Spider-Man in the MCU, but where?

On Monday, Marvel and Sony announced that Spider-Man would be joining an MCU movie before July 2017. Generic Dave gives his two cents on where he should appear and why.

Editorial Opinion

Spoilers for Movies and Comics discussed below

With all eyes focused on Marvel and Sony’s surprise Monday announcement that an agreement had been reached for the pair of competing studios to share the Spider-Man mantle at the Box Office, the assumption reigns that Spider-Man will debut in the MCU in Captain America 3: Civil War. Taking on the central role he played in the comic book event of the same name. With an obvious fan following outside of regular comic-book geekdom, into the more female centred demographic of YA works such as Hunger Games and Twilight(thank you Andrew Garfield) this seems an obvious way to boost the MCU generally and the Captain America franchise more particularly, beyond its core demo. Spider-Man’s central role in the comic book version of the story would also lend one to think that this is the movie for the Wall-Crawler to appear.

However, one feels that this is not the place to best debut the Spectacular Spider-Man in the current MCU for a number of reasons:
Firstly, Spider-Man’s role in the Civil War Marvel Event should not be overstated. While he plays an important role in framing the discussion, especially initially, once he reveals his identity and then switches sides from Iron Man to Captain America, his role in the event is mainly over. The reveal of Spider-Man’s secret identity in the comics is a landmark moment, mainly because a very limited number of characters in the 616-Universe are aware of it. In fact this was such a big deal in comics that it was one of the driving forces behind the One More Day storyline (which attempted to put this Genie and many others back into the Spider-Man continuity bottle). But the reveal was such a character shifting moment because we had seen Spider-Man’s travails and tribulations to keep his identity secret over the years. It was status-quo upsetting and hugely altered the way Spider-Man stories were told. In the MCU not only do we not have a long term relationship with Spider-Man, but no character seems to have a functional secret identity. Tony Stark IS Iron Man, Steve Rogers has an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum detailing his exploits and Black Widow dumped all of SHIELD’s secret files on to the web in The Winter Soldier.

Secondly, Civil War is, in its bones, a Captain America and Iron Man story, where Captain America’s ideas of Freedom and Equality versus Iron Man’s sense of Responsibility. In the comics, Spider-Man represented the realistic, on the ground face of choosing to register or not, while Cap and Iron Man represented the conceptual, ideological idealisms. In a world, nay a universe, where Iron Man’s arc centres on personal responsibility in the present (His change from Weapons Monger to Clean Energy tycoon, when faced with his weapons falling into the wrong hands), Iron Man Two shows the responsibility for the sins of the father and the past (facing the son of Howard Stark’s research partner) , while Iron Man Three shows us Stark confronting the sins of  the future (Extremis and the Iron Man suits themselves. Captain America: The First Avenger shows a similar journey for a noble but weak man desperate to serve his country, his discomfit with his initial role as fund-raiser for the war and finally disobeying orders to rescue captured men and confront his equal and opposite, Red Skull. The Winter Soldier shows Cap uncomfortable with the shades of grey style of the modern day SHIELD organisation, sees him go underground and take on his eponymous nation and the cancer that lies at the heart of SHIELD. Add to this the unknown events of the upcoming Age of Ultron and we have a long laid strategic plan which brings us to Civil War. To add Spider-man to this story, which is little more than a year away from our screens seems like a big ask, especially in what is already a very full cast.

