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As the MCU hurtles towards Phase 4, Spider-Man shows the way forward

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME - Official Trailer

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is bringing Phase 3 of its overarching, interconnected movie saga to a close with Spider-Man: Far From Home, the first film set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame.

While the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming is poised to potentially introduce some universe-expanding concepts to the MCU, the presence of Spider-Man himself also offers a wealth of opportunities for Marvel’s movie-verse. The friendly neighborhood web-slinger is widely regarded as having the most colorful, compelling cast of supporting characters in Marvel Comics, making Spidey a valuable asset in the ever-growing MCU. Below are some cool ways in which expanding Spider-Man can help enrich Marvel’s cinematic storytelling.

Bring on Spider-Gwen

Whether you prefer to call her Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, or Spider-Girl, there’s no denying that the alternate-universe hero who played a key role in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was one of the breakout characters in that Oscar-winning animated feature.

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First introduced in a 2014 issue of Marvel’s Edge of Spider-Verse miniseries, this wall-crawling, web-shooting hero is one of the most popular recent additions to the Spider-Man universe, both in print and on the screen. More than just an analogue of Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy has managed to be distinct from Spidey in her look, her attitude, and her approach to fighting crime — offering a unique perspective on Marvel’s comics continuity and, if Marvel Studios is smart, the MCU.

In bringing Spider-Man into the MCU, Marvel gave audiences the chance to see its world of superheroes and villains through the eyes of a teenage boy. With her established popularity and fans, Spider-Gwen offers the studio an opportunity to accomplish something similar with one of its most popular young female heroes.

All about those villains

Good fantasy storytelling lives and dies by its villains, whether its superheroes or space ninjas (we’re looking at you, Vader). Spider-Man films have already brought a long list of popular villains to the big screen, from Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus to Venom and — if Far From Home holds true to the character’s history — the master of illusion himself, Mysterio. Spider-Man’s most frequent foes have been so popular, in fact, that they’ve often transcended their association with the web-slinger to hold their own as solo acts, even occasionally transitioning to being the arch-enemy of other Marvel heroes.

A prime example of the latter is Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, who began as one of Spider-Man’s recurring enemies, but later become the primary antagonist for the hero of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil. Most recently, Vincent D’Onofrio earned critical acclaim for his portrayal of Kingpin in the Daredevil series on Netflix, with more than a few pundits ranking him among the best villains in the entire MCU to date.

Venom review
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Another fine example is Venom, the symbiotic alien whose popularity led to its own solo movie starring Oscar nominee Tom Hardy. Although the film didn’t win over critics, it had no problem finding an audience — to the tune of more than $855 million in worldwide ticket sales. That success now has rumors of a future crossover with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man circulating, and who wouldn’t want to see that?

All of that is to say that the Marvel universe — both in comics and on the screen — is better with more Spider-Man villains in it. With the reboot of Spidey’s film franchise in Homecoming, there’s a clean slate when it comes to his most infamous enemies, so it’s easy to see the appeal of a new Doctor Octopus, Sandman, or even Kraven the Hunter taking on Spidey (or any of his famous hero friends, for that matter).

After all, if Marvel can find a way to make the Vulture one of the MCU’s coolest new villains (as it did in Homecoming), the sky is the limit.

Standalone films for the win

As one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes, Spider-Man has inspired more than the usual alternate-universe stories, characters, spinoffs, and tie-in elements that capitalize on being associated with him. That could work in the MCU’s favor in a variety of ways if the studio is willing to take some risks.

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If there’s anything that Into the Spider-Verse proved to audiences — and studio executives — it’s that there’s more than enough room for multiple versions of Spider-Man on the big screen. Spider-Man Noir, anthropomorphized Peter Porker, manga-fueled Peni Parker, and fresh-faced Miles Morales all offered new versions of the wall-crawler that crossed genres and intrigued audiences with fresh spins on everything we thought we knew about the character.

That’s true for other alternate versions of Spider-Man that didn’t appear in Into the Spider-Verse, such as the anarchist Hobart Brown (a.k.a. Spider-Punk) who led a populist revolution against US President Norman Osborn in Marvel Comics canon.

While these characters all offer some clever storytelling opportunities on their own, they also provide the opportunity for the MCU to tell the sort of standalone — but still connected to the Marvel mythology — stories that are more than just action and adventure. Want a hard-boiled crime story? Recruit Spider-Man Noir. Want a stirring musical underdog tale? You just described Spider-Punk’s saga. Want to go all-in on the silly comedy? Peter Porker, the amazing Spider-Ham is all about the laughs (especially with John Mulaney at the helm).

When it comes to branching out in the MCU, no hero’s inter-dimensional family tree is bigger than Spider-Man’s, and Marvel (and Spider-Man rights-holder Sony Pictures, for that matter) would do well to capitalize on that.

It’s a big Spidey multiverse out there, and if Marvel Studios plays its cards right, it could make the Marvel Cinematic Universe even better.

Marvel will bring Spider-Man: Far From Home to theaters on July 2.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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