So, Captain America: Civil War was a resounding success at the box office in its first weekend of release, and pulled off the nearly impossible feat of not being an incoherent mess despite the presence of at least a hundred different superheroes fighting each other on-screen. But even though audiences were chiming in to declare themselves Team Cap or Team Iron Man it was another Civil War superhero, making his MCU debut, that was the focal point of a lot of the film’s praise. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swung into the fray for the first time in a Marvel movie seemingly out of nowhere, and that isn’t a good thing.
In the middle of all the Civil War action comes the obligatory introductory sequence for Peter Parker, but, weirdly enough, it doesn’t involve radioactive spiders or the tragic death of his Uncle Ben. It isn’t the origin story we know and love, because the movie insinuates all that already happened. Instead, billionaire superhero-with-a-mechanical-suit Tony Stark suddenly shows up in Queens to chat up a surprisingly young Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and recruit the young Parker to help fight Captain America.
Stark says he’s aware of Parker’s arachnid-based activities and wants him to aid in convincing Cap that regulated super-heroism is better than being a vigilante. After some banter about being “the little guy” in all this, and having his biggest secret exposed, Parker is inexplicably off to a German airport to brawl with a bunch of grown-ass men and women (plus a synthetic Vibranium-based humanoid) because grown-ups peer pressuring 15-year-old kids into fighting is what superheroes do now.
This Civil War Spidey has basically been met with universal admiration, which is a big red flag. Holland’s performance is admittedly great, and the folks at Marvel are geniuses for managing to weave every story together here, but don’t go thinking they reinvented the wheel by doing the most obvious casting ever. Making Peter Parker an actual teenager as a teenage superhero isn’t anything special at all, and it took two franchises of twenty-to-thirty-something Peter Parkers to realize that. But that isn’t even the biggest problem with Civil War’s Spider-Man.
The worst thing about Spider-Man in Civil War is that he’s already there, functioning in the Marvel universe as Spider-Man. Granted, blame the clumsy introduction on the behind the scenes red tape and backroom deals that limited the webslingers inclusion in the MCU until now, but at least give us a real preface regardless of whether we know how he got there or not.
An in media res Spider-Man is a highly presumptive and pompous representation of the worst exclusive tendencies of the Marvel movies. The assumption is that we don’t need to see the character’s origins, and we already know how Spider-Man came to be whether it was because of the relative failures of the previous two big-screen incarnations of the character or that it’s just ingrained in the collective pop culture consciousness.
Introducing a nearly fully realized Spider-Man in Civil War is like Marvel’s 30-second post-credits sequences writ large. If you weren’t in-the-know you’d have no idea why you have to care about the big purple dude floating in space at the end of The Avengers and its sequel. They presume you just know who Thanos is already, and that’s good enough. But presuming you know who Spider-Man is already somehow hopelessly betrays the motivations of the beloved character, especially now that the movie version of the web-head is back home with Marvel where he ostensibly belongs. Why would they not want to define him the classic way on their own terms now, and is not telling it that way any better?
Civil War is already a ridiculously packed movie, so it’s not as if they needed the spider-bites and uncles imparting wisdom there, though it’s odd that it starts with Tony Stark. Screenwriters Steve McFeely and Chris Markus told The Hollywood Reporter, “ The whole movie is long enough as it is without adding that. The mantra for us was to bring in characters when the story needed them,” which fits for this movie, but it shouldn’t be the case with Spidey’s first standalone Marvel movie: Homecoming.
Throw the origins in the opening credit sequence, or maybe even reference it in flashback. There’s no need to spell it all out again, but there’s also no need to leave it out entirely. It’s admittedly exciting to see Holland’s truthful version of Spider-Man gracing the big-screen once again. Thankfully we don’t have to deal with emo Peter Parker dancing the lambada or suddenly being a pro skater. Civil War gets a pass, but the filmmakers behind Homecoming need to remember the fundamental theme behind Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. They had the power and surprisingly pulled off the best characterization of Peter Parker so far, now it’s their responsibility to do the character justice by reminding us where it all started.