“Aren’t we done yet?” asked one Spider-Man 3 reviewer in 2007. Like he was already waiting for this to be over. (In hindsight—and two more Spider-Man actors plus about 735 superhero films later—how adorable.)
Too many villains, a longer runtime, a soapy amnesia plot, and a goofy dance sequence contributed to Spidey fatigue. Cut to 15 years later, and the reaction to the conclusion of Sam Raimi’s trilogy has softened. And, it seems, Peter Parker is no longer the only hero ready to bust out some dance moves. Television is awash with twirling contenders prepared to snatch that crown—or mirrorball trophy.
Ms. Marvel, The Boys, and The Umbrella Academy offer a different flavor of superheroes, on a much broader spectrum. But now, fight sequences aren’t the only choreography. Yep, all three titles prove that dancing can be memorable, welcome additions to the modern superhero aesthetic—and all without drawing the derision that was aimed at Raimi all those years ago.
Earlier this year, Raimi returned to the Marvel fold with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The director fielded a question from Fandom about the infamous boogie sequence that sees Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) take a page out of John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever playbook. Or at least attempt to.
There was disdain and confusion from the moment he brought out his finger guns and began thrusting those hips. Emo bangs, the appearance of eyeliner, and the confidence to dance in public are how Raimi showed the Venom symbiote’s influence over Peter. Audiences, however, overwhelmingly hated it.
“Well, we meant it to be funny, actually. It was Peter Parker’s version—this lame kid—of what it must be like to be his evil self,” Raimi said about the infamous, much-memed scene. The dorky vibes hit differently more than a decade later, and Raimi’s intent has been captured in numerous TikTok videos, cute viral moments, and YouTube tutorials. You, too, can be instructed on how to do your best “Bully Maguire” asshole strut and slide.
Now, at least gauging by some of the most popular recent superhero series across streaming, musical scenes have fairly common narrative devices—moody ka-pows are being replaced by Rockette-ready high kicks.
Season 3 of The Boys continues to push the envelope to unexpected places when it comes to gore (including a tiny man climbing inside a dick). And it will be hard for any other show to beat the gallons of fake blood (and other body fluids) used—particularly the recent “Herogasm” episode. So let’s say it was certainly a surprise when, as part of the storyline for the character Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), an entire musical number breaks out set to, of all things, a Judy Garland song.
For a brief moment, the Prime series tips its hat to the 1943 musical Girl Crazy. Kimiko’s powers have been rendered inert, and she’s stuck convalescing in a hospital bed. Frenchie (Tomer Capon) has a laptop packed with Kimiko’s favorite musicals to keep her entertained during her recovery, which leads to The Boys' most delightful sequence to date.
In the surreal number, Kimiko and Frenchie perform the standard “I Got Rhythm,” an ambitious joy-filled dance through the hospital featuring empty bedpans as percussion, exuberant lifts, and jazz hands. It’s a brighter over-the-top aesthetic than The Boys typically utilizes—and zero gore—but also plays an important role in the narrative.
Snapping back to reality reveals Kimiko is still recovering; however, the musical sequence that just played in her mind gives her the confidence to kiss Frenchie. On the surface, this brief mash-up of genres is a playful reprieve from the over-the-top violence, but it also captures an intimate connection. Kimiko allows herself to indulge in romance now she has shed the powers she thinks turned her into a monster. Unfortunately, even she cannot fully escape this violent world, and “I Got Rhythm” is nothing more than a brightly lit fantasy.
The Umbrella Academy also blurs these lines momentarily in the Season 3 premiere. The Hargreaves siblings return home from 1963 to discover an alternate reality in which the Sparrow Academy has replaced them. As the two sets of heroes face off against each other, a bloody brawl is substituted for a whimsical “Footloose” dance-off battle that playfully draws on the choreography of the Kevin Bacon classic (let’s ignore the 2011 Miles Teller-starring remake).
The famous Kenny Loggins song is in line with the “all killer, no filler” needle-drops the Netflix series favors. Nostalgia is the unified soundtrack theme, matching the slick stylistic choices throughout the series. Whether you recognize the bangers or not (call this the Kate Bush Stranger Things effect), showrunner Steve Blackman knows how to up the ante with the show’s musical cues. And unlike Peter Parker’s out-of-the-blue sidewalk slides, Umbrella Academy's taste for bops has been well established from the start. (Remember that dance to Tiffany’s iconic “I Think We’re Alone Now?”)
Part of the joy in watching these scenes comes from seeing it pulled off and knowing how difficult it was. In my eyes, being able to nail complicated routines is superhero-worthy. The most I have ever managed is the Ex Machina disco dance, which I performed at my wedding alongside my husband in place of a slow first dance. It was the only part of the day I wanted to throw up, and it lasted 30 seconds (and we spent weeks learning the routine).
In contrast, in the penultimate episode of The Umbrella Academy’s new season, freestyle reigns when the Hargreaves clan tears up the dance floor at Luther’s (Tom Hopper) wedding. Who has time to learn a routine when the apocalypse is mere hours away?
To its credit, the MCU has tapped into dance with numbers that weren’t just dream sequences or hallucinations. There was the long-overdue Captain America and Peggy Carter date, and Hawkeye showed how Broadway embraced the Avengers. Across the river in Jersey City in the new series Ms. Marvel, Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) juggles her new powers and family obligations. Yes, she is obsessed with Captain Marvel, but she is also well-versed in Bollywood moves.
Kamala’s brother Aamir’s (Saagar Shaikh) Muslim wedding incorporates faith and a variety of musical entertainment at the reception. A cover band called Brown Jovi (Kamala’s mother refers to Jon Bon Jovi as New Jersey’s prince) has a difficult act to follow: the entire wedding party, who performs a dance set to Asha Bhosle’s “Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Diwana” from the movie Don.
"There are always choreographed dances at these big South Asian weddings,” director Meera Menon told Popsugar about the authentic crowd pleaser. References to rehearsals reveal this isn’t meant to appear spontaneously thrown together, and behind-the-scenes, dance team BFunk choreographed the group number. Kamala’s distraction thanks to her recent superpowers is evident in her unpolished grasp of the moves—understandable!—and additional details like this add to Ms. Marvel’s charm. Not every teen movie or TV series is pretending it's Gap commercial or She’s All That prom ready.
It’s been a blast to see these superhero projects once again dabbling in the kind of razzle dazzle typically reserved for musicals,‘90s high school comedies, or an episode of Dancing with the Stars. And, much to my delight, this trend seems to be growing, what with the rumors about the Joker sequel—Joaquin Phoenix's staircase dance was also subject to the Bully Maguire meme. All roads lead back to Spider-Man 3.
With great power comes great responsibility and this extends to knowing how to cut a rug.