[Opinion] - How To Make Spider-man Work In The MCU

Late last year (yeah, a month ago), in the wake of the Sony Hack, a lot of sites reported that Sony had been in talks with Marvel to license the cinematic rights of Spider-man back to Marvel. These talks were ultimately unsuccessful, and have resulted in Marvel promoting Black Panther to the upper echelons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, earlier this week, a new rumor has emerged that suggests those talks have been reignited, and that the web slinger will be brought into the MCU fold during the Infinity Wars of 2018. Sony, of course, has denied this latest rumour. Disney has been silent. And frankly, it's ridiculous.

As I recently told a true believer that Spidey would soon be fighting side by side with the Avengers, there is a better chance of Spider-Ham showing up in any film than there is Spider-man's rights package being folded back into Marvel. And the simple reason is: money. This will surprise no one, but making money tends to outweigh all other arguments when decisions are made, especially in Hollywood. And Sony has a reasonable argument to make when it comes to Spider-man: despite continued critical disaster, the films make money. Spider-man is an easy sell; he is the world's most lucrative superhero (followed a hell of a long way behind by Batman). While Sony doesn't see money from party hats and lunch boxes, putting out a Spider-man movie, even a supremely shitty one, is guaranteed bucks, pounds, euros and yen. And Sony knows this. Of five Spider-man movies released, only 1.5 of them have been good, and that's an assembled figure (yes, Spider-man 2 makes up the bulk of that figure, but even it is a flawed film). But they've all been profitable.

Last year, Amazing Spider-man 2 was released to a choir of derision, and seemed to successfully alienate the internet, the stars of the franchise, and derailed what had been an embryonic attempt to develop a shared universe around this sole rights package (which, Spider-man material makes up a solid fifth of the Marvel comics universe, so that wouldn't be that hard). But all that does is loose Sony the good will of the audience. The movie still made $202 million. That's not Batman or Avengers money, which is what Sony was hoping for, but that's exactly twice as much as the number 3 highest grossing film that Sony put out last year, The Equalizer (number 2 was 22 Jump Street, which made slightly less than Spider-man). In 2012, Amazing Spider-man was number 2 in Sony's yearly total, taking in $262 million, and being only slightly beaten by Skyfall, arguably the best James Bond movie to date. And neither was a budgetary loss. They came close on AS2, but it still came out in the black.

Which was likely why Sony was willing to discuss a profit sharing program with Marvel. They understood that they were starting to skim the edge of profitability because their movies were shit, and that Marvel had a better chance of making a good movie people like, that Sony could profit from (this seems the long way round to just making a good movie themselves, but anyway). And they've got a grace period between productions before the rights naturally expire and revert back to the House of Ideas (of Mouse). Rather than inundate the market with subpar quality product, they could take the time they need and put together something worth making. But they don't have to.

The flip to all that is Marvel really doesn't need Spider-man. In fact, because of the bad taste that he's left in audiences mouth recently, they are better off without him. But while not having a recognizable hero to promote may have been a concern back when they started, Guardians of the Galaxy has proven that quality plus earned faith equals an audience that is willing to back a complete unknown rather than a spoiled franchise. And will continue to do so, Marvel expects, right up to 2020. Spider-man bogs them down in having to work an entirely new version of an over saturated character into their tightly run ship. Personally, I'd rather not see Spider-man in the MCU. Let Sony keep hacking (no pun intended) away at it, and maybe eventually, like Fox seems to occasionally do with the X-Men, they'll get it right.


But is my wheelhouse. But is where I live. But is where I brush my teeth and think about things in too great a detail. But is where friends start to get concerned that maybe I'm devoting too much energy to something.


What if Spider-man, all of a sudden, had to be part of the MCU? The massive shared universe that began in 2008 and has worked as a well oiled and incredibly detailed machine since then. What if the friendly neighbourhood so-and-so had to be inserted, abruptly, into this world? What would that look like? Would that work? I decided to take a crack at it; run off at the mouth a little, in what likely amounts to little more than a depressingly detailed fan-fic. How would Spider-man exist in the MCU? Feel free to browse my opinion, after the jump.

