This Article Contains Spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home
They are never going to stop making Spider-Man films.
I want to make that clear up front. We may say that this or that Spider-Man movie got it perfectly right (usually narrowed down to Spider-Man 2 and Into the Spider-Verse, two films that are practically flawless) and that if they can’t reach that level of perfection, they shouldn’t bother, but that’s not realistic.
Spider-Man is Marvel’s most popular hero, beating out even Wolverine. His arrival on screen in the early 2000s heralded the real beginning of the Superhero movie as a genre, after X-Men and Blade set the stage. He has, at this point, appeared as a major character in 11 theatrically released films, more than any other superhero (Batman, second place finisher, has 10). The MCU is going to include Spider-Man.
So I wish they’d actually make Spider-Man movies. Cause while I’ve found both of the two Spider-Man movies included in the MCU thus far pleasant enough diversions, they’ve both mostly been Iron Man spinoffs far more than they’re Spider-Man movies.
I like Spider-Man a lot, I like his movies, I like his animated series, I like his video game, I’ve even been known to like his comics on occasion. He’s got the best rogue gallery of any Marvel hero, but the Spider-Man movies they’ve made have not been preoccupied with Peter, or MJ or Vulture or Mysterio half as much as they’re interested in turning Spider-Man into Iron Man.
Lest you think I am exaggerating, consider Spider-Man: Far From Home for a moment. Consider how many of its big emotional moments hinge on Peter’s relationship with Tony. Consider how Fury, Happy even Peter talk constantly about how Tony Stark chose him. Peter is not an every man, accidentally bit by a radioactive spider who chose to use his power for good. This is a boy, chosen by the most important man on Earth, who just happened to have been bitten by a radioactive spider at some point.
Even the plot succumbs to this. Mysterio’s plan isn’t about his relationship to Peter, it’s about Mysterio’s relationship to Iron Man. The emotional climax of Homecoming’s story is his reconciling with Tony, while what should be a major plot point (Aunt May discovering he’s Spider-Man) is a cute pre-credits button. Far From Home does this again, making the end of Peter’s emotional journey when he reconciles with Stark’s legacy but relegating what should be a HUGE plot point to a post-credits comedy scene centered around a surprise cameo.
Part of this, I fear, is an effort to differentiate itself from previous iterations. More than any other hero, Spider-Man has to live in the shadow of previous versions, initially the Raimi films and then Spider-Verse, versions to which all others must be measured and ultimately fall short. The Amazing films tried to squirm their way out from under this shadow by imitating the last superhero film to escape a more famous predecessor (namely the Nolan Batman films) and collapsed under their own weight.
So the MCU films have tried to solve this issue by, on the one hand, making the films smaller and lighter, focusing more on in-school relationships and low stakes and on the other, lean on their MCU connection for more gravitas. But these two approaches are pulling in opposite directions. The movies can’t be smaller and more intimate than other MCU films (an approach that the MCU is currently sorely lacking) because they need to have big stakes and massive action beats to match their MCU.
This, in essence, is the increasing problem with the MCU, the one that is threatening to overwhelm it and kill at least my interest. Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were allowed to exist in their own right, to be movies that stood or fell on their own merits, and despite inevitable comparisons, Spider-Verse was the same, different enough and confident enough that it could exist on its own. All of the Spider-Man movies since have felt the need to measure up, to differentiate themselves or just to fit in with the MCU. As the MCU has grown and grown and grown the plots have necessarily only gotten bigger and sillier and more involved with each other and now we’ve reached the point where most of the latest Spider-Man outing is devoted to Peter’s relationship with Iron Man.
I am rooting for Spider-Man. He remains one of my favorite heroes, and it is criminal that we’re nearly 20 years out from the first ever Spider-Man movie without Kraven ever having shown his face in live action. But the MCU movies are going to have to choose what they want to do, whether they want to tell the story of Peter and his life or if they want to continue the story of Iron Man Jr. Because from where I stand, one Spider-Man sequel goes into its climax with Peter clenching his fist, making his choice, deciding to be Spider-Man and to fight for what’s right, and another goes into its climax with a montage of making a new mechanical suit with Tony Stark’s technology, like a spider-themed Iron Man. And I know which of those two movies I like better.