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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Donald Glover to join Spider-Man: Homecoming

Edited by Robert Beach

Ever since the first casting announcements, there’s been a swirl of controversy around Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. In many ways, the critiques levied against the joint Sony/Marvel film have been a long time coming. Superhero films, overall, have been greatly lacking diversity since Blade stopped being a worthwhile name, and the Spider-Man franchise, in particular, has always lacked for any representation. 
Even the Marvel films, which are dominated by straight white men, made some space for characters of color in the supporting cast, but there hasn’t been one major character of color in all 5 of the Spider-Man movies. The point was further compounded by the continuing popularity of Miles Morales, the black/latino Spider-Man of Marvel’s Ultimate Comics, who recently became part of the main universe. 
Add in the brewing anger over whitewashing in Doctor Strange or the Iron Fist casting, and it’s not surprising people were pretty upset with Tom Holland taking the spot as Peter Parker. However, all of that is poised to change as now Marvel has announced Donald Glover, a massive fan and animated voice of Miles Morales Spider-Man, is joining Spider-Man: Homecoming. 

Glover’s addition to the cast is a very clever, if not terribly unexpected, move from Marvel. Say what you will about Marvel Studios. Something they’ve gotten very good at is turning fan interest into actual decisions and engagement. That’s part of why so many people were disappointed by Marvel’s casting of Iron Fist because previously Marvel had actually listened to vocal fans over things like Vin Diesel’s casting as Groot.  

Given their previous track record, the groundswell of fan demand for Miles Morales, Glover’s continually stated desire to be in the role, and recent major audience interest in Black Panther as a solo black hero, Glover showing up in Spider-Man: Homecoming makes a lot of sense. However, I don’t think he’s been cast in the Miles Morales role as many are probably hopeful.

I get why people might think Glover is being set-up for that part, and it’s not just as a form of acquiescing to fan outcry for greater diversity. Marvel’s stance on diversity has always been predicated on giving everyone in their movies a black friend. The thinking seems to be as long as the white hero is placed next to a black guy of lesser importance that’s the same as representation. That’s a pretty obnoxious point of view. It’s hard to argue that folks like Heimdall or Warmachine have really added that much to the Marvel universe. 

Conversely, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a stand-out character who has found real life in the margins of his films. And Nick Fury remains a fun and interesting presence, so it’s not like some good can’t come from this set-up. Given that and the growing ranks of Marvel and Dan Slott’s “Spider-Verse” made up of multiple spider-powered characters such as Spider Woman, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man 2099, and Silk, positioning Miles Morales as Peter Parker’s black friend would be a smart move. 

However, and this is a big "however," the entire point of Spider-Man: Homecoming is to revert Peter Parker back to high school age and a high school situation to some degree. It’s basically the same gambit Amazing Spider-Man pulled as a way to try and distance these new films from the spectacular Sam Raimi movies.
Even if you didn’t like the Sam Raimi films, there’s no denying they were the gold standard of superheroes films and the baseline for the public perception of Spider-Man. With that emphasis and the age difference between Holland (20) and Glover (32), I doubt he would fit easily into the role of Peter’s buddy. 

It’d be interesting to see Glover in a villain role of some kind, especially with Sony/Marvel’s Sinister Six film is allegedly still in development. If that is the case, there really isn’t any particular Spider-Man bad guy that’s screaming out for Glover’s signature touch. Maybe someone like Doc Ock to, again, help split these new films from the Raimi ones. 

It’s possible Glover could be playing one of Spider-Man’s other allies like Prowler, Cardiac, or Red Rocket Racer but all of those roles seem decidedly second string for a film adaptation. They’re the type of characters Marvel would more likely reserve for a spot on their Netflix shows or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What seems most likely is that Glover will hold a supporting role tied to the life of Peter Parker rather than his career as Spider-Man.

If that were the case, the obvious choice would be some teacher role as a schoolteacher or a guidance counselor. This option still strikes me as pretty unlikely as there aren’t really any name teachers or administrators in Parker’s school life for Glover to fill the role of. Parker’s most famous teacher is still Curt Connors. After Curt became the Lizard in Amazing Spider-Man, it’s hard to imagine Marvel or Sony being too eager to head back to that particular well. 

Again, it’s possible Glover is playing some other accredited bad guy like Dr. Octopus or Michael Morbius. That would take a lot of mental gymnastics to fit those characters into Peter’s school life only to bring them back as bad guys later on. 

What strikes me as more likely is that Glover will be playing someone related to the Daily Bugle. One of the big mistakes the Amazing Spider-Man series made was trying to do a Spider-Man film without the Bugle, really dropping the ball on how important that institution is to the character of Spider-Man and his unique position as hero or menace.  Obviously, the tricky part of adding the Bugle back into the mix is finding someone to fill the role of J. Jonah Jameson as well as J.K. Simmons did. I actually think Glover could be a great way to wrong foot that comparison. 

There will never be a better adaptation of the classic comic J.J. than Simmons. If the new films could rework the Bugle into a new media outlet with Glover at the helm, that’d be a great way to diffuse any point of comparison. Conversely, if Marvel and Sony wanted a more classical newspaper approach to the Bugle, they could cast Glover as Ben Urich Jr. For those not in the know, Ben Urich is a major character at the Daily Bugle and long-time Spider-Man supporter.  The character was already introduced to the Marvel universe in Daredevil season 1 where he was (Editor's note: SPOILERS) killed by the Kingpin.  
(Editor's note: END OF SPOILERS) 
Glover could be a great nod to the Netflix shows while also filling a much-needed role in the Spider-Man mythos.  

There are a handful of other Peter Parker supporting characters that Glover might be cast as, though none of them really cry out for his talents. Folks like Captain Stacey or Flash Thompson could honestly be filled in by pretty much anyone and would seem like a serious waste of the goodwill Glover would buy Marvel with fans. 

There’s some speculation Glover will play Venom in some capacity, despite reports that Sony is looking to produce a solo Venom movie with no ties to Spider-Man. If that does happen, it strikes me as pretty damn tone deaf, casting Glover as the black-suit evil version of Tom Holland’s heroic good guy. While I could certainly believe that move by Sony, I’d like to think Marvel would know better even with their track record of whitewashing two of their most prominent Asian characters. 

Personally, I’d most want to see Glover playing either Alistair Smythe or Tyler Stone. Stay with me here, non-comic people, because things are about to get really obscure. If you watched the ‘90s Spider-Man animated series, you might remember Smythe as a weird bug looking dude who worked for the Kingpin. That’s only partially true to his character; his contribution was the inventor of the Spider Slayers, a brand of robots specifically designed to hunt and destroy Spider-Man. Conversely, Tyler Stone is an even more obscure bad guy, the original founder of Alchemax. 

Though Alchemax starts out as a relatively small tech competitor to OsCorp, it eventually grows and grows till, by the year 2099, Alchemax runs most of the world as a global tyrannical corporate overlord and the main antagonist of Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man 2099. Neither of these choices will probably happen as they are incredibly obscure bad guys who don’t fit into the universe building. 

Although, Michael Keaton’s casting as the Vulture seems to indicate they might be approaching a more corporate sci-fi design to their Spider-Man villains. If Spider-Man was caught in the midst of an arms race between various mega-corps, Stone or Smythe would be an easy role to fit into the mix. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming is scheduled for release on July 7, 2017.

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