The most important thing to remember before going into this is that, unlike the comics, the MCU has a fairly rigid set of rules as to what does and does not happen in this universe. Of course, these rules are constantly expanding and having their borders tested with each subsequent film, but the basic rules remain the same. There is also no retconning. The MCU has remained remarkably paradox and continuity error free, even with the adding in of TV series set seventy years in the past. So, things have to make sense. Especially big things, things that probably should have popped up within the MCU already. Like corporations, or New York newspapers, or active superheroes. There is wiggle room: the films are generally very focused on a single event taking place over a very constricted time frame. And leave lots of room in between where we, as the audience, have no idea what is going on. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's vacation to the Bahamas? Just because it wasn't in a film doesn't mean it didn't happen between Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 (Pepper was disgusted to learn it was a "boys only" long weekend. Happy was also not invited). It also allows for some wiggle room when asking "why hasn't the MCU referenced the Daily Bugle?" when you can turn around and ask "what specific newspapers has the MCU referenced?"

It is also important to establish how things happen in the MCU, as related to superheroes. Essentially, there are three ways for superheroes to exist in this universe: through genetic alteration, like Cap or the Hulk; through technology or physical determination, like Iron Man or Falcon; or they are alien, like Thor or Groot. A lot of characters have their personal Venn diagrams overlap several of these; for example, Gamora is an alien with cybernetic enhancement. And Inhumans, which were recently introduced in Agents of SHIELD, fall firmly into the initial category. The use of T-Crystals alters the genetics of the individual, though it bestows upon them the most traditional variety of powers: the bug-nut insane variety. Doctor Strange promises to introduce the supernatural, but Feige has already stressed that MCU magic will be quantum physics-based, thus essentially making it fall under the domain of the second condition, and Clarke's Law.

Let us also assume that Spider-man in the MCU would be deserving of his own film, after a  minor introduction in an event film, like Infinity Wars. With the schedule already nailed down until May of 2019, that would push a solo film to 2020 at the earliest. And that provides us with a timeframe in which Spider-man is able to operate within the MCU before his introduction: anywhere between 2008 and 2020, or twelve years. A lot can happen in twelve years. I'll also use this opportunity to say that, for these initial plans, I'm going with Peter Parker. Listen, I love Miles Morales. But a big, huge part of his characterization is that he was inspired by Peter Parker, and took up his hero's mantle when his hero fell. I would love to see Mile Morales in a film, and within my framework, he would actually work quite well. But I believe that there is some hope for a cinematic Peter Parker too, and he deserves his chance, before being bumped off and replaced by his ethically diverse successor.

So, whatever happened, happened, and things need to happen a certain way, within a certain time. So, let's begin at the beginning:

June 4, 2011. Oscorp is a failing company. In the nineties, it was a respected and diversified company, headed by a ruthless captain of industry, Norman Osborne. But the 21st century was not a golden age for the conglomerate, as it continuously lost military contracts to Stark Enterprises, and the ruthlessness that had made Osborne a respected visionary has turned him into a joke, a nostalgic hold over from an obsolete era. Desperate to find that one idea (which he isn't above stealing) that will put his company back on top, Norman turns on the news and watches in delight as the Hulk and Abomination duke it out in the ruins of Harlem. In a post 9/11-age still dominated by fear and war mongering, Osborne is inspired that the next great innovation, the next microchip moment, will be the creation of genetic warfare. If Iron Man has removed the need for an artillery-infused military, the Duel of Harlem has awakened the need for a genetically enhanced military. He immediately redirects the bulk of his corporate funding into his organic research firm, headed by Dr. Miles Warren.

