I am still taking in the news that Marvel/Disney and Sony have reached an agreement to allow Spider-Man to show up in the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe (Warning: EXTREMELY geeky babble to follow). Based on the deal, Spidey is going to show up in an MCU film before getting his next Sony-produced solo film in July 2017. Looking at the current Marvel movie release calendar, the most likely candidate for this is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which makes a kind of sense considering that Spider-Man was a big part of that storyline in the comics. I can completely understand why fans of the MCU, Spider-Man, and the Civil War comics arc are thrilled at the possibility.
I have a few issues, though. The first is simply a lack of information on my part. From what I could find, Captain America: Civil War is scheduled to start shooting in April. It has to in order to make its May 2016 release date. I have to believe that there is already a script in place (Although, this isn’t necessarily the case. See Star Trek 3 – Reboot Edition, which also has an April start date for a 2016 release, but we just learned last week that Simon Pegg is helping with the script). But was this deal between Marvel/Disney and Sony in the works and looking solid enough that Spider-Man is in the current script, a script that has supposedly been in the works since 2013?
We’ve known for months that Captain America: Civil War will include Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron-Man in a major role. So, if you’ll bear with me for a moment, let’s run down all of the things that the script for this movie is said to include. First, it’s a Captain America movie, which means Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is the lead. Second, Robert Downey, Jr. has a large part. Third, Scarlett Johannson, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan are back as Black Widow, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier respectively. On top of that, this movie is supposed to be the first appearance of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and include villains Crossbones and Baron Zemo.
That’s a movie that already sounds overstuffed with characters to serve. And now, there’s the possibility that they will be adding the first MCU appearance of the biggest superhero name in all of Marvel: Spider-Man.
I had an exchange with Corinne about this (graciously unburying herself from under the mountain of real life obligations she is battling through), and she responded with the following assessment of the situation. “I'm not a geeky comic nerd by any stretch, but I know enough about the universes to have opinions of my own. And my opinions strongly favor the X-Men franchise, Batman, and the Iron Man/Avengers franchises. I have NEVER been a Captain America fan (see Superman for reasons why - infallible boy scouts with good looks and very little in the way of dark sides are really not my jam) and even LESS of a Spider-Man fan. But even as a confirmed non-fan of Spidey, I know the whole story. Who doesn't know the Peter Parker backstory by now? You'd have to live under a rock to not know it. So I'm firmly in the camp of ‘Hey, I'm glad Spidey gets other superheroes, ones I actually care about, to play with,’ which is strongly coupled with ‘If you short shift Robert Downey, Jr. to explain, for the fifth f**ing time, how Spidey came to be or who he is, so help me god, there will be smitings.’ They have to be very clever. It's like splitting a dessert between three of your kids. You can NOT appear to be biased in any way. No one kid can have the cherry. No one kid can have a bigger piece. Or else hell breaks out. You know the drill. Same, same here. Spidey, Iron Man, and Cap have to have equal parts to play or the fans will throw unholy tantrums the likes of which Marvel has never seen.”
She’s absolutely correct, but she also points out another major problem with this scenario. Iron-Man and Captain America are established players in the MCU. I would argue that Robert Downey, Jr. is the reason the MCU even exists. Without his fantastic performance as Tony Stark in Iron-Man that launched the MCU in the first place, we wouldn’t have a series to even be discussing. And while The Avengers is an ensemble film, Downey is quite clearly the lead of that ensemble (and the one who ultimately gets to save the day).
While his performance isn’t nearly as showy as Downey’s, Chris Evans has done a wonderful job portraying Steve Rogers/Captain America. He is an earnest man with a moral code and one struggling to adapt to the new century in which he finds himself. There’s also the not-so-minor point that the movie we are discussing is coming in his franchise, so presumably he will be the lead.
Even ignoring all of the other characters to be served (And Black Widow is at the top of the list, particularly since she was practically the co-lead of the previous Captain America film, Captain America: The Winter Solider), we have two very established actors heading up this movie. Based on the information we have currently, Andrew Garfield, who played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the two most recent Spider-Man movies, will not be continuing in the role. This makes sense considering that the plan seems to be to create a new Spider-Man continuity in the MCU in which The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 did not happen. A new actor will provide the needed clean slate. But whoever is cast as Peter Parker is going to be thrown straight into the deep end and have to establish himself in the role while going toe-to-toe with Evans and Downey, who have been playing their parts for multiple movies now. That’s going to be a lot to ask of this presumably young actor.
I also question the wisdom of introducing Spider-Man into the film version of the Civil War storyline at all. Granted, I know he was a key part of the comic version of the storyline, but, and I am going to be exceptionally vague here in order to avoid spoilers, Peter Parker makes a decision in that storyline that has massive ramifications on his existence that required a literal deal with the devil to undo. Unless the Captain America: Civil War writers somehow manage to wrap it up all within the Civil War movie (and I say that without knowing how they plan to adapt the storyline for the films), I can’t imagine that Sony would want to launch their new Spider-Man film standalone series with the character’s life in such a state.
I trust the Marvel team based on what they've done so far, but Captain America: Civil War, if it is indeed going to include everything we speculate, sounds like a nearly impossible script to pull off effectively. It was already going to be crowded even before the introduction of Spider-Man, but bringing in this major Marvel character (and “major” is a massive understatement here) threatens to completely overwhelm the film. If Spider-Man is reduced to a glorified cameo in his first MCU appearance, fans will be pissed. If Captain America and Iron-Man are made guest stars in what basically becomes a Spider-Man movie because of the need to introduce him to the MCU and the fact that he's frickin' Spider-Man, fans will be pissed (I'll be in this camp).
Done incorrectly, the "Civil War" subtitle of the film could turn out to be more accurate than Marvel realizes as the fans of the different heroes turn on each other. This one is going to be VERY interesting to watch play out, but I find myself hoping that Marvel announces another film to bring Spidey into the MCU properly.
- Alan Decker
@CmdrAJD on Twitter