. Star Wars had been there the whole time. It was cool, it defined my generation in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t some lost Proustian madeleine.
Then again, those sixteen years, while eventful, hadn’t been a neverending parade of war, fear, disease, and misery. Today’s twenty-somethings, the ones squealing over a line reading of “hello Peter,” unfortunately can’t say the same.
That’s bound to change you experience things, I suppose.
In any event, the world of the early aughts – my most productive period as an actor, and in many ways the world I think we’re still living in – is now a historical period. (Seriously, ever seen Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird? It’s set in 2002-2003, explicitly treats it as a period piece, and it works, to my chagrin.) So be it. I’ll still be sure to see the new Spiderman movie. Hell, I’ll probably even talk about it on chat rooms and mention it on Friendster.