When a studio partnership brought Spider-Man to the MCU it was a dream come true for fans. Now that the deal is over, it feels like a nightmare. But a Spider-Man movie series without the MCU may finally force Peter Parker into the spotlight of his own story... rather than a supporting character cleaning up Tony Stark's messes.
It should be said that not every concern over Spider-Man's break with Marvel is a convincing one. For instance, assuming the cast, writers, and director will suddenly 'forget' how to make a good Spider-Man movie is a stretch--as is the idea that neither Holland nor the Spider-Man brand are valuable on their own. But for fans unsure about the future of Spider-Man on his own without the MCU to support him, there's a different question they should be asking: will this finally be what's needed to make Spider-Man the star of his own movie? Because judging by his MCU appearances and solo films... that sure wasn't Marvel's plan.
Spider-Man Was Tony's Sidekick From The Start
When Marvel and Sony made their deal to reboot Spidey in Marvel's Avengers universe, they went about introducing him in a different way than the rest of their core superheroes. At the time, Marvel Studios rightly assumed fans would be so eager to see Spider-Man join the Avengers on film, they wouldn't mind the decision to skip over his origin story (despite that approach being cited as Marvel's key to success versus competitors). In fact, Spider-Man was injected into a story that had nothing to do with him. He even dropped a few quips about his arbitrary taking of sides, while fighting a battle he had absolutely no stake in.
It's a testament to the strengths of Tom Holland, Robert Downey, Jr., and the filmmakers of Captain America: Civil War that the strategy worked as well as it did. Tasked with effectively selling the audience on a new Spider-Man in a single sequence, if not a single scene, they pulled it off. But Peter's recruitment, like his subsequent dismissal, showed he was NOT on the same level as the other Marvel heroes. Not in status, respect, or even significance to the studio's broader story. While some have noted hypocrisy in Tony putting a child in harm's way to win a dispute sparked by the death of a young civilian, the real problem is the dynamic Peter's introduced established: Spider-Man's link to the MCU is through Tony, and not himself.
Spider-Man Died To Advance Tony Stark's Story
It's strange to think that Tom Holland has already appeared as Spider-Man five times, despite only recently releasing his second solo movie. And it is significant that Peter entered the MCU story as Tony Stark's recruit, and later a brief team member to prove himself to his benefactor. One could argue Tony Stark forging the first two official Iron Man-esque Spider suits crosses a line into literally 'making this Spider-Man,' as well. Either way, the story of Peter's rise to the Avengers ranks culminated in his death... to serve Tony Stark's next story, and not his own.
Tony cares for Peter, which introduced his new role as a father, and was ultimately paid off to the point that even Tom Holland sees Tony Stark as a new Uncle Ben. But if Peter Parker followed that same storyline through the MCU and happened to be a female character, any movie fan would have to admit that his story is a textbook, unaltered case of "fridging" (harming or killing women characters just to advance a man's story). Even if he's a boy, the lack of characterization and sacrificing one character for another is the exact same problem.
As entertaining and beloved as he may be thanks to Marvel's crowd-pleasing blockbuster formula, Peter exists in the MCU because Tony chose him. He is special to the story because Tony cares about him. And he died so Tony would have a reason to save the day come Avengers: Endgame. That isn't hyperbole, either: as fans surely remember, Tony is silently haunted by Peter's death, convinced to unlock time travel by a photo of Peter, and is rendered speechless and emotional when Peter returns after Hulk's own Infinity Gauntlet 'snap' restores the dead.
Just to make sure there's no confusion for audiences, Peter also appears at Tony's side in his final moments to confirm he has saved the day (before being pushed aside so Tony can have a moment with his wife). So fine, Peter serves Tony's story in the Avengers movies. But Peter's actual Spider-Man movies can't exist just because of Tony Stark, right? Wrong.
Both Spider-Man Movies Happen Because of Tony Stark
Spider-Man: Homecoming was the perfect confirmation that director Jon Watts and Tom Holland were the right choices for a high school Spidey reboot. But it is irrefutable that the existence of BOTH major villains Spider-Man has faced--their motivations throughout the conflict, and the inciting incidents of their plots--exist solely because of Tony Stark. To start with, Homecoming's Vulture (Michael Keaton) is born in the wake of The Avengers, when Damage Control overrides his salvage and construction contracts. Begging on behalf of his family and his livelihood, Toomes is told that it's Tony Stark who formed Damage Control, and it's Tony Stark he should appeal to for compensation (which he never gets).
Peter only has a role in his own movie because he inserts himself into this revenge tale, after Tony is too busy to deal with it himself. Peter's rivalry with Toomes is made personal thanks to his high school crush, but this late reveal also includes Vulture making it clear his mission has nothing to do with Spider-Man. And believe it or not, that's the exact same formula followed when Peter returns to his normal life for the sequel. After Marvel made sure to 'Blip' away everyone in Peter Parker's life so his death will have no actual impact on his story (since that was never the point).
While Spider-Man: Far From Home begins with Peter choosing to live his own life, those plans are canceled almost immediately, when he learns that Tony Stark has chosen him once again. This time it's the responsibility of his entire sunglasses-controlled-arsenal, with the request that he become "the next Tony Stark"... we suppose subtlety went out the window by then. Soon Quentin Beck (Jake Gylenhaal) arrives on the scene, establishing himself as the first MCU character to be introduced and shaped through his interactions with Spider-Man. The pair seem to form a kinship over loss, duty, and the burden of responsibility... until it's revealed that Quentin Beck exists because Tony Stark wronged him, he wants to claim the Stark Tech glasses as payback for himself and his team of similarly wronged Stark employees. Yet again, Peter is a piece in Tony's game who must save the day because Tony can't do it himself.
It's Time For Spider-Man To Create His Own Story
The Spider-Man movies have shown that Peter Parker is a character with his own wants and needs, eventually forced to take a back seat to face consequences that are not his own--and the same goes for his villains. Even the world-changing ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home is a callback to Tony's public reveal at the end of Iron Man. Except where Tony chose to reveal himself, Peter is once again powerless, having his identity exposed by Stark's enemies.
The reasons Marvel Studios chose to forge Spider-Man in Iron Man's shadow may have been altruistic, seeing the appointment of "Iron Man, Jr." as an honor, and not a slight. But the result is the same: a Spider-Man whose origin was never told, who faces villains who care little about him, to whom Uncle Ben is a footnote, and whose scenes with Aunt May were even reduced in favor of Tony's closest friend.
If Marvel were the ones keeping Spider-Man from becoming his own hero, then that excuse or limitation has just been erased. Now Sony can build a universe with HIM at its center. Even if Marvel may end up kicking themselves for 'graduating' Peter Parker out from under Tony Stark's shadow, it's Sony's chance to make it right (ideally with the same Spider-Man director and writers). Here's hoping they take it.