We finally have our new, Marvel-Cinematic-Universe-approved Spider-Man. But aside from the obvious benefits of having Marvel’s most popular (and most lucrative) hero join their cinematic fold, there’s a far more crucial aspect of Spider-Man that the MCU needs right now: his ability to tie this ever-expanding universe together.
The Age of SHIELD is Over
While Nick Fury and SHIELD had this role in the first two phases of Marvel’s massive stable of movies, times have changed. Not only is SHIELD no longer employing the Avengers after The Winter Soldier, but the organization also can’t draw the newer, ever-diversifying strands of the MCU together. It make sense for SHIELD to connect the Avengers together, but they only really operate on that sort of big-stakes level. It’s hard to see what connection SHIELD would have to the Guardians of the Galaxy, or a “street-level” team like the Defenders.
But now, Spider-Man can connect these properties together in a way SHIELD never could. Spider-Man is a character that works just as well playing alongside the big hitters like Captain America and Iron Man as a member of the Avengers as he does teaming up on the streets with someone like Daredevil. His everyman persona not only makes the character relatable, but allows him to sort of blend in and fit into all these different, disparate situations. His natural ability to pop up seemingly everywhere in the comics works should work the same wonders for the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and although I’ve argued in the past that for me personally Spider-Man works best as a solo hero, for the MCU he’s the exact sort of connective character that they need now that SHIELD’s influence has waned.
And if anything, it’s that ability to move in and out of all these superhero circles that defines a key part of Spider-Man. One of the most interesting characteristics of Peter Parker is the way that he—this middle-class, dorky teenager from Queens—frequently finds himself dealing with his own life and this bizarre, huge world of superheroic antics that intervenes in said life. One minute he’s worrying about Aunt May or stuff at work, the next he’s stopping thugs on the street, the next he’s saving the world as an Avenger. What better way than to reflect Peter’s strange relationship with the wider superhero world than to make him the element that draws these other characters and stories together?
The Hero the People Deserve
But Spider-Man doesn’t just work as a literal connector between Marvel’s heroes—he can also bridge the thematic turnover the MCU is currently finding itself in.
If Marvel’s first few phases were about bringing Earth’s mightiest heroes together, it seems like Phase 3 is going to be abut tearing them apart. Agents of SHIELD and Age of Ultron alike have been focusing on whether these superheroes and their organizations do more harm than good for the general populace, and we know that that’s a theme that has played a major role in the MCU recently, and will play a huge part of upcoming stories. Daredevil was set against a backdrop of the fallout the Avengers failed to clean up after the Battle of New York. People no longer trust SHIELD after Hydra’s duplicity. Recent Ant-Man set visits have highlighted that part of Hank Pym’s character is going to be part of his distrust of the Avengers and his former colleagues at SHIELD. Civil War, in obvious ways, will ask questions about the harm superheroes can do when they’re given free reign. We’ve moved on from building up the likes of Iron Man and Thor and the other Avengers to their lofty positions to a point where the public no longer trusts them because of those positions.
Where does Spider-Man fit into all of that? Well, he’s somewhere in between those two different areas of hero—and that’s a level that no one else is currently on in the MCU. Spider-Man’s relationship with the public, and especially with his fellow New Yorkers, has always been a huge part of the character, and sort of what makes him so likeable: He’s the people’s hero. He’s not Earth’s mightiest hero, he’s your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Part of the mutability that makes him so capable to fit in with all the other superheroes at play in the MCU likewise means that Spider-Man can have a much closer relationship with the people he defends.
He’s not a god, or a billionare, or a supersoldier. He’s ordinary. He fills a character tier between the Avengers and characters like Daredevil that puts him in a place where Spider-Man is always thinking about the people he’s protecting, because he’s more like them than he is any of the heroes his fighting alongside (this is arguably an approach that Marvel and Netflix are taking with their Defenders characters too, as we’ve seen Matt Murdock already positioning himself as a “people’s” hero by the end of Daredevil’s first season). A hero like that is just what the people of the MCU needs in the wake of whatever fallout will come from Civil War, to help bridge that gap as we lead up to Infinity War.
As the MCU expands, both on earth and beyond into Marvel’s cosmic comic book characters, there needs to be a hero that can balance both that big, weird scale and the more intimate, human backdrop. That’s what Spider-Man has always been about in the comics, and it’s exactly what the movies need as they enter this big period of change—a change the MCU hasn’t really risked since The Avengers began to really tie everything together.
You’ve got some pretty big Spider-boots to fill, Mr. Holland, and you’re a lot more important to the future of Marvel movies than you might realize. Good luck!