May 4th, 2012: The Battle of New York. As the world watches in horror as aliens descend upon the American metropolis, a frightened 14 year old hugs close to his uncle as they watch on their TV in Queens. In the aftermath however, it isn't the fear of ultimate destruction, or the social and philosophical upheaval that confirmation of alien life brings, that dominates the mind of Peter Parker. It was the reveal of a team of unique persons who stood up against impossible odds and managed to win. Chief among them, Tony Stark, an unpowered human who uses science to stand beside gods and monsters. Subconsciously, he draws a connection to his dead father, who was also a scientist, and who a young Peter would often imagine had been secreted away to do Dangerous Science for the good of mankind, rather than die in a plane crash. When touring the clean up with his Uncle Ben, and asking why the Avengers would risk their lives against such hopeless odds, his uncle replied that they were unique in that they had the power to do something about it. And regardless of the hopelessness of the situation, with great power comes great responsibility. And that sometimes, all it takes is one person willing to stand up when no one else can.

Norman Osborne, meanwhile, sees New York as the perfect opportunity to prove to the military that they need his genetic formula. Showcasing several successful animal trials, he pushes that the world cannot and need not rely on a team of Avengers, when they can have whole militaries with the strength of Hulks and the training of Marines protecting them. Thaddeus Ross, intimately aware of the dangers of exactly that line of thinking, refuses Osborns proposal. Osborn, insistent that a human demonstration will be the only thing that will sway them, begins secretly dosing his son, Harry, with the formula. An immediate side effect of the treatment is an emotional instability.

2013. Peter Parker designs a superhero alter ego through whom it is his wish to one day stand shoulder to shoulder with Iron Man, using science to protect the world. An exceptionally bright student, he begins experiments with adhesives in his uncle's garage, attempting to create a non-deadly weapon to use as his signature (as Thor has his hammer and Cap, his shield). His closest friend, Gwen Stacy, supports his aspirations to superheroics, even if he is physically unsuited for the job. Soon after, on a field trip to Oscorp headquarters in Manhattan, he is given the chance to prove himself when Harry, during an emotional outburst, knocks over an "investment display" containing some of the enhanced animals. The students are removed, but not before a spider crawls onto Peter, bites him, and escapes through an open window. Peter gets considerably ill but improves suddenly and finds himself in possession of increased strength, endurance and reflexes. He decides that he is now fully capable of realizing his dream of becoming "Spider-man."

A task he is cartoonishly terrible at. He causes more damage than prevents it, is ungraceful despite his advancements, and utterly fails at preventing a crime. Soon after though, his uncle is killed in a random act of violence. When the attacker is caught, Peter recognizes him as a criminal his ineptitude prevented the police from apprehending. Overwhelmed with guilt, he is galvanized into becoming the best hero that he can, because he has the power and thus the responsibility. He enrolls in self defense classes to learn how to handle himself better in a fight, and works at improving the technical side of his persona, including early warning sensors and improved web shooters. At the same time, Harry's response to the drug is becoming more alarming and beginning to manifest itself physically as a result of his emotions. He begins obsessing over Gwen, and eventually has a full blown attack at the school, transforming into a misshapen rage goblin. Peter is able to draw his attention away and subdue him until SHIELD arrives to detain Harry. SHIELD arrests Norman and Oscorp is dismantled in disgrace, while Spider-man is heralded as a hero on social media.

April 5th, 2014. Hydra has revealed itself to be operational within SHIELD for years. John Garrett leads a contingent of Hydra soldiers to raid the Fridge detainment facility, housing the most dangerous objects SHIELD had collected, and detained the most dangerous persons, including Harry Osborne, whose condition has continued to deteriorate. Unable to cure him, or stabilize the degenerative effects, SHIELD had assumed that he would soon die. After the Raid, he escapes, having become obsessed with Spider-man. Returning to New York, he kidnaps Gwen Stacy, assuming that, like at the school, that would draw out his enemy. Peter, having experienced nearly a year of success in his improved role as the protector of the people, tracks Harry to the George Washington Bridge, where Gwen is killed. Peter, overwhelmed by grief, allows Harry to escape. Harry later dies of his illness.

