Yes, I am quite aware this will be an extremely divisive take as I, myself, have seen an excessive amount of debates on ‘Who is the best Spider-Man’ with a lot of liking toward Tom Holland’s spin on the character. To the reader of this, I am asking for an open-mind towards my interpretation of the MCU version of Spider-Man and as always, invite anyone to engage in conversation with me about this.
Let me be clear – Spider-Man has always been my favourite superhero so there is no disdain towards the character, as I honestly want the best service towards Spider-Man.
Alright, so here we go. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the worst film adaptation of Spider-Man we have seen. Tom Holland is really suited for this role and he elevates the character far more than the writing does so this isn’t a ‘who plays Spider-Man the best?’ – that is a debate for another time. I know that most readers will be wondering why I have put Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man ahead in my books, well simple really, he is a fully formed character that holds their own liberty and the same applies with Tobey Maguire. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is cuffed with operating in a shared universe with the films being intertwined with one another. Let’s dissect this argument with a bit more clarity:
The irrelevance of Uncle Ben
This is one of the more glaring holes of the Spider-Man character that honestly hasn’t been talked about enough. The character of Uncle Ben is imperative to the character of Peter Parker, as he is ultimately the reason that Peter becomes Spider-Man, learning that “with great power there must also come great responsibility” which is attributed to Uncle Ben. The quote now has become a pop-culture significance and as comic-book writer, Greg Pak says the line is “one of the single greatest moral injunctions in all of American pop-culture”. The thematic power of this message has not been remotely conveyed with our MCU version of Spider-Man. One can argue that the quotation in Captain America: Civil War, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” is an alternate version of that. It doesn’t quite hold the same amount of thematic weight of the comic-book line as it is said from Peter which prohibits the audience from understanding the external influences of Peter’s life.
Beyond this, the character of Uncle Ben has never been mentioned once. This character is crucial to the development of the character as he provides a single ulterior motive of Spider-Man and essentially, provides birth to the character whilst providing him a moral compass that he abides by. The MCU films do provide subtle clues about Uncle Ben including the suitcase with the initials “BFP” standing for Benjamin Franklin Parker and indications of the family struggles in a post Uncle Ben world. It is clear that the MCU wanted to skip over the origin story of Spider-Man that was already told twice in an 11 year span. Due to the MCU deciding to COMPLETELY skip over such an important aspect of the character, we essentially know very little about Peter Parker before he Captain America: Civil War.
The over-reliance on Tony Stark/Iron Man
If you have not realised that Tony Stark is the de facto Uncle Ben, then you haven’t been paying attention. Give it a moment’s thought. In the MCU, the character of Peter Parker has strong emotional ties to Tony Stark which the franchise has leaned too heavily on. Captain America: Civil War had heart-warming moments with Tony Stark recruiting Peter Parker which worked really well for the film. After all, it was Captain America’s film and Peter Parker didn’t really need much attention when establishing his character. The problem begins when we have Michael Keaton’s Vulture being directly tied to Tony Stark as his motivations stemmed from Tony Stark forming Damage Control, a venture designed to contain and repair the damage from major MCU events. Spider-Man has an impressive gallery of villains that don’t need their villainous motivations being stemmed from another character. As Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is still coming into fruition with the MCU, it is forgivable, as it actually leads to an emotionally compelling finale between the villain and Spider-Man.
The Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame films aren’t really opportunities for building character so there is no real reason to associate criticism of Spider-Man in these films. Those films provided some great opportunities for Spider-Man to have some incredible action sequences and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.
The real issue of the over-reliance on Tony Stark/Iron Man is in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Tony Stark has tragically passed away following the events of Avengers: Endgame and the world is mourning that character. This provides the perfect chance for a grieving Peter Parker to finally become his own hero without the aid of Tony Stark and to have his own story told without influences from Tony Stark. Spider-Man: Far From Home replicates the same mistakes as Spider-Man: Homecoming as Quentin Beck (Mysterio), the villain, motivations are directly tied with Tony Stark as he essentially disregarded Quentin’s life work. This leads Mysterio to get closer to Peter Parker in order to obtain the Stark technology that Peter possesses. Mysterio and Vulture are two major villains of Spider-Man’s gallery of villains but the MCU has turned them into villains of Iron Man in which Spider-Man is left to deal with. A villain has motivations and actions that are opposite to the protagonist because ultimately – it is the villain that makes the hero heroic. The best villains are inextricably tied to the hero and are essential to the hero’s character development through their intrinsic opposition to them. Spider-Man is yet to find a villain where the motivations are directly tied to Spider-Man with a compelling backstory and morality.
A key moment where the development of MCU Spider-Man truly disappoints me is in Spider-Man: Far From Home where Peter and Happy are having an exchange in the plane. The conversation is as follows:
Peter: “I just really miss him”
Happy: “Yeah, I miss him too”
Peter: “Everywhere I go, I see his face. And the whole world is asking who is going to be the next Iron Man and… I don’t know if that is me Happy, I’m not Iron Man”
Happy: “You aren’t Iron Man, you’re never going to be Iron Man”
This touching conversation should lead to an emotional catharsis for Peter as he finally becomes his own superhero free from the external influences. It perfectly sets up a moment where Peter Parker can use his own intellect to beat this villain. What do we get? Well, we get Peter Parker using stark holographic technologies to design his own Spider-Man suit which is all set to the backdrop of ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC – the opening song for Iron Man (2008). This essentially voids the conversation where Happy says that he will never be Iron Man as a minute later, we see Peter Parker doing stuff that is heavily associated with the Iron Man character. Spider-Man needs to establish his own motivations outside of emotional ties to the Iron Man character and he needs a villain that has personal attachments to help him grow. Tony Stark being a father figure or a similar kind of role model was definitely an appropriate choice but currently the narrative has leaned far too heavily on it without really taking the time to develop Peter Parker on his own.
What is happening with Spider-Sense?
This one is kind of hard to fault as the implementation of the Spider-Sense has varied throughout its comic-book tenure. We had teases of the Spider-Sense being a concept that would be introduced to the MCU before Spider-Man: Far From Home which ultimately confirmed it as the ‘Peter Tingle’ – for comedic purposes of course. The Peter Tingle appears to be less instinctual in this adaptation of Spider-Man and requires active awareness and attention to apply it in action. This is different to most other adaptations of Spider-Man where Spider-Sense was intuitive and assisted the superhero even when he is at his most relaxed.
I can’t fault the MCU adaptation of Spider-Man for the way they implement Spider-Sense by primarily forming my opinion on how it is used in other media. My main problem with the way the MCU has done it is that they have truly struggled with Peter Parker/Spider-Man establishing his own identity and one would think that they would equip Peter Parker with a more naturalistic version of Spider-Sense, an ability that is exclusive to Spider-Man. This could open up numerous opportunities on using the character in action set-pieces, comedic moments or interesting character interactions. Web-slinging is also exclusive to Spider-Man but even then, the web-shooters were tampered by Tony Stark. I must admit that it is still quite early to question the MCU’s plan for the Peter Tingle as it was only just introduced and plays an important role when we approach the multiverse concept. Spider-sense is an important piece of the Spider-Man character and separates him from the rest, it should be implemented under that understanding – rather than the Peter Tingle being active whenever focused on which limits its applying
This feels like the right time to highlight these problems of the Spider-Man character considering that Spider-Man: No Way Home sounds like one gargantuan blockbuster film – how much time can really be put in developing the character?
We will next see Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home which is aiming for a 2021 Christmas release date.