Why We Shouldn't Mourn Marvel's Imposter Spider-Man

Marvel just "lost" Spider-Man, but did it really have him in the first place?

Somewhere right now, someone you know is mourning how “Spider-Man isn’t in the MCU.” The thing is, the Marvel Cinematic Universe never really had Spider-Man at all.

This week, talks between Sony and Disney-owned Marvel Studios broke down over what to do with Spider-Man. Spider-Man, the hapless superhero who is always broke but has grossed several billions at the worldwide box office over not one, not two, not five, but eight theatrical films.

Predictably, Marvel fandom has suffered a meltdown because the appeal of the Marvel Universe is to be rewarded with investment. Watch 20 big movies, and you’ll feel things when all the plots, characters, and story threads collide in two bigger movies. Comic readers spent decades following along stories issue by issue, spin-off by spin-off, and since 2008 Marvel has taught moviegoers how to consume like comic book readers.

Furthermore, there is an understanding, not unwarranted and earned through 20-plus movies of consistent quality, that Marvel Studios has the magic to make the definitive take on its superheroes (Deadpool and Wolverine aside). It’s for that reason fans light up imagining the X-Men and Fantastic Four by Marvel even though there have been many movies made of those characters.

With Spider-Man leaving the MCU, fans feel the pang of loss. Not only does it feel like his narrative, dating back to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War seem abandoned, but there is a lack of faith from fans that Sony can make the “definitive” Spider-Man movie. That there is a segment of fandom who don’t consider Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, produced by Sony alone, to be equally definitive is a complex web of canned worms.

It’s weird, though, because the MCU didn’t really get Spidey either.

Spider-Man Peter Parker
Peter Parker, in his first appearance in 'Amazing Fantasy' #15 (with remastered colors from 2011) that defined his character as a gawkish pushover.

The fundamental heartbeat of Spider-Man is his guiding principal turned genre cliché: With great power, comes great responsibility. Peter learned this when, after obtaining superpowers, looked for ways to cash in. His most famous effort was to become a professional wrestler. (Dear reader, it was the ‘60s.) This pursuit cost Peter when he let a thief rob his wrestling promoter, not knowing that same robber would shoot and kill Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben.

That is Spider-Man: A hero whose greatest gift was also his curse. And he’s been financially broke ever since (save for the stretch of time he ran a tech empire, but even that went belly-up and left him penniless).

While Stan Lee imagined him as a teen, it was through decades of work by other creatives — co-creator Steve Ditko, Gerry Conway, David Micheline, J. M. DeMatteis, Todd McFarlane, Brian Michael Bendis, Dan Slott, J. Michael Straczynski, dozens more — who all contributed to Spidey’s mythos and allowed him to age out of being 15, to change and grow. And, as the comics regularly show, he grew into a mess.

It was this Spider-Man that found its way into three movies by Sam Raimi, whose trilogy had the genius move in casting Tobey Maguire. Though undeniably Hollywood, Maguire still possessed gawkish qualities that made his boyishness repulsive and awkward. That, too, is key to Peter Parker. There’s a reason why he’s pushed around so much by J. Jonah Jameson, by Flash Thompson, by all the supervillains who thwart him.

Frequently throughout his trilogy, Raimi brings his camera up close onto Maguire’s face in moments of distress. It’s because Maguire knew how to look gross with a contorting face. Tom Holland is too magazine-pretty for that. The two are fine actors, but while playing a put-upon character whose spine was made of jelly, Tom Holland looks made of fine marble.

Spider-Man Tobey Maguire
Spider-Man Peter Parker Avengers Endgame
A tale of two spiders: Above, Tobey Maguire in 'Spider-Man' (2002) feels the loss of his Uncle Ben. Below, Tom Holland in 'Avengers: Endgame' witnessing the loss of his substitute father figure Tony Stark. Only one actually looks like Peter Parker; the other looks like Hollywood acting.

When it came to Tom Holland, it was a calculated move to avoid fatigue when Kevin Feige and the MCU avoided exploring this Spider-Man a third time. This time, Peter was de-aged (because studios want franchises to last a decade now) and became entrenched with Tony Stark.

Pairing Peter with Tony makes sense in the framework of the MCU. But gone are all other facets that defined Spider-Man: Uncle Ben has only been alluded to and his death seems to matter less than Tony’s; money is hardly an issue for Peter when he’s 16 and has access to Stark Tech, a private jet, and 3D printing armored super suits at his disposal. In the comics, Peter had to sew and patch his costumes after every battle.

Amazing Spider-Man #4
Amazing Spider-Man #4

It was meant to be meaningful when, in Far From Home, Peter crafted a new costume (using a cutting-edge, top of the line 3D printer, mind) to the thumping hard rock of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” a nod to the opening of 2008’s Iron Man that introduced RDJ’s Tony Stark.

We were meant to feel things, and I did: I felt terrified. The Tony who came roaring down to AC/DC was a war profiteer with all the money and brains at his disposal, and it was disturbing to imply Peter Parker will become like Tony. Yes, there was all of Homecoming that saw an enlightened Stark mentor Peter to avoid his own messes, but AC/DC plays at a bigger volume.

With Spider-Man wrestled from Marvel Studios’ clutches, maybe we can finally see Tom Holland’s Peter Parker emerge from Tony Stark’s shadow. But, to be honest, the damage is already done. This gentrified version of Spider-Man is ruined. It’s time to start over.

Media via Marvel Entertainment, Sony Pictures