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The MCU doesn’t need Spider-Man, and Spider-Man doesn’t need the MCU

Relax, everyone. Spider-Man is going to be just fine.

By now, you’ve probably heard the news: Disney and Sony are likely breaking up, and Spider-Man has all but left the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apparently, Disney, which controls the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Sony, which owns the rights to Spider-Man’s big-screen appearances, failed to renegotiate the deal that let Peter Parker appear in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, and paved the way for Iron Man and Nick Fury to pop up in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Depending on who you believe, the Disney-Sony relationship fell apart either because Disney wanted more money, because Marvel President Kevin Feige is too busy after the Disney-Fox merger to spend time on Sony projects, or because the two studios quibbled over producer credits. The cause isn’t important. No matter what the reason, it looks like Spider-Man and the MCU are going their separate ways, at least for now.

And you know what? That’s completely fine.

(Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and other Marvel properties follow.)

Out of sight, still in mind

spider man homecoming review iron man
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is intimately tied to the MCU. He was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Iron Man built his suit, and Peter’s Aunt May fell for Tony Stark’s driver, Happy Hogan. When Thanos snapped his fingers and half of all life in the universe disappeared, Peter Parker vanished too. It was the Avengers who brought him back.

With the Disney partnership dissolved, Sony probably won’t be able to reference any other Marvel characters in future Spider-Man films. However, that doesn’t mean those stories didn’t happen. As far as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is concerned, Iron Man still taught Peter Parker how to be a hero. He still fought alongside the Avengers and helped defeat Thanos’ army.

Marvel isn’t going to go back and edit Spidey out of previous movies. Spider-Man’s MCU appearances will still be on your Blu-Ray shelf and available to stream on Disney+. Sony doesn’t need to do any retcons or reboots, either. The deal is over, but canon survives.

Sony simply needs to be clever about how it addresses Spider-Man’s past. If Happy Hogan is off-limits to Sony, the next movie could hint that Aunt May went through a bad breakup without mentioning exactly who she broke up with. Nobody needs to mention the Elementals or Thanos by name when talking about Spidey’s heroic deeds. Just say that Spider-Man saved the world. The audience will fill in the blanks.

Similarly, if Peter’s enhanced “Iron Spider” suit is suddenly a no-go for Sony, have Peter make himself a new one. Remember, Peter Parker is a genius. He built his own web-shooters well before Tony Stark entered the picture, and in the comics, he invents his own tech all the time. Peter’s DIY-attitude is a fundamental part of his character. Play that up in the movies. It’ll solve a lot of problems, and it’ll make Holland’s Parker even more endearing.

Writing around Spider-Man’s MCU history isn’t the same as ignoring it. It doesn’t invalidate anything. Viewers will still remember the MCU movies that Spider-Man appeared in, and they’ll bring that knowledge with them to the theater. Just keep things vague, use character-based explanations to work around continuity issues, and don’t directly contradict MCU canon. Even without the proper nouns, we’ll all know what Peter, May, and the rest are talking about.

A tried-and-true formula for success

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In fact, this approach has worked before. Marvel’s own Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. took a similar approach, gradually phasing out its larger MCU ties, and it’s arguably better than it’s ever been.

Early on in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s run, the show and the MCU were inseparable. Phil Coulson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s lead character, debuted alongside the MCU in Iron Man, chased Skrulls in Captain Marvel, and met the wrong end of Loki’s scepter in The Avengers. MCU guest stars like Nick Fury dropped by regularly. When Captain America: Winter Soldier revealed that HYDRA had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., the show underwent a soft reboot and revealed that its most noble character had been a HYDRA agent all along. In the second season, S.H.I.E.L.D. played clean-up crew for the Asgardians following the events of Thor: The Dark World. 

By contrast, the sixth and most recent season of S.H.I.E.L.D. took place a year after Avengers: Infinity War, and the show didn’t mention the movie once. Not a single cast member disappeared in The Snap. Thanos’ name was never uttered. The only ties to the larger MCU were some offhand mentions of the Kree and Nick Fury, but those were throwaway lines, and they had no impact on the plot.

Fans didn’t care. They may not have even noticed. Despite downplaying its MCU lineage, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s ratings have been good enough to keep the show on the air for seven seasons. In fact, most fans agree that the further away S.H.I.E.L.D. moves from the MCU, the better it becomes.

And yet, all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history within the MCU still counts. Coulson’s arc relies on the audience knowing what happened to him on the big screen. The show’s early MCU crossovers helped define many of the characters. However, the MCU doesn’t show up anymore because it’s no longer relevant to the stories that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is telling. We might’ve started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the MCU tie-ins, but now we watch it for the agents themselves.

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man franchise could go the same way. At this point, Homecoming and Far From Home‘s supporting cast, including Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds and Zendaya’s MJ, are already fan favorites, even though they haven’t been major MCU players. Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May has crossed paths with some movie heroes, but her contributions to the MCU’s ongoing plot has been limited to some cute banter. MJ, Ned, and May are popular for a reason. Fans are invested in them, whether or not they’re part of some larger meta-plot.

