Spider Sense on Screen
There is a monumental amount of love being thrown at Spiderman Homecoming and with good reason. Not since Spiderman 2 has the web slinger stood so tall in praise. The hero is right, the world is interesting and the villain is oodles of fun and menacing. But that doesn't make for sexy reading and so there have been a whole whack of articles coming across my desk questioning and decrying Homecoming for how it has "mishandled" Peter's 'Spider Sense'. On one hand I do understand where this criticism is coming from. The Spider Sense hasn't just been a core power for Spiderman, it's been the source for whole story lines in the character's development, and interesting ones at that. For a time when Peter lost the ability he was forced to train to develop an actual fighting style rather than just relying on his Spider Sense as a crutch. How to take a hit properly. Even having to pay attention to where he was attaching lines to swing through the city. There is a lot that can be explored thanks to this power and we've seen it before.
Every animated series featuring the web head has always explicitly mentioned this power. References to the Spider Sense are as numerous as demands for pictures of Spiderman. Many times the power has been use to narrative effect, most notably (to me) in the 90's animated series where Norman Osbornlearns of his identity. It was a lot of fun watching Peter deal with his Spider Sense being triggered over a casual dinner. There are other examples of course but the point is the animated universe has reliably always contained the Spider Sense power in very overt ways.
Well what about on film?
In Tobey Maguire's tenure as the wall crawler the only thing we saw of his Spider Sense was a scene at his high school where he feels Flash Thompson's punch and moves before he can be sucker punched. We saw the hairs on his neck raise while the camera zoomed in on several moving objects around him before centering on Flash's fist. At several junctures throughout the movies we saw him either react early to incoming threats or place himself in position to avoid being hit during fights. While not explicitly named as a Spider Sense we did see it in action.
When Andrew Garfield had radioactive blood we had even less attention paid to this ability. Amazing Spiderman saw him hyper focusing on things in his bedroom as his mutation began in earnest and his senses heightened. You can easily chalk up most of his fighting style and acrobatics to these heightened senses.
Now we get to Tom Holland. Quite a few articles have talked about either the seeming lack of his Spider Sense or his over-reliance on his suit systems. Frankly, I disagree. We see in Homecoming that he uses the suit systems to make up for some of his lack of experience but by no means does it do his job for him. If anything it's a limitation as he's consistently wrong footed by it and only grows to start using his drone and recon modes just before losing the suit. Additionally we saw in his fight against Bucky and Falcon as well as the various thugs around New York that he reacts with accuracy to things he either can't see directly or shouldn't have the time to react to. furthermore I would put forward two points. Firstly, what the scientific basis for a Spider Sense is. Secondly, that Tom Holland's take is in line with what has come before.
Anyone who has ever tried to swat a house fly knows all about their nasty habit of taking off just ahead of your blow. This is because many haired insect species are able to pick up air vibrations and use them to sense incoming danger. That's it. That is the entire basis for the Spider Sense. It's literally the little hairs on some spider species picking up vibrations in the air by larger creatures so they don't get crushed. On that note it's similar to how the smaller hairs on our bodies work. We've all reacted to something out of sight that moves just a bit too close. Hell you can see this reaction yourself by bringing your fingers near the bridge of the nose of the person next to you.
Now let's pivot to Peter talking to Tony Stark in Civil War. He mentions how since his transformation he's been experiencing sensory overload. His original suit's goggles actually limit his vision so things are more manageable for him. This seems to be in line with what we saw with both Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Their reaction to the world around them as their senses are heightened. Tom Holland's Parker is taking in a broader range of sensory information and using that to navigate his world and I would say this holds true for the other film iterations of the character we have seen over the years. That they don't have a magical danger sense but instead are afforded better opportunities to avoid and react to danger due to heightened senses and reflexes. We've seen all three Spidermen be sucker punched or take hits when an incoming attack just didn't leave them time or space to avoid it. What's more, reports on the Infinity War trailer further indicate this with a shot of Peter's hairs standing on end at the approach of Thanos or some other threat.
Going forward we will see what direction Marvel decides to take Spiderman but rest assured, he's coming with his full load of abilities and foibles.