Spider-Man and Superman are arguably the most the iconic and popular superheroes of all-time, transcending multiple generations.
Usually this is a good thing, but lately it’s shown that they both have the same problem: prior expectations.
Because these characters are so iconic and well-known, a lot of people have grown up with a version or idea of them that they hold dear, and they don’t respond well when that idea changes in favor of something different for the character. We’ve seen this in spades with Superman since Man of Steel was released in 2013. Everything from his look, his behavior, his impact on the people of Earth in the DC Extended Universe, right down to his actions in “smashing Metropolis” while fighting Zod, fighting Batman and dying an “unearned” death, has been scrutinized and harped on by so many in the last six years. Truly maddening.
Now we are seeing it with Spider-Man, specifically from the proliferation of his Marvel Cinematic Universe version, played by Tom Holland. The new trailer for his next installment, Spider-Man: Far From Home has now premiered online, and aside from people asking how he’s still alive after being snapped to death by Thanos in Infinity War(the trailer makes no mention or connections to the movie at all, so we really don’t know when it takes place yet), a lot of webhead fans and specifically purists are grinding their gears again over the details of this version of Spider-Man, who still has a younger Aunt May in Marisa Tomei that may or may not have a thing for Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan now, an MJ that isn’t named Mary Jane or is a redhead, played again by Zendaya, a seemingly non-existent Spidey-Sense since people like Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury are still sneaking up on him, and now it seems that said former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is running point for Peter Parker as mentor, instead of Tony Stark who did it in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The MCU Spider-Man is not “classic” Spider-Man, that is clear. The difference here is that while a very loud group of people denounced Henry Cavill’s version of Superman as portrayed in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it seems to be a vocal minority that are voicing displeasure with Holland’s Spider-Man, which indicates the new version of the webhead is seemingly more accepted than a differing version of Superman, even though both characters pay respect to their comic roots and prior versions in different ways.
So why the difference in treatment even though both are having the same “problem?” The lazy and snarky answer is that Spider-Man in the MCU has better movies than Superman in the DCEU. Wholly subjective and subject to interpretation, but it doesn’t explain the widespread difference in the responses from so many people, especially since Superman and Spider-Man really don’t have much in common regarding power sets or abilities.
The real answer likely lies in timing of these new versions. For the people that can’t let go of Richard Donner’s Superman, played by Christopher Reeve beginning in 1978, that’s the image of Superman on the big screen that they grew up with and held on to and passed down to their children for decades. Cavill’s version, the brainchild of Zack Snyder, was a shock to the system for them and they have proven time and time again that they simply can’t get over it.
That’s not the case with Spider-Man because by the time he had a single movie, the crowd that grew up with Donner’s Superman were already adults, myself included. I was 19 and a year into college when Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie released in 2002. That’s only 17 years ago, which is a small period compared to 41 years ago when Superman the Movie premiered. Not only that, but in that 17 years, we’ve now had three different versions of the character played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and now Holland. That’s a lot of reboots in a short period of time for just one character. This means that since you really don’t have a generation or two that latched onto and passed down the earlier versions, it’s easier for people to embrace change with a new one, especially when that new one is part of a larger shared universe of characters that they all want to interact with Spider-Man, which sets Holland’s version apart fundamentally from Maguire or Garfield’s.
You could argue that if both characters switched production timelines, Cavill’s Superman would be more accepted today than Holland’s Spider-Man is, but the character differences and overall perceptions of what they do would surely kick into the discussion. I really don’t know how often Spider-Man has been considered a boy scout and Superman is certainly from Kansas, not New York. There are fundamental differences that always keep these characters in a slightly different conversation without question, but it’s interesting to see how they both have the same issue with several fans with regard to their most recent interpretations, just with very different groups of people.