Captain America: Civil War is… energetic. There is so much going on that the film rarely takes a breath as it moves from one moment to the next. And I could talk all about Cap, Bucky, Tony, Rhodey, Sam, Natasha, Wanda, Vizh, Clint, Scott, Sharon (and Peggy!) and T’Challa – and I will at the end. But what you really want to know is “But what about Spidey?”
Well, let’s unpack that.
Spoilers below the fold…
So now we finally see Tom Holland and Marisa Tomei playing roles near and dear to our hearts, and which will be very important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and us – from here on out. Going into this movie I had some heavy concerns. I’ll list them off and discuss them.
1.) Is Marvel going for too young of a Spider-Man?
Yes, they are. It’s become a fetish for Marvel. But in the end it might be okay. Each cinematic iteration of Spider-Man has started in high school and later matured. The MCU Spidey is no different. Well – not different in that he starts out in high school but perhaps different in how much he’ll be allowed to mature. We’ll have to wait and see for answers on that. But why does it stand out so much more now? Because Tom Holland is almost a decade younger than the Spider-actors preceding him when they took up the part of Spidey. When Tobey became the first big screen Spider-Man, he was 27 years old. Andrew Garfield, who took over for the Marc Webb reboot films which would become an uncompleted trilogy, was 29 when he swung into movies. Tom Holland, however, is 19 – and seems even younger than that onscreen.
This Spider-Man is meant to be around fifteen years old. On that level, they succeeded. Holland is completely believable as a fifteen-year old Peter Parker. My preference is, of course, for a college-age Spider-Man. I understand why Kevin Feiege and Marvel Studios went with a ‘young’ Spider-Man. They didn’t have anyone ‘young.’ But they could have still had a ‘young’ Spidey if Peter was in college. I do admit to a bias in that I have always viewed the Stan Lee/John Romita years as the definitive foundation for Spider-Man, far more than the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko years.
The Spider-Man status quo for the MCU seems to be largely influenced from the now-defunct Ultimate line (the usurper continuity that failed to usurp after a decade and a half) and that’s most evident in Aunt May, who is far younger than we’ve ever seen her onscreen. In full disclosure, I am a fan of Marisa Tomei’s. I always have been. She is a wonderful actress who has always had a natural presence that seems effortless. And for the Ultimate Aunt May (i.e. younger and not frail) she is perfectly cast. But she is distractingly hot here. When they announced that Marisa Tomei had been cast, I was perfectly fine with it – and make no mistake, I still am. But they went down a different road than I expected with her. I thought perhaps they would make her seem like an attractive middle-aged woman who seems like she has spent years struggling to raise her nephew, always putting his needs and his education above herself – like a mother would. But what we got seemed more like a popular hot mom who goes out partying two or three times a week – even to the point of Tony Stark seemingly flirting with her. For me, that’s a misfire. Do not mistake my meaning. I am still looking forward to seeing what she brings to the new MCU Spider-Man films. I just hope she’s written right in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
3.) Does Tony Stark get all the credit for what should be Peter’s achievements?
This was my greatest fear for this movie and also for the MCU Spider-films in general. Some of you may remember the furor that arose when Sam Raimi announced that Spider-Man would have organic webshooters in the first Sony movie because it didn’t make sense for a teenager to come up with inventions on a level of something that 3M would make. While I enjoyed the first two Raimi Spidey films, this always stuck in my craw. Peter Parker is a genius. When it comes to science, he’s a natural. He’s smart enough to have impressed Reed Richards and Tony Stark in the past – and even Otto Octavius. To take away from that lessens the character and does him no service. Every time Spideydude mentions that thrice-damned Iron Spider costume, I get physically ill.
I was relieved with how Stark’s involvement in Peter’s costumes and gear played out, for the most part. Spider-Man made his own webshooters, made his first costume… and that’s as it should be. It’s part of what gets Stark interested in him, part of what gets him on Stark’s radar. Peter explaining that he wanted to help people made me feel warm inside, and proud. I do not like that Stark makes the final costume for Peter. Not one bit. And I’m concerned about Stark being in the first stand-alone MCU Spidey film. It’s enough that the introduction has been made. It’s time to let Spider-Man be his own man in the MCU and I pray Marvel does not keep him in Stark’s shadow; this is foreshadowed in the post-credits scene where some sort of signal pops up from Peter’s Stark-manufactured webshooters. We’ll have to wait and see but we need less of Stark’s arrogance in MCU Spider-Man and more of Peter’s inventiveness and optimism. It worked for the Civil War movie but it’s time to move away from it now.
