Spider-Man: Far From Home drops a major bombshell on Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) status quo, and Marvel's handling of his secret identity has just become the studio's greatest challenge. Since Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures made a deal to share the character back in 2015, moviegoers have witnessed Spidey’s gradual incorporation into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, Spider-Man himself has played a vital role in a relatively short time span. After being recruited onto Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) team in Captain America: Civil War, he single-handedly took down Adrian Toomes’ (Michael Keaton) illegal arms company in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Peter also played a key part in the fight against Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and his prominence in the MCU looks set to continue in Phase 4 – and beyond.
Certainly, die-hard fans have largely appreciated this youthful, talkative, pop culture savvy iteration of Spider-Man. However, there are increasing concerns about how the hero and his mythos are being reinterpreted in the MCU. The subtler depiction of Peter’s Spider-Sense raised eyebrows, as have Peter’s attempts to emulate Iron Man instead of standing alone. Yet this pales in comparison to their most decisive turn yet.
Far From Home's first post credit scene depicts Peter enjoying his new relationship with Michelle "MJ" Jones, but his happiness is short lived. The Daily Bugle.net – headed by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) – releases doctored footage that Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) sent them prior to his death in the final battle. The clip doesn't just position Spidey as the villain behind the Elemental threat, before the wall-crawler shoots the "heroic" Quentin Beck – it also depicts Mysterio disclosing Spidey's true name to the world.
This is a remarkable moment in Spidey's cinematic history, since the hero is famous for his consistently secret identity. Let's break down why this is one of the core tenets of Spider-Man lore, and why it represents such a big risk for Marvel's future plans.
Why Spider-Man’s Secret Identity Is So Important In The Comics
Though he has not always successfully kept his identity a secret, Peter Parker has long fought crime behind a mask for various important reasons. The first, and most often cited of these, is that anonymity protects his loved ones. Unlike serum-enhanced super soldiers, gods and billionaire playboys, Peter is an everyman of limited means. If Spider-Man’s identity was public, he’d be unable to protect his friends and family from the sheer volume of criminals and powerful super villains who would enjoy enacting their vengeance upon easily identifiable targets. Moreover, the iconic arc entitled “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” showcases the perils of Peter’s secret identity being uncovered by dangerous individuals.
Indeed, the disparity between shy Peter Parker and the sensational Spider-Man has become a crucial fixture in the character’s makeup. Peter has frequently explained that anonymity allows him to let forth the snarky quips that have endeared him to readers for many years. It also puts bread on the table, via the photos that he sells to The Daily Bugle – an arrangement that would not work if J. Jonah Jameson knew the truth. And though the secret protects Spider-Man’s friends, lovers and relatives, it undoubtedly shelters Peter as well. The double identity ensures that Peter can enjoy downtime from both his normal and extraordinary lifestyles when he inhabits the other persona. For years Peter has avoided uncomfortable confrontations with people who have hated or mistrusted Spider-Man, such as Harry Osborn and Aunt May.
Spider-Man’s duality has taken on a greater, meta significance as well. Fans and critics have attributed Spidey’s enduring popularity to the fact that we can relate to – and enjoy – both the supernatural and more mundane halves of his life. Plus, the fact that Spider-Man has maintained his secrecy for so long – namely through a full body costume – means that readers and audiences can project themselves onto the character in a way that they are unable to do so with other superheroes. The fact that “anyone can be Spider-Man” was a wildly successful aspect of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Yet, interestingly, the MCU has gone in another direction.
How The MCU Has Weakened Spider-Man’s Secret Identity
Outside his love interests, villains who deduced the truth or the occasional, random New Yorker, Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s movies largely maintained Spider-Man’s secret as they charted his formative days as a superhero. The MCU changes things up, though. By the time of Captain: America Civil War – where Peter is first introduced – he had already been operating as Spider-Man for six months. During that period, bystanders had videoed Spidey in action, and it was from these clips that Iron Man (somehow) deduced the truth. Tony approached the young hero out of costume and recruited him into his team to take down Captain America (Chris Evans).
Though none of the other heroes were privy to Spidey’s name during the conflict, Spider-Man: Homecoming revealed that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) had been appointed as the hero’s handler – thus, he was told who Spidey was. Peter’s friend Ned (Jacob Bantalon) and Aunt May also discovered what the Stark Internship really consisted of during Homecoming, before Infinity War and Endgame saw Spidey frequently unmask and name himself to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), the Guardians of the Galaxy and, naturally, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
In many ways this volume of conspirators is excusable, given that a great number of them are fellow heroes and allies (for now, anyway). Moreover, this has generally been the case for much of Marvel Comics’ modern era with established figures like Daredevil and the Fantastic Four being let in on Spider-Man’s secret. Yet, as mentioned earlier, Far From Home's mid-credits scene finds The Daily Bugle broadcasting footage that Quentin Beck had sent them, whereby he reveals Spidey's secret before the wall-crawler "murders" him.
