The main point of Captain America: Civil War may be to advance the overarching story of the Avengers, using Captain America (Chris Evans) as the personal focus, but it’s the film’s secondary function that has had fans talking the most since its debut two weekends ago: how it sets up all the myriad plot threads that will be raging across Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which started this month with Civil War and which ends with the currently-titled The Avengers: Infinity War, Part II in May 2019).
few of these little nuggets of world-building have been as viscerally exciting – or as well-received – as the introduction of the brand-new and totally amazing Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Having to establish an entirely new character – replete with a sense of his backstory, supporting characters, and future development – is no easy task, given the third Captain America film’s countless other narrative elements that it had to juggle, but the job was well and truly accomplished, planting more than enough seeds to see flower in next July’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
There’s so many, in fact, that we should quickly run them down: here’s How Captain America: Civil War Sets up the New Spider-Man.
Audiences may be used to seeing Spidey flip, punch, and swing his way around New York City, fending off more than his fair share of baddies, across the past 14 years and five films, but they’re not quite used to seeing this: Spider-Man flipping, punching, and swinging his way around superheroes – some of the most powerful and iconic in both comic book and, now, Hollywood history. Peter snatching Captain America’s shield out of his hands, going toe-to-toe with the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and attempting to topple Ant-Man/Giant-Man (Paul Rudd) marks some of the most action-packed, superpower-drenched sequences ever committed to a Spidey movie (even if, technically, it wasn’t actually a Spidey movie), and it effectively raises the bar for any other installment that may follow, whether produced by Marvel Studios or reverting back to Sony Pictures control sometime in the future.
Indeed, if the measure of a protagonist, the saying goes (at least, in comic book circles), is the strength of his antagonist, then this new Marvel-concocted Spider-Man promises to be the most formidable of all. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he also has arguably the best on-screen costume we've seen so foar.
Introducing Aunt May
Good ol’ Aunt May has, of course, been featured in every Spider-Man outing since Sam Raimi’s inaugural picture last decade, and having her pop up in Civil War is similarly not a surprise. While the two scenes featuring her are overwhelmingly meant to establish her character – and her new performer – with Marvel’s audiences in preparation for Homecoming next year, they also serve as something of a mission statement for how she (and, by extension, the rest of the supporting cast) will be handled in this third cinematic iteration of the Spidey mythos.
For starters, this May Parker is the youngest of the bunch; whereas Rosemary Harris was 74 when Spider-Man released in 2002, and Sally Field was 65 for 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, Marisa Tomei is only 51 – the same age as Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man). And while this little fact allowed Tony Stark to flirt with Peter’s mother figure, it allows the character to be of a much closer generation to the similarly-younger-than-ever-before Peter (Tom Holland is only 19), enabling her to be more relatable to a Spider-Man who will have to deal with the trials and tribulations of teenage life more (and more convincingly) than ever before. AGiven the bigger action quotient that’s already on display, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this rendition of Aunt May find her way into a bit of the action set-piece spotlight, as well.
Speaking of the teenage years…
A more grounded Peter
In many ways, it’s clear that directors Joe and Anthony Russo – along with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, beyond them – were most concerned about establishing Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as an actual teenager who goes to high school and who worries about finishing his homework on time and, of course, protecting his secret identity from his aunt and the rest of the world, which is increasingly becoming aware of his New York antics thanks to the power of YouTube.
Beyond the level of differentiation that this younger direction can take the franchise in, there’s a lot of material to be mined here for a whole slew of standalone films. Given both Tony Stark’s and Steve Rogers’ celebrity natures – along with the fact that Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) publicly divulged the rest of their identities when dumping S.H.I.E.L.D.’s and Hydra’s databanks onto the Internet back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier – the MCU has never had much reason to wrestle with the topic of secret identities before, making this a fresh wrinkle in the shared universe’s storytelling. And while that particular element may be old hat for the Spider-Man franchise specifically, having Civil War’s original, decidedly homespun Spidey costume is a terrifically authentic touch for what a boy from Queens would really be able to do by himself.
A raison d’etre
The fundamental drive for any Spider-Man movie – and for the character himself – is the famous “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra, meant to illustrate the Web Head’s raison d’etre by establishing his unwillingness to ever let others suffer because of his selfishness again. Interestingly enough, this is the one traditional element (well, apart from any Spidey-specific villains, of course) that we didn’t get in Civil War - at least, not explicitly. When Tony asks Peter why he took up the mantle of a superhero, the teen replies, "When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you." Though the name is never mentioned, it's strongly implied both by the words and by the sombre way in which Holland delivers them that the "bad thing" that hardened his resolve was Uncle Ben's murder.
However, there is another call to arms for Peter to take on the Spider-Man identity. While not explicitly stated in the film, the Russos and other members of the crew have mentioned what an impact the existence of the Avengers have had on young Peter’s life – especially the Battle of New York (as depicted in The Avengers), which occurred when Mr. Parker was approximately only 12 years old and which undoubtedly did much to impress this sense of morality upon him.
Of course, Spider-Man's solo film could very well include a recap of Ben's fate (we fully expect to get the “great responsibility” line in Homecoming in one form or another), whether it pops up in a flashback or is echoed by another character. But the fact that he is recruited into an Avengers fight within months of getting his powers, and the fact that we witnessed the superhero team saving his home town, shows how thoroughly the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already ingrained in Spider-Man – and how, potentially, Homecoming can return the favor.
The Newest Avenger?
Avengers: Age of Ultron may have switched up the superpowered team’s lineup, but Captain America: Civil War positively decimates it, removing all former and current members save for Iron Man, the Avengers’ new leader, and the Vision (Paul Bettany). That Spider-Man will be asked to help permanently re-fill the roster may have been foreshadowed by Tony Stark’s recruiting of him to be a temporary ally in the first place, but it’s even further hinted at by the film’s post-credits scene, in which Peter Parker is playing around with his new web shooter and discovers a few extra, hi-tech features that Tony smuggled in there – including, apparently, a method for the two to communicate beyond the prying eye of the world’s media (and, more importantly, Aunt May).
Spider-Man’s potential to become the newest member of the Avengers seems to be further cemented by Robert Downey, Jr.’s presence in Homecoming; rumors and speculation both have long lingered on the possibility of Iron Man coming to Queens to instruct and train Peter on how to better use his set of superpowers, and the after-credits tag certainly suggests this as a strong possibility (or maybe Spidey is forced to call on Tony to help dispatch a particularly nasty baddie). Whether accurate or not, leaving the door open for the leading figures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to pop up in the standalone films is the single most exciting possibility heading forward – particularly as we get closer and closer to The Avengers: Infinity War.
Did we miss an even better way that Captain America: Civil War sets up Spider-Man: Homecoming? Feel that there’s just no way that the new film can live up to the standards set by the previous two series? Sound off in the comments.
Captain America: Civil War is now in theaters, and is followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2– May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.