Thirdly, Civil War already includes (according to IMDB) Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Falcon, Winter Soldier and Black Panther, already a cast of heroes as large as the Avengers. Black Panther is a completely new character to the universe and Andy Serkis’ apparent role as Ulysses Klaw in Age of Ultron points towards his having a substantial role in Civil War, if not also in Age of Ultron. If this is the case, one imagines that his introduction in Age of UItron would be a minor cameo and a more central role in Civil War. This would tie-in with rumours of Black Panther taking the Spider-Man role from the comics in the MCU version. As mentioned above, having this character is not essential to the larger story of the MCU’s Civil War, but even less essential would be binning Black Panther’s Civil War role, which will undoubtedly build on Klaw’s and his (possible) appearances in Age of Ultron and lead into Black Panter’s own movie in 2017. Given the extremely long gestation period for the Black Panther movie (I remember the MTV rumours floating about in the early 90s) and the fact that he represents a new milestone in an inclusive movie universe, it seems as though diminishing Black Panther’s role in Civil War for a character they don’t own the movie rights to (even Spider-Man) would be a dumb idea for the studio, as well as for the story being told.
Lastly, on the “why not Civil War front”, does Spider-Man fit in with the current Avengers roster. Does he have a place? Could he be the conscience of the team? Well yeah, but Cap fills the role already and it is his movie. Could he be the comedy? Well, again yes, but Tony Stark fills the one-liner bill, and not that we can’t have two comedy snarks, but that kind of snark works best against a straight (in the comedy sense) man, Tony’s funniest moments tend to come from snarking against the rule abiding Captain America. Could he be the brains? Okay, Peter Parker is smart. But this is a team with Stark and Banner at the top of their games, and T’Challa waiting in the wings. If we have a fresh n00b as Peter Parker are we really gonna buy his essential place in the team? Also, Spider-Man is a solo hero, he often joins teams for a short time or teams up, but a permanent place on a team is fairly anathema to him.
So if I don’t think we need Spider-Man in Civil War, where do we need him? Well, personally I would not have Spider-Man in the MCU at all yet. Probably not as far out as Infinity War. Beyond Infinity War, it’s all on the table, but for the moment I think letting Spider-Man lie would be the best decision. Letting him continue on television as a beloved cartoon superhero, with merchandising figures to make Apple jealous, and let the franchise distance itself from the two good and three terrible Spider-Man movies of the past twelve years. That’s right, FIVE in Telve years, not even Batman gets that kinda run. Wait a decade, then reboot….but unfortunately studio rights issues make this an impossibility. Sony will not let Spider-Man sleep, as the rights revert to Marvel if they do. Catch-22.
So with all this in mind, where should we place Spider-Man in the MCU. The press release from Monday Night clearly states that the first Spider-Man appearance in the MCU must occur before July 2017, which leaves us with three options. Civil War, which I have out-lined my reasons against above. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 which, while it would be incredibly entertaining to see how we could squeeze a new Spider-Man with no previous MCY backstory into the Cosmic realm, is probably a bridge too far, even for Marvel. Which leaves us with 2016’s Doctor Strange.

While it may seem initially odd, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, despite their dissimilar power set, both share much in common. Both are members of the Avengers and other teams on and off over the years, but rarely are seen as core components of it. They also tend to spend a lot of time in the company of Street Level Heroes, such as Daredevil, Luke Cage and the rest of the Netflix Defenders set. Doctor Strange and Spider-Man have a long history of teaming up, having stopped everyone from Xandu to Doctor Doom over the years.
Doctor Strange, while having his own moments of levity, is quite a serious character, his powers often leading him to the edge of the abyss, to stare directly into pure evil. The determination, concentration and skill required to make him first a surgeon and then Master of Mystic Arts brings a weight and responsibility echoes and juxtaposes Spider-Man’s own. Spider-Man would bring humour and sarcasm to much of Doctor Strange’s weird world of magic. He could act as foil to Strange’s more serious moments, while also playing Han Solo to Strange’s Luke Skywalker when it comes to the more magical moments.
Also being a solo movie for a character whom we have never met before and one which it is rumoured will eschew the traditional “origin story” first movie trope. This is further supported by the reference to Stephen Strange in The Winter Soldier as a “threat to Hydra” implies that Dr. Strange is active right now in the MCU. As such there will be room to breathe in this movie, space in the first act which we are accustomed to opening slowly and introducing our character. Here we have a chance to use Spider-Man’s fame outside of the comics to further the story. Spider-Man does not need an introduction, he is more popular than any other comic character (in merchandise terms) and as such, he could act as our pov character. A seasoned (ish) hero, being introduced to the weird, magical world of Dr. Strange which is so far removed than any of the previous MCU movies.
Lastly unlike Civil War, which has bankable characters and actors, Strange is a relative unknown outside the comics. Not nearly as much as Guardians of the Galaxy, but still pretty obscure. Also, while I hate to admit it, Benedict Cumberbatch, as far as movies go, really only has Smaug and Alan Turing under his belt. Being a fan darling and tv star is one thing, but carrying an action/horror/magic movie alone is a big ask, even under the Marvel banner. So here, dropping Spider-Man into the movie could be a draw to a wider audience, especially the one which has blossomed in the Andrew Garfield years (who hopefully continue with the character in the event Garfield is no longer under the mask), many of whom are not in the traditional comic book demo. Realistically, Civil War doesn’t need Spider-Man, for its story or success but Doctor Strange would probably benefit hugely from a team-up. And this could be the first in the line of a string of solo/team-up movies which are Marvel Comics bread and butter. 

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