Last Thursday, fans were finally granted a peek—albeit a brief one—of the first appearance of Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the wall-crawler swung in at the tail-end of the final trailer for Captain America: Civil War. Spidey’s introduction into the MCU is the result of a deal with Sony—which owns the film rights to the character—and Marvel Studios—which produces the Avengers umbrella of movies. While it’s still unclear how large a role the teenage hero will play in the third Captain America film, it seems like an appropriate entry point for him to enter the larger MCU, as Spidey plays a key part in the movie’s comic book source material. And a jointly produced Marvel Studios/Sony Spider-Man reboot will hit screens next year for viewers to get a chance to get to know this new adaptation of Peter Parker and his place in the MCU a bit better.
I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that most fans are excited to see Spider-Man interact with his fellow comic book brethren. Getting a chance to hear Spidey be a wise-ass to Hawkeye or swing past a flying Iron Man will be a treat for the senses and a delight for the comic nerd in all of us. However, more than just the wow factor that Spider-Man’s addition to the MCU might bring, the webbed hero is the missing piece of the puzzle to make the MCU feel like the comic book Marvel universe and, ultimately, future Marvel films will be better for his inclusion.
From a notoriety standpoint, Spider-Man is easily Marvel’s most recognizable character to the public at large. While many comic book fans have an intimate knowledge of folks like Black Widow, Iron Man, and Hawkeye, those characters only really became household names in the last decade since the first Marvel Studios film, Iron Man, hit theaters in 2008. As Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are to DC Comics, Spider-Man is Marvel’s de facto mascot. With apologies to the X-Men and Fantastic Four—both groups I adore—the Marvel Cinematic Universe always had an asterisk hanging there that I could always see, an asterisk is now at least partially erased by Spider-Man being folded into that larger universe.
Not only does Spider-Man’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe make necessary steps to creating a larger world, it reminds folks that Marvel isn’t just the Avengers. Sure, moviegoers know this, in theory. Most are aware that the X-Men and Fantastic Four are Marvel properties, but with filming rights to those characters out of the hands of Marvel Studios, there’s no chance for them to interact with Cap and crew, creating a mental wall and sense of removal for the general public. And while the Guardians of the Galaxy were recently introduced to the MCU, they haven’t had the opportunity to meet their Earth counterparts (yet). Spider-Man’s foray into the MCU gives viewers a better idea that a world of heroes exists outside the walls of Avengers headquarters.
Moreover, Spidey’s injection into the MCU will not only remind moviegoers that a wider world of heroes exists, but that not all heroes are as competent in their abilities, as well-financed, or as polished. Netflix’s series Daredevil and Jessica Jones have gone to great lengths of showing that not all of Marvel’s heroes have the same level of skill or power-set, facing the down-and-dirty threats of street-level crime and the evils that we butt up against every day. However, as wonderful as those shows are—and they are great! Daredevil season 2 hits tomorrow!—by virtue of the fact that they exist in different media, the shows can sometimes feel removed from the large world the MCU has created, with the exception of a brief nod to the Avengers here and there. (Agents of SHIELD is a whole other hornet’s nest I won’t delve into here.)
While different iterations of Spider-Man depict him at varying ages and competency levels, the Spidey that has now entered the MCU is a high school kid still learning the ropes, feeling his way around using his powers, and putting his own personal moral code to the test. While they all have skeletons in their closets, Iron Man, Black Widow, and the gang are adults and, with some slips along the way (okay, big slips—looking at Tony’s Ultron hiccup and Bruce Banner’s big green problem), they’ve had a chance to work out some of the bugs in their abilities and determine their own virtues and limitations. While Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man fills the same role to an extent, Spider-Man’s combined youth and inexperience make him a character who can stand in stark contrast to his elders in the superhero set and as someone who can learn from those older do-gooders.
At the same time, though, and more importantly, the character of Spider-Man is one that has always worked best when that teaching/learning dynamic is reciprocal in nature. As much as Spider-Man is a character who is defined by his screw-ups—not just in unintentionally having a hand in the death of his uncle, but also in the moral quagmires he butts up against time and again—he is also defined by a deep moral code. When he goes against that code, he knows it and he pays for it, often dearly. But as much as he gets knocked down time after time, again and again, Spider-Man is a character who has absolutely no quit in him. Although he has come close many times in his comic book adventures, Peter Parker is a man who, to his credit and, sometimes, his detriment, has an obstinate refusal to give up. As much as Cap, Tony, and the rest of the Avengers might act as mentors to Spidey, he is an example and a reminder to them of how to act in the face of moral compromise and their darkest nights. Spider-Man is the promise of what each of those heroes can be. Beyond what other role Peter Parker’s character plays in Captain America: Civil War, that will—or should—be his most important one.
All of this is to say, welcome to the Marvel movie neighborhood, Spidey. And welcome home.
Captain America: Civil War, starring Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Holland, and an all-star cast, hits theaters on May 6.