This was the big one, people.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was, and still is, so-all conquering that Sony’s only option after screwing up their premier superhero was to rent him back to the company they bought him from for a cheap. It’s a power move that has taken Spider-Man to the pinnacle of blockbuster filmmaking: he has become a billion-dollar superhero in the MCU.
I’ve already covered Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home in the MCU retrospective, but it’s always fun to take another look at the MCU’s Peter Parker through the context of what has come before. Let’s focus on the decision that strangely acts as the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this version of the character: his relationship with Tony Stark.
It is through Tony’s slightly insane and definitely irresponsible ploy to bring a teenager he saw on Youtube into the biggest fight the MCU has ever seen that we are first introduced to Tom Holland’s version of Peter/Spider-Man. Holland is the greatest success of this merger between studios as his performance is both charming, endearing, comical, and nicely at odds with a lot of the insane shit that is happening around him. He is a joy to watch and became one of my favourite MCU characters as he’s bantering and battering Bucky and Sam in Civil War. He’s there for a mere cameo, but he is so damn watchable that I can’t find myself caring at how cynical it all is.
Civil War introduces the idea of a mentor/mentee relationship between Peter and Tony, and this is the thread that continues through Homecoming, Infinity War, Endgame, and is put to rest in Far From Home. This relationship grounds this version of Spider-Man in the MCU – after all, Iron Man has become, cinematically, just as iconic as Spider-Man, so it’s good sense to put them together. It worked like gangbusters for Tony, and Robert Downey Jr.’s best acting in years came from this pairing. Yet therein lies the rub.
Tony’s presence, whether physical or spiritual, overwhelms a lot of these supposed Spider-Man stories. Both Homecoming and Far From Home have the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man cleaning up the mess of a billionaire. Both Vulture and Mysterio have been screwed over by Tony, and it’s Peter that has to clean up the mess. Peter isn’t as active a character as he should be, which is frustrating because the parts of Homecoming and Far From Home that concentrate on Peter, his status as a hero, and his relationships, are the strongest parts of both movies. There is a sense that the MCU is getting in the way of a Spider-Man movie that could be as good as Spider-Man 2 or Into the Spider-Verse.
This is the reason that I’m excited about No Way Home is because this unleashing of the multiverse is Peter’s own mistake to deal with. Sure, it’s also there to connect with Loki, and set up Doctor Strange, but the focus seems to be on Spider-Man. Like Doctor Who episodes that put multiple Doctors together, No Way Home looks like a way of looking to the past versions of Spider-Man and having a reckoning with his cinematic legacy. Just don’t let the MCU get in the way of it.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via New York Times)