For Peter Parker, Tony Stark Was His Uncle Ben in the MCU

To learn great power and great responsibility, this Peter Parker needed a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.

Tony Stark is many things. As of Avengers: Endgame, “father” is now one of them. But the former weapons manufacturer turned superhero had a long, long journey unfold throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while Spider-Man’s inclusion in the franchise came only after some legal fu between Disney and Sony years after his debut, Tony Stark’s evolution into Peter Parker’s superhero mentor turned him into one of the most important characters in Spider-Man’s story.

Ben Parker lived. We know as much based on telling crumbs of evidence, like when Peter (Tom Holland) pleads with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) not to tell Aunt May he’s Spider-Man.

“I cannot do that to her right now,” he says in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “After everything that’s happened with her. Please.” A soft cue by composer Michael Giacchino emerges from silence at that very moment.

If it hadn’t been the sixth Spider-Man movie in over a decade, critics and audiences would complain that director Jon Watts left a gaping hole in his story. What happened with Aunt May? we’d ask. The movie never tells us.

But because we know Spider-Man’s story, Peter and Ned’s dialogue is one of the most touching moments in the entire movie. Spider-Man: Homecoming sits at Rotten Tomatoes with a sensational 92%.

Names aren’t named. But we can guess that Peter Parker of the MCU had an Uncle Ben, a warm, non-toxic masculine father figure who instilled in Peter what to do when greatness is thrust upon him.

Ben could never anticipate his nephew shooting impenetrable web and climbing up walls, but he definitely taught Peter what to do if he ever could.

Then, Tony Stark happened.

Spider-Man Homecoming Tony Stark
Tony Stark was a substitute Uncle Ben for Peter Parker in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' (2017).

Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead.

Meet Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark: a hedonistic billionaire slash war industrialist who eventually became the heart and soul of a group of remarkable people.

It makes all the sense in the world that Stark, whom we met sipping scotch in a war zone and sleeping with attractive magazine reporters, became a dad in Avengers: Endgame. This new identity was both why Stark resisted time travel (he could risk erasing Morgan) and why he did it, to regain his first lost child, Peter Parker (from at the end of Avengers: Infinity War).

The bond between Stark and Peter, forged from Captain America: Civil War all the way to Endgame, became an elongated “origin” of Spider-Man. Their first meeting is one of the loudest first encounters in all of the MCU, and not a single punch was thrown. Instead, sitting on his bed in Queens, Peter Parker tells Tony Stark what he thinks about great power and great responsibility.

“Why are you doing this?” Tony asks. “I gotta know. What’s your M.O.? What gets you out of that twin bed in the morning?”

“Because,” Peter nervously exhales, “because I’ve been me my whole life and I’ve had these powers for six months. I read books. I build computers. I would love to play football. But I couldn’t then and I shouldn’t now.”

He continues, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”

Spider-Man Civil War Avengers Endgame
Spider-Man's introduction in 'Captain America: Civil War' (2016).

You can almost see Tony Stark’s disappointment in his eyes. Not because Peter said the wrong thing, but because he said all the right things. And that means Peter was up for the task (rounding up the rogue heroes in Civil War) even though he’s a kid who does not belong in the Avengers’ world.

In other stories that told Spidey’s beginnings, we saw Peter learn to become responsible after his irresponsibility cost him his only real paternal teacher.

We never saw, and didn’t need to see, Uncle Ben die in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. After six previous movies and two Ben Parkers — Cliff Robertson in Spider-Man (2002) and Martin Sheen in The Amazing Spider-Man 10 years later — we were good on the origin story. All we needed to know about Ben Parker was that he mattered, that he’s gone, and maybe it was because of Peter.

So what of Tony Stark? Unlike Ben (again, maybe), the death of Tony Stark wasn’t Peter Parker’s fault. Peter vanished, along with half the universe, because Thanos used the Infinity Stones.

But Stark’s sacrifice at the end of Endgame, though seismic, will undoubtedly have the greatest impact on Peter Parker. Whether it’s the second death in Peter’s superhero career or the first, Iron Man’s death has effectively become the ultimate lesson for Spider-Man. That with great power (“Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.”) comes great responsibility (“I am Iron Man.”).

Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.

Media via Sony Pictures, Marvel Entertainment