A conversation I had with Lightninglouie on his post about Slate's Amazing Spider-Man 2 review got me thinking a little more about an aspect of the Spider-Man mythos that the movie changes- and how this reinventing of Peter Parker is making him less of an interesting character. Mild TASM2 Spoilers below the cut!
One of the many (many) plot threads in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about solving the 'mystery' of what happened to Richard and Mary Parker, Peter's parents. The film opens with their death, a plane crash instigated by an Oscorp agent - but not before Richard manages to send some files to a mysterious location called 'Roosevelt'. It turns out later in the film, after Peter discovers it, Roosevelt is a secret abandoned Subway station Richard was storing some of his work on Spider DNA away from Oscorp in, fearful that it would eventually be used for wrongdoing. Having left a message for people who find his lab, Richard also reveals that his work on creating Human-Spider crossbreeds for Norman Osborn was done using his own blood - so that the healing properties and other benefits from the Spider's venom would only work on either himself, or his only son. With his father dead, Peter Parker is the only person who can become Spider-Man. Becoming a superhuman being is his father's legacy, his fate - and that, to me, cheapens the very heart of what Spider-Man is as a superhero.
In the wake of the original movie's decision to cut scenes about Peter's parents and their involvement in his becoming a superhero, Charlie Jane wonderfully argued for why it should have always been cut - what has always appealed to me about Spider-Man, and what makes him one of my favourite superheroes, is the fact that he's an everyman, a social outsider, nerdy and sarcastic. He's not the playboy millionaire, he's not the boy scout turned Super Soldier, he's not a god. He's just a teenager: an ordinary, relatable young person randomly thrust into the extraordinary. By making Peter's father and his work directly responsible for Spider-Man coming about, by making it an act of destiny rather than a random event, Peter loses something special.
What makes Spider-Man so initially interesting to an audience is that he is an ordinary person, granted the gift of superpowers, but that doesn't suddenly change him or make his life as Peter Parker any different or less relevant. It's the details of how that random event impacts upon his private life and the people around him that make Spider-Man quite rare - he's a hero that you see a lot of personal stories for because of it, because of the importance of that network of relationships he has both as Peter Parker as well as Spider-Man. By having the movies predetermining his fate to be Spider-Man, to essentially be a tool for his Father and to take down Oscorp, it becomes less about Peter as a person and as a Hero, and more about what his Parents did to him (which is also pretty messed up, what with Richard turning his only child into a superhuman weapon against Norman Osborn). Spidey is one of the all-time classic heroes of comics not because of the actual event of becoming Spider-Man, but because of how he uses those powers and the much-quoted great responsibilities that come with them after the fact. The Amazing Spider-Man movies are putting too much focus on the origin event, and not enough on how Peter himself deals with the aftermath of it.
And over-determining Peter's fate as Spider-Man is emblematic of the movie's other big mistake - it's all about Sony's dream of 'pulling a Marvel' and making the Spider-Man universe as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By trying to shove in both Harry Osborn becoming Green Goblin and build up for The Sinister Six, on top of changing the fundamentals of how Peter became Spider-Man, Sony are discarding a lot of what makes the character such a likeable and interesting one in the first place, and are making their movies messier and worse for it. Spider-Man's universe is a relatively insular one in terms of the comics - he'll occasionally cross-over with the likes of the Avengers or the Fantastic Four and what have you, but largely his adventures deal with a much smaller scope. You can tell personal stories about Spider-Man, how his villains impact upon not just Spider-Man but as Peter Parker and Aunt May and Mary-Jane and all the other people around Peter. This intimacy is a fundamental aspect of the character and has been so since his original début - and it's an intimacy we're starting to lose in these new movies, in the desperation to chase the Marvel success story and expand this universe wider and wider until we can get Spider-Man movies that aren't even about Spider-Man on a yearly basis. I don't know about you, but I don't really want a Spider-Man movie franchise that becomes steadily less and less about Spider-Man.
As Charlie Jane said in her own piece 2 years ago, it was the right decision to cut Peter's parents from The Amazing Spider-Man. But in adding it back in for the sequel, Marc Webb and Sony are changing the fundamentals of who Peter Parker is - and in doing so, doing his character a great disservice.