There was an episode of "Friends" where Phoebe asks Chandler, the nerd, why it’s pronounced Spider-Man and not Spiderman. Taken aback, Chandler responds that it’s the character’s superhero title, not his last name.
“It’s not like … Phil Spiderman,” he says, confused that anyone wouldn’t know this.
To my young nerd heart, this was a dream come true: a comic book superhero was being talked about in mass culture! Flash forward 20 years, and the novelty would now be Spider-Man talking about "Friends." Indeed, Spider-Man faces the opposite problem nowadays, where rather than having to fight to get publicity, he may be suffering from overexposure.
This is the real villain vexing Spider-Man as he crawls onto our film screens for the sixth time on July 7. In a world where people are beyond cynical about sequels, reboots and re-imaginings, is there demand for a third iteration of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?
An irrefutable fact of Spider-Man’s film performance is that his first outing in 2002 was his most successful, and every subsequent film has made less money than the previous one. And while the critical reception has been mixed, the quality follows a similar downward slope. (I put the box office receipts as a percentage of the 2002 film because otherwise the scale is completely off.)
This first "Spider-Man" kicked off the modern superhero movie bonanza (some people will say X-Men did in 2000, but that just chummed the water). And "Spider-Man 2" is still held as the gold standard for a comic book fan’s comic book movie (The Hollywood Reporter ranks it No. 2 on its list of best Marvel movies).
With some reboots there’s the question “Can lightning strike twice?” With Spider-Man, the question is, “Can lightning strike a third time after missing the three previous times?”
The taste of Spider-Man we got in last year’s "Captain America: Civil War" indicates that it probably will, but we need to manage our expectations. We can be as confident in Marvel Studios' ability to put out a good product as we can be that Sony Pictures cannot. (Cough "Ghostbusters" cough.) Hopefully their collaboration on this is a success. There is certainly more than enough money riding on their arrangement.
Spider-Man is by far the most profitable superhero property on Earth — in 2014 it was revealed that he brings in $1.3 billion in licensed materials (shirts, backpacks, etc.) annually while the next closest is Batman at about $500 million. Very impressive for a superhero who hadn’t appeared in a decent movie since "Spider-Man 2" (hushed silence) came out 10 years earlier.
So the financial success of "Spider-Man: Homecoming" seems a foregone conclusion. The real question is: can "Homecoming" meet or exceed the quality of its long-gone predecessors?
"Homecoming" will enjoy the advantage of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and Michael Keaton as the Vulture, two inspired casting decisions that are a sad reminder of my advancing age. It will also prominently feature Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in the mentor role to young Peter Parker, which could either be awesome or overwhelm the rest of the film.
The single biggest liability facing this film isn’t what’s in it but what’s not in it, namely J.K. Simmons as gonzo newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. While not everyone loves the first Spider-Man trilogy, Simmons’ performance is hard to argue with:
Perhaps sensing that Simmons could be Marvel's secret weapon, the current Batman franchise hired him away as its Commissioner Gordon. There’s nothing to say he couldn’t do both, of course … unless Warner Brothers put a non-compete clause in his contract, which I doubt. (Simmons said he would “absolutely” love to return as JJJ.)
"Homecoming" does have one more trick up its web-shooter: a supporting role from Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, the director who started the entire Marvel Comic Universe with Iron Man. Favreau also, coincidentally, appeared in that Spider-Man episode of "Friends." If that’s not a good sign, I don’t know what is.
Jared Whitley is an award-winning writer who comments on the intersections of politics and culture. Reach him on Twitter @whitleypedia