This post contains spoilers for both Captain America: Civil War and the Marvel comics series Civil War published in 2006-2007.
Okay, so I saw Civil War and I loved it. It’s not perfect, but it was a thrill and all the elements I was hopefully optimistic about exceeded my expectations. Tony Stark being Tony? Check. Cap being Cap? Check. Big team fights? Check. Black Panther? Was way cooler than I expected. Ant-man? Funny… and giant!
Okay, so there was one thing I wasn’t hopeful for – I was flat out against it. Spider-man.
Ever since it was announced in February of 2015 I was against Spider-man being introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe it’s because I had simply made peace with the fact that due to licensing Spidey was never coming to the MCU (Sony owned the rights to make Spider-man films, just like Fox owns the movie rights for The X-Men and everything mutant). There was certainly good reason to want Spider-man in the Marvel films since he is a huge part of the Marvel Universe in the comics and even lives in New York where the bad guys always seem to attack; he’s been in and out of the Avengers more times than it’s worth counting and probably teamed up at least once with every Marvel character out there. More importantly he had a pretty big role to play in the first Civil War event that took place in the comics. More on that in a moment.
As far I was concerned the Avengers movie franchise had been doing just fine without him, and Spider-man/Peter Parker is just so different than the other heroes. Many of the characters in the MCU are larger than life, and so… serious. I mean, not deadly serious, and Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-man have definitely shown us the lighter side of the MCU, but I just couldn’t picture Spider-man on the same screen as Cap, or Bucky (The Winter Soldier). Also, we’d seen Peter get bitten by a radio active spider enough times that I really didn’t want another reboot. Just let it go. Accept the cinematic failure-to-Spider-man.
So it’s announced that Marvel and Sony have made a deal and he’s going to be in Captain America: Civil War. Okay, neat. His part in the comics was a pivotal moment for the character. Tony Stark had been mentoring Parker for a while (they’re both science and technology geniuses, but Stark has all the money) and before the ‘war’ had given Parker the, “Shit’s gonna get real, and I need you to trust me and maybe do something for me” talk. That something would later turn out to be publicly registering under the Superhuman Registration act (The Sokovia Accords in the film) and unmasking himself at a public press conference as a show of good faith (the Act required heroes to abandon their secret identities). Peter Parker was the first person to ‘break the internet’ (sorry Kim) as nearly everyone in the world who had heard of Spider-man (he was famous), but had never heard of this kid named Peter Parker and immediately Googled him. It was such a huge turning point for the character that it was later retconned (retro-continuity) by literally making a deal with a devil (Mephisto, to be specific) to have everyone forget that it ever happened… because, comics, right? That kind of thing is usually just reserved for when a character dies, so it was a pretty big deal.
I just couldn’t see how this public un-masking was going to work in the film and feel authentic. They can’t just introduce Spider-man, make us care about him, and all the people he’s trying to protect by keeping his identity secret, and then have him reveal himself 40 minutes later. Spider-who? Aunt-what?! No one in the MCU has even heard of him anyway, and as an audience we’ve only just met him! Well, fortunately the movie version wasn’t about secret identities at all, and besides, who in the MCU has a secret identity anyway (especially since Natasha Romanov/Black Widow released all of S.H.E.I.L.D.’s documents into the wild)? Also, in the books, Spidey has a change of heart during the ‘war’ when he realizes he may have joined the wrong side and drops Tony, joining Cap’n Steve Rogers and his Secret Avengers. Again, hefty stuff and another huge moment for a movie that’s only (only, ha) two and a half hours long and has at least 10 ‘main’ characters. My mind just screamed, “shoe horn!” I wanted none of it.
Well, post movie release, and I know I’m not the first to say it, but I thought the inclusion of Spider-man was… well, amazing! One of the reasons the Avengers films work so well is that this huge cast of characters has been established, some characters over the course of 5 movies; you don’t need to explain Captain America’s motivations, or that he’s enhanced with super-soldier serum. You don’t need to go into detail about The Vision being a weird android thing (okay, they touched on a little of that, but it was development). Fortunately writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely trusted the audience to know who the heck Spider-man is. His introduction was brilliant; it’s been only 6 months since the spider bite but he’d already been doing Spidey crime-fighting. We didn’t need to see him explore and test out his powers, create web forumula (or discover it shooting from his wrists, ew) or watch him prototype his costume, although there was still a great riff on the trope with Tony making fun of his get-up and later calling him ‘Underoos’. We did get see him flex some of his powers via videos on YouTube and it was enough. It’s all we needed to see to say, “Yup, this is Spider-man”. Sure, this isn’t exactly how Peter Parker’s origin story goes in the comics, but it’s a great modern take on his origin, one that feels fresh, but still near to the core of Spider-man’s character. Spidey fell into exactly the place it makes sense for him to be in the MCU, and being by Tony’s side is more true to the source material than many other things we’ve be made to accept (like Tony’s creation of Ultron, rather than Hank Pym).
I’m actually super excited that they chose to have Tony introduce Spider-man to the world of the Avengers this way. This shows us something from the comics that could never have been explored in film before; certainly not in Sony’s two previous Spider-man incarnations. This is a smart, young (so young!), optimistic Peter Parker mentoring under an experienced, grizzled and somewhat damaged Tony Stark, an established character we’ve been following now through 5 movies. I actually left the theatre excited for Homecoming, 2017’s Spider-man solo film – when just two and a half hours earlier I would have sulked and said, “I don’t want it.” There’s no Iron Man 4 in sight, at least not within the next 4 years, but if we get more Robert Downy Jr. in Homecoming I’ll be pleased as punch. I can’t wait to see young and old butt heads and crack wise as only these two characters we know so well can do.
Bravo Civil War, you made me a Spider-man believer again.