With the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming only days away, both Tom Holland and Marvel visionary Kevin Feige are currently doing the rounds promoting the film, and little by little they're giving us a strong sense of the shape of the wall-crawler character arc in the MCU.
A Five-Movie Character Arc
Until now, while every #Marvel superhero has had a distinctive character arc, conceptualizing them has been a bit ad hoc. After all, who could've predicted the huge leaps the MCU would make in the six years between Iron Man and Iron 3? In the case of #SpiderMan, though, it's clear that Marvel is carefully considering the overall narrative that runs through every film he's in. As Feige explained:
"We are looking at a five-movie storyline — Civil War, Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, untitled Avengers, Homecoming 2 — or whatever we end up calling it — as an amazing five-story journey for Peter Parker. In the way that the events of Civil War directly inform the opening of Homecoming and his state of mind as he goes back to high school, so too will the events of the next two Avengers movies as he continues with high school. This original 22-movie arc ends with the untitled Avengers in May of 2019 and then two months later it will be Peter and Spider-Man (on July 5, 2019) that usher us into the aftermath and how things proceed from there."
It's a fascinating approach, and a particularly bold one, considering Spider-Man shares the screen with a lot of other characters in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers 4. In fact, Feige recently admitted that Spider-Man's screentime in #InfinityWar will be "on par" with Civil War. Still, as Civil War proved, you can get a lot of character beats into a few short scenes!
So, what can be say about the character arc?
- Civil War: Introduces us to Spider-Man and sets up his relationship with Tony Stark
- Homecoming: Establishes Peter's world and builds on his relationship with Stark, as Peter attempts to prove he's ready to be an Avenger
- Infinity War and Avengers 4: Plunge Spider-Man into a cosmic adventure alongside the Avengers — albeit it in a supporting role, at least for Infinity War
- Homecoming sequel: Usher in the aftermath of Avengers 4 and launch the next stage of the #MCU
Tom Holland Describes The Arc
Known for being loose-lipped, Tom Holland has been unusually reserved when giving us a sense of what to expect as the character arc rolls on:
"I will be on Spider-Man 2 about mid-July next year. I think the most interesting thing about a young man's life is his journey from being a boy to a man, and imagine seeing that journey while having superpowers. That's something I know I'm definitely excited to explore. I know Kevin [Feige] and the rest of the team are very excited to explore."
Marvel is deliberately giving us a Spider-Man like none we've ever seen on the big screen before. They're giving us a youthful superhero who grew up in a world of gods and aliens, and who's probably a little too eager to join the ranks of the Avengers. The overarching narrative is apparently loosely inspired by the Harry Potter franchise, which showed us a teenager gradually growing up and becoming a hero. Of course, Spider-Man's character arc will be very different; Infinity War will throw the wall-crawler in the deep end!
Homecoming producer Amy Pascal has revealed that the second Spider-Man movie "will start a few minutes after Avengers 4 wraps as a story." It's a smart move, because it will force Peter to confront the way the world has changed after Thanos's invasion. We don't yet have a sense of how long the Avengers will have been off-world, but no doubt poor Aunt May will have been terrified; her nephew will have (however briefly) gone missing in the aftermath of a horrific alien invasion. For Peter Parker, the cost of being a hero has often been felt by those he loves, and it's likely the Homecoming sequel will explore that theme.
Exceeding The Comics
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first created Spider-Man back in 1962, they never imagined how popular he'd become. As a result, ironically, this character arc was kind of rushed through in the comics; where most superheroes settled into their status quo relatively quickly, Peter Parker had actually graduated by 1965's Amazing Spider-Man #28. Since then, other comics have proved that brief stage of Parker's life has real potential; when Brian Bendis launched a new version of Spider-Man in the modernized Ultimate Marvel Universe, he kept Peter in high school. More recently, Marvel launched the Spidey series to revisit that period of Parker's life.
Marvel Studios has learned from the comics' mistakes. Rather than rush through Spider-Man's youth, they're taking their time and enjoying the journey. The initial response to Civil War surely gave them a confidence boost, while critical responses to Homecoming have proved they're on the right track.
Homecoming may be Spider-Man's first solo movie in the MCU, but it's not the start of his character arc. What's more, you don't invest in growing a character like this if you don't have a long-term plan for his future. With the Homecoming sequel promising to put Spider-Man at the center of the MCU going forward, there's a sense in which this five-film character arc is just the setup — and that fact, more than any other, is going to leave Spider-Man fans thrilled!