The Uncle Ben-lessness of ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Is Totally Okay
Note: This whole post started out as a Twitter thread that got way out of hand, hence its somewhat stream-of-consciousness nature. It was largely inspired by one particular criticism I’ve seen pop up quite a bit, most notably through this excellent video:
I mostly disagree with this @HiTopFilms YouTube video, but it’s very well made and articulated — kudos, Alex, for helping me understand why some might not be the hugest fans of what I consider to be one of the two best Spider-Man movies ever. It also made me realize something…
I think those who grew up with the Raimi movies apply much more of a weight to Uncle Ben’s role in Peter’s heroic motivations than those whose main exposure came through 1980s/1990s cartoons. Back then and at that age, the Superman conceit of “he’s a superhero because he has powers and he wants to use them to catch bad guys” was pretty much all we needed.
So maybe that’s why Far From Home’s “lack of Uncle Ben” criticism doesn’t resonate much with me. I get it — but as someone whose fandom was rooted in older cartoons and games, only reading the occasional Spidey comic, I really don’t think I appreciated the weight of Ben’s death until maybe even as late as Raimi’s first movie in 2002.
Seriously, try to find an episode of The Electric Company, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or the Fox Kids 1994 series that drills home the Ben influence. There isn’t much at all — and what little existed was easily missed in a day when you watched things when they came on or you just straight-up missed out if you didn’t set your VCR.
The ’94 series has two Uncle Ben references I can find — a total of maybe 10 seconds of screen time for Ben, all in the first of these two clips…and nothing more than the photograph you see above.
[UPDATE: As the wonderful Josh of Panels to Pixels reminds me, Ben did show up meaningfully in the very late episodes — which were always on at weird times, as I recall, and I’m pretty sure I never saw anyway. Still, it was very tacked on any way you look at it.]
On the other hand, all five pre-MCU Spidey movies include at least some degree of mentioning Ben and how much he’s missed or how inspirational he was. Even the late 2000s’ The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon made a big deal of him (below) — which was very well done, as it told Spidey’s origin in the context of getting rid of the black suit.
If you’re a 2000s/’10s kid — or even if that’s the era when you really started to pay attention to the character — how would it not feel weird to have no direct mention of Ben in the MCU? Makes total sense.
But again — I’m old.
Somewhere along the way — probably through an offhand mention in a Wizard magazine article or 10 — I definitely learned about Uncle Ben’s existence and maybe even his influence a bit…but never with any drama attached. Whether it’s a comic book story, a movie or animation, nothing can bring that idea home better than seeing it actually happen. And other than reprints, you just didn’t have access to reading Amazing Fantasy #15 in those days.
Even if I had read more Spidey comics (I was more of a Batman/X-Men guy, and the Clone Saga was in its stride when I really got into the hobby…so can you blame me? 😊), I don’t think I would have seen Ben’s influence in Spidey books very often, outside of the basis for the Scarlet Spider’s alter ego.
According to Comic Vine’s database of character appearances, Ben’s face only appears in The Amazing Spider-Man in 28 out of 700+ issues. I skimmed a few of the ones designated, and very few offered anything more than a passing mention.
Near as I can tell (please let me know if you have any examples to the contrary), Stan Lee himself only ever reminded us of Ben in the landmark issue 50 — where, granted, it does play a pretty vital role. But then we don’t see Ben again for five more years.
Most of the time in old comics, in fact (notable exception: the “clip show” issue 181), if “Peter guilt” was associated with Uncle Ben’s death, it was always equal to — and more often overshadowed by —his other more recent failures…especially the death of Gwen Stacy.
Which I think brings me back to my overall point in defense of Far From Home’s Ben-lessness…
In the context of this film, Tony Stark’s death doesn’t “replace” Ben’s, as some assert. Rather, Tony’s death is more analogous to Gwen Stacy’s — a more immediate tragedy that the bigger audience experienced in a grander fashion and can immediately relate to. Looking at it that way, you could argue it’s even more comics accurate to focus on Tony rather than Ben in a movie at the time when this is set.
I went probably 20 years being a fan before I fully appreciated Ben’s influence — and yes, it’s obviously quite substantial. I have no intention of devaluing that at all.
But at the same time — in all that time, without realizing the added weight of Uncle Ben’s death on Peter Parker’s psyche — I still found the character to be one of the best and most interesting of all the superheroes out there. Ben’s influence set him on that path, sure…but really getting my head around that fact didn’t finally make Spider-Man awesome — it made a great thing even greater.
So if Uncle Ben not being there bugs you, I say this: just be patient. If we have to wait three or four MCU movies, I think we’ll be okay. I’m reasonably confident the name Ben will exit Tom Holland’s mouth in a movie someday, and it will mean something. We’ll get there, True Believers.
All that said, Alex’s point about turning the act of losing Ben’s old luggage into a joke — can’t argue with you there, sir. That’s messed up.