Critically, none of this would appear on screen, in anything other than brief flashbacks. Not only has this material been covered in extreme detail on screen, repeatedly (in various combinations), but Spider-man's origin, like Batman's, is well known now in the public consciousness, and doesn't need to be retreaded on screen again. However, all of this would inform the motivations and choices of the character moving forward. What the MCU would need to do to effectively bring Spider-man back to the screen, and into it's own fold, is create a timeline coexisting with established events, and do something fundamentally different with the character. Thus, for Spider-man to carry his own film in 2020 or there after, they need to bypass both the origin story and the "teenage years" phase of his career. The MCU Spider-man would appear grown and established.

More than that, they need to establish Peter Parker as a unique personality. I think an interesting approach to use would be to craft him as suffering from Peter Pan syndrome. Picking up his story in 2020, Peter is a science teacher at his former High School in Queens, while maintaining an active side career as Spider-man, and being utterly unable to maintain anything resembling a healthy personal life. Here is a man who experienced two extreme traumas very close together at a very young and already emotionally unstable age. Combine that with his superhero fantasy coming true, and dealing with grief by assuming a massive Messiah complex, he is unable to move beyond the emotional and psychological development of when he first put on the costume.

A child who was brilliant enough to invent webbing, and had the potential to be the next Tony Stark, ends up stifling his own progress, and languishes teaching disaffected youths at his old school, where he underwent the transformation into his perceived "own best self." Any good writer will tell you that it is less interesting to give a character something than it is to let them earn it, and Peter should be no different. Designing technical aspects of his costume that usually fall into his superpower range - webbing, sticking to surfaces, spider-sense (which writers only use when it's convenient) allows him to achieve rather than gifts, and by having his talents stagnate, and having made no advances to the suit in a decade informs a lot about his state of mind. The film's core then would be about Peter coming to grips with his own emotional limitations, and striving to grow beyond that.

By 2020, the MCU Netflix series will have completed their cycle ending with the Defenders. I am making the assumption that, by the end of the Defenders, Wilson Fisk will have been dispatched as the Kingpin of Crime in New York. Thus, Spider-man's primary adversary would be the mob boss Hammerhead, attempting to assume dominance over his rivals. His logic being, successfully removing Spider-man as a constant obstacle would establish his own credibility and improve crime conditions in the future. To this end, he hires Kraven the Hunter, a noted international assassin to eliminate Spidey. Kraven accepts the contract, viewing Spider-man as a worthy enemy.

Peter, meanwhile, spends every moment outside of the class in costume. Because of his never having moved passed Gwen's death, he is unable to trust himself in a relationship with a "civilian," not wanting to put them in unnecessary danger. This changes when he encounters the Black Cat while on duty. She expresses an interest in Spider-man, and Peter considers her "safe" because she is a costume. The relationship is completely unhealthy for both, as she runs almost completely on Adrenalin and Peter believes that their impersonal and physical relationship is equal to making trusting, health developments. Eventually, this would come to a head as Peter decides to reveal his real identity to her, and she completely rejects him. This causes him to suffer something of an emotional crisis, questioning the perceived triumphs of his life and whether or not they were as important as he believed them to be. Felicia would also undergo something of a crisis, manifesting first as rage that he would want to spoil "a good thing," and revealing a crippling low self esteem and lack of self worth. The insinuation that someone as good as him might be interested in the real her puts her on a path towards reform, if only philosophically.

All of this would, as it progresses, be reactive to Kraven stalking them throughout the city. He would set traps to observe their behaviours and learn how to exploit them both. His ultimate failure would come when, having finally settled on killing Spider-man and successfully wounding him, Black Cat acts selflessly rather than selfishly, coming to Peter's defense, and dispatching Kraven in a final villainous act of preservation. During Peter's recovery, they would both come to realize that they could only really move on with their lives if they both underwent a period of self improvement. Peter resolves to actually improve his life, while Felicia is confronted with the prospect of living up to something: that with great power comes great responsibility.