Spider-Man is a hero who often doesn’t even realize just how much of a badass he is. He has defeated superior threats all through his career, from taking down the X-Men multiple times to stopping characters like Juggernaut and Firelord, who sometimes demand the concentration of whole teams to defeat. Unfortunately, today’s Marvel Comics ignore that in favor of building up new characters like Silk or Spider-Gwen at Spidey’s expense, or while looking for an excuse to work Avengers into Spider-Man comics for the billionth time. We’re in a time in Spider-History where he sometimes has to be saved in his own damn book.
I am happy to say that the MCU Spidey is much more of a badass – as is proper – even while untrained and undisciplined. Here he holds his own against Captain America! Cap is used to fighting more powerful characters and has more experience than Peter, and in the end manages to stop the fight by basically putting Spider-Man in a tight spot. But Spidey’s prowess is considerable enough to impress Steve Rogers here.
Spidey also goes toe to toe against Giant-Man, Falcon and Winter Soldier and, for the most part, winds up giving better than he got. His inexperience puts him at a disadvantage but everyone in the fight recognizes Peter as a game-changer. On that front – well done, Marvel. Well done indeed! Spidey can only get better from here on out!
5.) Will the writers find the right voice for Spider-Man… or Peter?
Yes and no. Peter’s talk with Stark really sells Tom Holland as Peter Parker. 100%. He is believable and he quickly becomes someone you want to pull for. Someone you want to like and cheer on. But the writers drop the ball by and large for his Spider-dialogue. During the massive airport fight, Ant-Man has funnier quips than Spidey does. In fact, a lot of what fans are calling ‘quips’ from Spidey in this movie are really “OMG Dude!” observations and reactions. It was funny, though, to see Spidey yell “You’re under arrest!” when Falcon gets the upperhand on him when Spidey goes after Bucky. Heh!
But the biggest fumble came when Spidey yells “Holy Shit!” Because no. This is Spider-Man – not Wolverine, not Deadpool, not Tony Stark. That was a major screw-up and I pray Kevin Feige doesn’t let that kind of crap slip through again. Really, Marvel Studios? You’re better than that.
On a related side-note… why does Ant-Man wind up having funnier lines? Because this all feels like Civil War was written and then rearranged when the Sony deal came through. Originally, Ant-Man was meant to be the comic relief. Spidey’s role, and his lines, feel tacked on. As evidence, I point to how much Marvel sold Chadwick Boseman and T’Challa for Civil War to fans a long, long time before the Sony deal happened. T’Challa was meant to have a much bigger part in this movie.
And since we’ve covered Spidey, let’s talk about the movie as a whole and how the other MCU characters came through. I like that neither side’s argument was presented as wrong or right; the real problems came with overzealousness, mostly from Thunderbolt Ross and later from Stark. I also liked that Cap came across as an anti-globalist here. In the end, he made the better argument.
Everything with T’Challa here felt rushed and haphazard, which irked me. Folks, I am a big Black Panther fan and I really look forward to his solo movie. But his MCU entrance wasn’t as fleshed out as it needed to be. We didn’t even get a scene with Black Panther and Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross! How the Hell does that happen?! I imagine it was before the Sony deal went through and Spider-Man was added in. But what we did see of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa was fun and I really like him as Black Panther. A lot. I just wanted to see more.
As a big Vision & Wanda (or more correctly, Vision with Wanda) fan, I also really liked the interaction and closeness Wanda and Vision had. I also loved how they spent more time showing Vision’s phasing and density powers here, and how he wrestled with himself after Rhodey’s injury.
This week we learned Marvel is getting closer to a Black Widow solo movie, and that pleases me. Natasha is such a badass, and unlike Tony can readily admit when she’s done something wrong. I also love that no matter what movie Natasha winds up in, she always kicks as much (if not more!) ass than just about anyone else.
Marvel Studios learned from one of Marvel Comics’ greatest Civil War missteps: it didn’t kill anyone. Rhody’s injury is a fill-in for the “it’s out of control now” moment of Civil War, which was Bill Foster’s death at the hands of a Thor clone. The Marvel movies don’t get to gloss over such a moment with bad storytelling the way Marvel did at the end of the Siege storyline. The studio seemed to know that once you go that far there should be no coming back for a lot of people involved. Marvel Comics got away with such ridiculously bad out-of-character moments in a way that Marvel movies just can’t. It wouldn’t work.
Overall, Captain America: Civil War is fun, but not as enjoyable as Captain America: Winter Soldier – a film that was much tighter and focused. There was just too much shoehorned into this one, leaving us wanting more in some cases and distracted by others. In terms of box office, adding Spidey in will reap benefits for this movie but in the end the overall story suffers some by the way they jammed Peter in.
But at the end of the day? Spidey is home in the MCU, and that’s a win for everyone, even if I still have some concerns about how he will be handled going forward. Any way you slice it, Spider-Man is in a much better place now, cinematically speaking.
We’re recording our Captain America: Civil War reviews tonight for the podcast. Not sure when Brad will have that posted but be on the lookout!