In other words: The MCU made us love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, but he doesn’t need it anymore. He’s more than capable of standing on his own.

Sony’s Spider-Verse is better than you think

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Marvel/Columbia Pictures

Naturally, fans are worried that a Spider-Man movie made entirely by Sony will disappoint. That’s a legitimate concern. The Amazing Spider-Man films, which starred Andrew Garfield, underperformed at the box office for a reason: They weren’t very good.

However, when you look at the evidence, people seem to like Sony’s Spider-Man movies a lot. They just don’t like Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man movies. Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man is still the webslinger’s top-grossing movie domestically. Revenue-wise, Raimi’s films did better than Holland’s two MCU solo flicks, after you adjust for inflation. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 remains the best-reviewed live-action Spider-Man movie on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sony’s modern Spider-Man adventures have delivered, too. Critics panned Venom, but audiences loved it. Venom was the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2018, with a worldwide take that was only about $30 million less than Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s. That’s a lot of tickets, especially for a spinoff. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wasn’t just a box office hit. It’s the best-reviewed Spider-Man movie ever. It won a freakin’ Oscar. And guess what? Marvel Studios had nothing to do with it.

Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige may not be working on Sony’s future Spider-Man movies, but both Tom Holland and Homecoming and Far From Home director Jon Watts are said to be involved with two more sequels. There’s nothing stopping those two films’ co-writers, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, from coming back, either. Spider-Man’s MCU team might be gone, but the rest of the people who made his solo movies a success are still around, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t live up to their usual standards.

Spiders don’t do cosmic, but Marvel does

The Eternals
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As a character, Spider-Man works best in down-to-earth stories. Sure, he has superpowers, but he also has to worry about doing his homework, helping Aunt May pay rent, and girl problems. They’re relatable, everyday issues, and they’re a big part of why Spider-Man has been Marvel’s most popular superhero for close to 60 years.

Down-to-earth is not the direction that Marvel Studios is headed. After the upcoming Black Widow, Marvel’s next big movie is The Eternals, a sprawling cosmic adventure that deals with space giants and mythological gods. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is billed as a horror movie, and the title implies there’ll be some dimension-hopping shenanigans. Shang-Chi is the son of a supervillain. We don’t know much about Thor: Love and Thunder, but if director Taika Waititi’s previous effort, Thor: Ragnarok, is any indication, it’s going to be wild.

And that’s not even talking about Blade, or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, or X-Men, or The Fantastic Four. The MCU’s future is big, bold, and very busy, and it’s hard to see where Spider-Man fits in among all of this cosmic weirdness. Yes, Spider-Man traveled to space in Avengers: Infinity War, but that was weird for this iteration of the character — so weird, in fact, that Tom Holland thought he was reading a fake script when he first learned about it — and as such, it felt like a one-off special event.

Obviously, Disney and Marvel would love to keep Spider-Man in the MCU family. Disney sells a lot of Spider-Man merchandise, Marvel Comics publishes Spider-Man books every month, and there are action figures to hawk and theme park appearances to promote. However, at this point, Marvel is the bigger brand name, not Spider-Man, and the MCU is headed in a very non-Spidey direction. The MCU was a sensation before Spider-Man arrived. It’ll do just fine without him.

The time is right for a break

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If Spider-Man and the MCU are going to part ways, there’s no better time to do it. The Infinity Saga is over. Iron Man, Peter Parker’s strongest link to the MCU, is dead. The Spider-Man that we met in Captain America: Civil War was a young, inexperienced upstart. By the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, he’s a world-famous hero who’s stepped up and earned the respect of his peers. For all intents and purposes, his MCU arc is complete.

It’s the right time schedule-wise, too. It would’ve been strange if Spider-Man left the MCU after his first appearance, or if he didn’t answer Iron Man’s call when Thanos’ army attacked. It would’ve been devastating to watch Peter Parker crumble away in Infinity War and not see him get resurrected a year later. If the first Spider-Man after Endgame hadn’t acknowledged Tony Stark’s death or the psychological impact of The Snap, it would’ve felt cheap and out-of-character.

Right now, Spider-Man’s MCU story feels complete. There aren’t any major plot threads to resolve, or conflicts left standing. Spider-Man: Far From Home‘s post-credits sequence, in which J. Jonah Jameson revealed Spider-Man’s identity to the world, hinted at where Spider-Man’s next adventure might take him, but there’s no reason why you need other Marvel characters to tell that specific story. Spider-Man’s main cast — i.e., the people who love him the most — should be enough.

Obviously, we’d love it if Sony and Disney could come to terms. Watching Tom Holland’s Spider-Man pal around with Iron Man, Captain America, and Captain Marvel has been one of the highlights of the MCU, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t want more. If that doesn’t happen, however, it’s not a crisis. There’s more Marvel on the way. There’s more Spider-Man on the way. By all indications, it’s all going to be great.

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Chris Gates
Christopher Gates lives in Los Angeles, CA and writes about movies, TV, video games, and other pop culture curiosities. In…
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