As we'll explore a little later, this doesn't necessarily mean that Peter's secret identity is totally dead and buried. It does seem that way after Far From Home, though – especially since Marvel had already considered "outing" Peter during Tony's aborted press conference at the end of Homecoming. On the face of it, Mysterio's (seemingly) posthumous jab at Peter is a gutsy, unprecedented move for Spider-Man movies to take. However, there’s concern that, by revealing Spidey's identity to the MCU, Marvel Studios has ignored one of the hero's defining attributes, which could create complications down the line.
The Problem Losing Spider-Man’s Secret Identity Poses
Post-Iron Man, the notion of a having a secret identity in the MCU might seem like a quaint one – particularly since this fictional world is filled with advanced technology. With HD cameras and advanced computer surveillance systems (like EDITH) it would be increasingly difficult for Peter to maintain the lie. Be that as it may, the loss of Spidey’s secret identity radically changes the character’s dynamics, and not just with his family and school mates. A great many Spider-Man stories – such as the brilliant car ride sequence in Homecoming – automatically lose a lot of their intrigue and tension if Spidey’s villains and critics know who he is from the start. Indeed, conflicts with archenemies, such as the rumored, future introduction of the Green Goblin, will have to change wholesale if Norman Osborn is not the only one who knows Spider-Man’s secret.
Similarly – given the character’s youth in the MCU – the unmasking raises a lot of issues within the wider fictional world. It's not just that there is an ethical fallout of adult villains and criminals knowingly attacking a minor; Marvel writers and directors will have to acknowledge the illegality of Peter’s vigilantism. On a side-note, it also doesn't help that Spider-Man likely traveled to Berlin without a passport in Homecoming as well. Unlike Iron Man and Captain America, he has no government backing for his crime-fighting. If Far From Home's sequels continue to focus on Spidey's teenage escapades and doesn't consider these other aspects, the cause-and-effect realism that Marvel has worked so hard to cultivate in their franchise begins to break apart.
But most crucially of all - as the sole hero in the MCU with a secret identity - Spider-Man would lose a key aspect that makes him so unique. As we explored earlier, Spidey’s just not as relatable without his everyday problems. Publicly naming Peter Parker as a superhero removes that distinction between the fantastical and the commonplace parts of his life, meaning that nothing would play out in the same way. After all, how could Peter ever attend a homecoming dance if everyone knew what he had done, and what he was capable of? Indeed, it’s very telling that the one plot where Spider-Man did unmask in the comics (during the "Civil War" event) was retconned less than a year later in the ever-controversial "One More Day" arc, so that no one remembered his identity once again.
It cannot be understated just how popular Spider-Man is, and how hard Marvel has worked to include him into the MCU. As such, their reworking of a key part of Spidey's appeal risks damaging all that good will. Although, that isn't to say that all hope is lost.
How Spider-Man Without A Secret Identity Could Be Good
Whilst making Spider-Man’s identity public closes off numerous stories for Marvel Studios, it also opens many new avenues for future Spidey movies. Indeed, the prospect of revealing Spidey’s alter ego may not be a permanent one. There have been several instances in Spider-Man’s mythos where Peter has been outed, and he subsequently struggled to throw people off the scent. Amazing Spider-Man #87 saw the web-slinger lend his costume to the Prowler, who used it to impersonate Spider-Man in front of Peter and his close friends. Peter had accidentally told Gwen, Mary Jane and Harry the truth in a feverish delirium, something that he had immediately regretted and sought to rectify. Similarly, The Spectacular Spider-Man series depicted Venom unveiling Peter’s double life to The Daily Bugle's newsroom. Jameson's staff ran with that news, and for the next few days Peter was forced to dodge villains, and the increasingly invasive New York media, until Flash Thompson – and previous, lucky happenstances – worked in his favor, and his name was cleared.
Such a story, where Peter schemes to convince the world that he isn’t Spider-Man, would be an interesting thing for Spider-Man movies to tackle, even if it stretches logic somewhat. Then again, the same can be said for a Spidey whose identity is known to the public. Peter Parker is known as the hero who can rarely catch a break. Given that Spider-Man’s mild-mannered alter ego has been thrust into the public consciousness, it’s going to be intriguing to see how he deals with the attention when, unlike his first mentor Tony Stark, notoriety is something that Peter is completely unprepared for.
Certainly, Spidey enthusiasts may dislike how the infamous "One More Day" arc resolved the issue of his identity in the comics. However, the stories where Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May were forced to go on the run after Spider-Man changed sides in "Civil War" were highly compelling. That same story also saw Spider-Man’s rivalry with the Kingpin become far more personal when Fisk was able to catch Peter and his family unawares – with almost fatal results.
Though Marvel Studios are unlikely to adapt the darkness of the “Back In Black” arc, this tale does represent the kind of potent stories than can be told if Spider-Man’s secret identity is known by his foes. Whilst traditionalists may balk at the idea of Peter Parker’s identity being public knowledge, this twist could differentiate Jon Watts' iteration from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb sagas, and usher in a new brand of captivating stories for Spider-Man: Far From Home's sequels.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019