If this article reads like it was written in a hurry, then I can only apologise, it’s just I’m quite desperate to step away from the keyboard and get back to web-slinging. The new Spider-Man game for PS4 has become my second life of late. I’ve never been one for immersing myself in the daily grind of Warcraft or losing myself in video game worlds, but Spider-Man is different: I want to spend every waking moment crawling walls, webbing perps and committing to becoming a better, stronger, all-round friendlier neighbourhood Spider-Man. I’d go as far as saying that the PS4 Spider-Man game is the purest, most fun Spider-Man experience I’ve ever enjoyed; and that includes the many, many movies.
Usually video games are considered the inbred distant cousin to Hollywood’s big-budget movies, but not in this instance: Spider-Man on PS4 is slick, sexy and very, very successful — it sold 3.3 million copies in its first three days, making it the fastest selling first-party PlayStation game in history. So, with more Spider-Man movies coming soon to cinemas — animated adventure Into The Spider-Verse hits before Christmas, Marvel/Sony sequel Far From Home arrives next summer — what can they learn from the Spider-Man video game? More importantly, how quickly can we wrap this up? I’ve got some place I need to be…
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
The first thing about the Spider-Man game that grabs you is how incredibly fluid it is. Moving Spidey around the city is an absolute joy, and it’s a total breeze; the game gives you just enough control over his actions to make you feel like you’re always in control, but it’s clever enough to link together jumps, swings and dives into one smooth movement. Essentially, all it requires of a user is to have decent timing in order to land the swings and jumps correctly, but to an onlooker, it makes you appear incredibly dexterous and highly skilled. It’s all so effortless, looking suitably comic-booky as well as being super cinematic.
Conversely, web-slinging in the Spider-Man movies has always felt functional rather than fun. All recent iterations of Spidey have had scenes of Peter Parker traversing New York city, but crucially, too few of them feel like they’re taking you along for the ride, choosing fixed camera positions to shoot Spidey as he whizzes by. This is because complex shots like these tend to be very FX-heavy, thus very expensive; far better to cut to a bystander pointing and going ‘Wow!’
If you remember those innocent months before the world was introduced to The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, the first trailer had a brilliant point-of-view web-slinging sequence — shot in Spider-Vision — that saw the webbed wonder sling himself between tower blocks and skyscrapers with ease, crawling this way and that, upside down and over and out. That trailer is the closest the movies have come to capturing Spider-Man’s essence: his balletic grace in movement. Predictably, the sequence wasn’t even in the final cut of the movie.
Spider-Man’s Friends and Enemies
Another thing the Spider-Man video game does well is play fast and loose with the characters and their origins. Peter Parker, for example, is no longer a High School kid, but an adult scientist, working with Dr. Otto Octavius, his lab partner. Mary-Jane Watson is a seasoned reporter. J. Jonah Jameson does not bellow orders at employees of the Daily Bugle but instead runs his own Infowars-style podcast, complete with man-baby rage and fact-avoidance. It’s the world of Spider-Man, just slightly evolved. Play for long enough, and you’ll see familiar faces, heroes and villains alike; essentially, the game does not stray too far from the tried-and-tested formula of previous Spider-Man projects.
For example, to begin with Peter’s relationship with Dr. Octavius is grounded in real friendship and respect; even after 10-12 hours of play, you wonder if you’ll meet Doctor Octopus at all. (Spoiler alert: you do).
This is an aspect that the movies would be wise to adopt — a relaxed and steady approach to evolving characters into heroes and villains. Too often, Spider-Man movies are tailored to traditional three-act structures, where villains are introduced in the first act only to play out their entire arc before the end of the third act: an entire character, and most likely several decades of comic-book history, dispensed with in one movie.
How refreshing would it be to see villains have multi-movie character arcs the same way the heroes do? How long can the movies keep up the pace of one villain — or more — per movie? Slowing down the acceleration of evil like the game does would seem to be a natural move for the Spider-Verse, lest it burns through its supply of bad guys too fast.
Spidey From the Block
The Spider-Man game features more than enough comic-book storylines featuring larger-than-life villains, prison breaks, and spectacular set-pieces. However, between the showstoppers, the gamer is frequently reminded that your neighbourhood needs attention: lower-level criminals do not stop committing crimes just because there’s some guy in a Rhino costume running amok downtown. So, you set on your way, duffing up bank robbers, stopping kidnappings, saving citizens from muggers and generally washing the scum off the streets. Usually in video games, the grunt work feels like a necessity, but in this case, fighting street-level crime is incredibly gratifying; more so than following the main storylines.
The movies are always careful to show that Spider-Man’s relationship with New York, and the New Yorkers that live in it, is symbiotic: Spider-Man in another other city just wouldn’t be the same. However, the movies are also always in a hurry to move Spidey onto bigger and better foes. The current Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man, for example, was drafted into the Avengers before he even had his own movie. Sure, by the end of Homecoming he turned down membership of the #1 superhero boyband to focus on being a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, but the next time we saw him, he was clinging to the side of a spaceship and hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
No one — and we mean no one — needs another Spider-Man origin story, but it’s important for the character that he retains a sense of duty to his city. Would having Spidey do good on a local level really work on film, given the new, global threat of Thanos and his bling? Perhaps not, but it’d be useful to have a few reminders that Spider-Man should never stray too far from home.
School’s Out For Spider-Man
The Spider-Man game throws the player straight into the action, introducing you to a grown-up Peter Parker, and it’s all the better for dispensing with High School drama and growing pains. Arguably, the entire genesis of the Spider-Man character is one big metaphor for adolescence, but at this point, there’s very little to be gained from balancing Spidey’s heroics with homework and teenage angst; we still shudder to think of Andrew Garfield’s emo Peter Parker skulking through the school halls, aged 28. It’s all a bit “How do you do, fellow kids?”
What the game excels at, in addition to being non-stop fun, is making Parker feel mature; making Spider-Man feel more well-rounded in the process. He’s a scientist, in a complex adult relationship with MJ, with strong family bonds and a robust sense of self. Yes, the wise-cracks are still there, but an adult Parker is better positioned to embody both the great power and the great responsibility that Uncle Ben spoke of.
Into The Spider-Verse is a more fragmented look at the Spider-Verse — in fact, it includes an adult Peter Parker in one of its many alternate universes — but Spider-Man: Far From Home will likely still feature Peter Parker and friends tackling high school dilemmas. We’re looking forward to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man becoming a mature young man and leaving the world of High School behind, although given his eternally youthful baby-face, it looks like we might be waiting a while. And, as we’ve established, I can wait no longer; I’ve got webs to sling…