Spider-Man: Homecoming enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a mission statement: to boldly not do what any of the previous five Spider-Man movies have done before. There is no lovelorn Peter pining for Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy in Homecoming, and while Peter Parker’s origin story as an ordinary teenager who got bitten by a spider remains intact, it is only mentioned to in the movie – not shown. Moreover, Peter’s Uncle Ben is never explicitly mentioned, but the movie does allude to his tragic death in other ways.
Face it, tiger – we all know who Spider-Man is and how he came to be. Along with Batman and Superman’s origins, the story of how teenage science nerd Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, gained the proportionate strength and speed of that spider, and set off to fight crime as the Amazing Spider-Man is one of the most famous origins in pop culture. It’s also by now an origin that’s been depicted twice in the movies; in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man and a decade later in Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Only Batman has retellings of Spidey’s origin beaten; we’ve seen the Waynes shot dead in front of young Bruce’s eyes in 3 movies as well as on the FOX TV series Gotham. But like Bruce Wayne’s parents, a pivotal person has to die in Spider-Man’s mythology to spur Peter onward to become the hero he’s destined to be: Peter’s uncle Ben Parker.
Uncle Ben is the kindly old man who, with his wife May, adopts young Peter (Tobey Maguire) when his parents die. In Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, Ben (played by Cliff Robertson) is an unemployed older gentleman who is a steady and loving guiding hand for Peter (Tobey Maguire). Ben is killed by a car jacker in this version, but before he dies, he gifts Peter with the words that would come to define what Spider-Man stands for: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
In The Amazing Spider-Man, Ben is portrayed by Martin Sheen as a retired electrician. Richard and Mary Parker appear in this version; Richard is a scientist on the run with Oscorp secrets that directly tie into how Peter becomes Spider-Man. Ben takes his nephew in when the Richard and Mary go on the run (later to die in an airplane). Ben is killed after an argument with Peter – shot and killed by a thief whom Peter let escape.
Uncle Ben is explicitly not mentioned in Spider-Man: Homecoming. This creative decision, freeing Tom Holland’s Peter Parker from the burden of mourning his uncle on screen and dedicating his crime-fighting career in his memory was explained by director Jon Watts:
“He’s actually not specifically mentioned. Peter says, I can’t do this [to May] after everything that happened.'”
This is in reference to Peter telling his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) that Aunt May can’t know he’s secretly Spider-Man because of how recently they both lost Uncle Ben. As for why Homecoming didn’t deal with Uncle Ben’s death or show the classic origin, Watts goes on to clarify:
“I wanted to make sure that nothing like that was dwelled on, because I did want to focus on just the excitement of what it would be like to be 15 and to have those powers. A big thing was not showing the origin story. Those movies show a lot of really amazing, iconic Spider-Man moments, so, like, we have to find more. They make you work really hard to come up with new things: Like take him to the suburbs. Take him to Washington, DC.”
In this regard, the filmmakers definitely succeeded. Spider-Man: Homecoming is refreshing in that it doesn’t reiterate the same emotional and story beats fans have already grown so familiar with, choosing instead to surprise and delight with new villains and Spider-Man going to places and having adventures we’ve never seen him do in a Spider-Man movie before.
Though Ben is missing from Homecoming, his influence on Peter, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and on the whole film as an absent father figure is still felt. There’s a drive of a missing father figure present in Peter’s desire to prove himself to his new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and earn his respect and a place in the Avengers. Watts and his filmmaking team take full advantage of having a brash, funny young Peter not acting out of angst over his role in his uncle’s death, and instead enjoying the fun of being a superhero.
SPIDER-MAN’S ORIGIN IN HOMECOMING
Spider-Man: Homecoming operates with the assumption that the fans already know the details of how Peter gained his powers and became Spider-Man. The primary point the movie conveys, in a scene where Ned peppers Peter with constant questions, is that Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider. Uncle Ben is assumed to have died, as per the classic origin, but the important thing is Ben is gone. Peter lives alone with his Aunt May, goes to high school, and fights crime as Spider-Man. He may also become an Avenger one day, which is his fondest wish.
According to Marvel’s timeline (which Homecoming may have broken), Peter Parker was active as a superhero and gaining fame as “the Spider-Man of YouTube” for roughly six months before Tony Stark came to Queens, New York to recruit him to fight for #TeamIronMan in Captain America: Civil War. Homecoming hilariously shows us these events from Peter’s POV before Peter is deposited right back by Stark into his regular life as a high school sophomore who protects his borough as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The new aspects to Spider-Man’s origin Homecoming establishes is primary what a seismic influence Tony Stark has been on Peter’s life. At least from what we’ve seen on screen, Tony has replaced Uncle Ben as Peter’s most prominent male role model. We’ve recently learned Marvel has retconned the Stark Expo battle in Iron Man 2 so that it was a young Peter Parker whom Iron Man saved from Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke)’s drones. During Civil War, Stark gifted Peter with his StarkTech Spider-Man suit, replacing Peter’s homemade suit. The StarkTech suit contains a very Iron Man-like A.I. (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), as well has numerous upgrades Peter was meant to receive when he completed the training program Stark installed in the suit.
Most important of all, Spider-Man: Homecoming definitively places the web-slinger in the MCU, where Captain America’s Fitness Challenge videos play in his high school class rooms, and the shadow of the Avengers looms over the world. Like the classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics the movie uses as one of its inspirations, this is a Spider-Man who is no longer alone in his universe, but shares a grand stage with other superheroes, villains, and alien conquerors he’s destined to meet as an Avenger.
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