This would establish characters within their own bubble of the MCU, while also avoiding any overt contradictions with established events. And within the franchise, it would leave the door open for further developments in sequels. As Marvel seems big on pairs, if not trilogies, the ultimate arc of the Spider-man films would be the personal growth and development of both Peter and Felicia into more rounded, health people. In the sequel, Hammerhead's obsession with killing Spider-man to secure his position in organized crime might see him pair with Alistair Smythe, who would design a series of exo-suits to combat the hero; first the Beetle, then the Scorpion within the sequel. But the focus would be on the emotional development of these two characters. Mary Jane could be introduced in the sequel as a failed actress-turned drama teacher and co-worker of Peter's, who demonstrates his trust in her and his desire to have a completely honest relationship from the start by revealing his duel life to her almost straight away. Black Cat would increasingly adopt a more heroic flavour, while struggling to leave behind entirely the notion of profit over altruism.

An additional layer to a sequel might also be J. Jonah Jameson running for the mayor of New York. Once Peter exits his teenage years, his connection to the Daily Bugle is pretty much severed, but Jameson is a necessary character because he is the ever-present dissenting opinion. He serves as the little devil sitting on Peter's shoulder, voicing all of his worst fears. That he's causing more trouble than he's worth, that he's a menace playing hero. Every doubt that Peter tries to suppress is given life and volume by Jameson, and having him run for mayor not only allows him access to Peter's adult world, but it also give him scope. If all the while Peter is having to contend with costumed freaks beating him and damaging property, he then has to turn around and listen to Jameson use that to convince New Yorkers to turn against him, it is going to be demoralizing. It also provides a counterbalance to Mary Jane's role, which would be one of support and encouragement.

If a third film were necessary, I would say a variation on the current Spider-verse story line might be interesting. Depending on how Doctor Strange introduces the concepts of parallel dimensions, a Spider-verse film might work well in conjunction with a larger MCU story, in the aftermath of Thanos, that sees a doorway opening between various realities as a side effect of some larger Cosmic threat (I have an idea about that too). This then could be used to bring in Spider-Gwen (current comic fan favourite) and as Peter and MJ's relationship becomes more serious, a way to reawaken Peter's guilt and grief, and demonstrate how he's manged to grow beyond them. It could also be used to introduce "facet" characters via alternate Spider-men, like a female version, a Stark-backed Iron Spider, and perhaps even Spider-men that aren't Peter Parker at all. The real villain of this movie would be the various regrets and roads not taken personified by his alternates, and the physical manifestation of the worst of that would be a more horrific, David Cronenberg's The Fly version of Peter, which could be the cinematic version of either Tarantula or Doppelganger.

What would be critical would be the MCU establishing a Spider-man that is reactive to the films that have already come out in Phases 1 and 2, rather that trying to shoehorn the character into that already balanced system. But Marvel would also need to make sure that they avoided Sony's mistakes. Ground the character with an emotional story, and make that the primary thread to follow through one, two or three films. Allow the action of the movie to follow that development through metaphor. Do not allow the need for mindless action to dictate the direction of the film, as Sony has done. Most importantly, have a vision and purpose when making the films, and have the conviction to follow through with that.

If this has been of any interest to you, kind reader, let me know, as I have a similar idea as to how to integrate the far less interesting Fantastic Four into the MCU, but I'll only post it if the interest is there. Considering the state of Fox's interest in the FF, those rights might be coming home to Marvel sooner than Spidey's ever would. So it might be more relevant than any of the words above.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Thanks for the excellent work. Of course, it should go without saying that this was of interest, and I, for one would appreciate you thoughts on integrating the FF into the MCU. Also, if you're up for it, I'd also like to hear how you would (if someone put a gun to your head) integrate all the DC characters into a shared universe. I know you certainly would not have started with Man of Steel, but that ship has sailed. With that said, the DC universe is only one film in at this point. While I certainly don't expect the powers that be at Warner to make the right decisions on a going forward basis, I am very curious as to what you think those decisions would be, if you were essentially the newly appointed Kevin Feige of Warner/DC. This hypothetical includes the already existing television properties, so you have Arrow/Flash to either work with or ignore, but, ignores, say, Supergirl, as you would have the right to "cancel" that show before it ever aired. Just an idea - normally I'm a silent reader and don't comment, but, well, you asked for a response this time. Thanks again for all the hard work you put into this blog.

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