A Brief Eulogy for the Peter Parker of the MCU

One piece of film news that I found particularly saddening lately, alongside most of the movie-going population, was the announcement of Spider-man’s exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the year that the MCU finally clinched the title of highest grossing movie of all time with Avengers: Endgame, as well as other Disney-owned properties, Captain Marvel and Spider-man: Far from Home joined the prestigious billion dollar club. To be exiled from Marvel’s box office winning streak and Disney’s increasing monopoly on the market, particularly after Endgame’s reliance on Spider-Man to close the arc of its founder Tony Stark, along with that cliff-hanger ending in Far from Home, renders the future of Spider-Man rather bleak.

Personally, I didn’t especially enjoy the MCU before Spider-man’s debut. I cannot argue it wasn’t well made – with great actors, action and perfect casting (namely Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark), but I was not a ‘fan’. For me, such sleekness only turned into substance upon Tom Holland’s debut as Spider-man in Captain America: Civil War. Like much of the population before its release, I was sceptical about Holland’s casting. A then Tobey Maguire loyalist, I was reluctant to see another British brunette in a lacklustre Spidey flick after Andrew Garfield. However, after seeing his initial scene, where he and his highly transformed Aunt May meet Stark for the first time, I was an instant convert. The MCU always had a brain, but once Spider-man got involved, it gained a heart.

Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker, as a non-superhero with super-powers thrust upon him seems far more relatable to audiences than billionaire playboy philanthropists in Iron Man and super-soldiers in Captain America. A much younger incarnation of Parker than we’re used to, Holland portrays a person, like ourselves, who grew up idolising the myth of the superhero, perfectly displaying such angst when we fail to live up such cultural deities. More than any other character, Spider-man finds difficulty in toeing the line with his own personal life. Attempting to protect a family broken by grief and navigate the troubles of high school and pretty girls, alongside protecting his city from sociopaths equipped with Tony Stark’s supernatural equipment, it is nearly impossible for Parker to achieve his goal to be our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man. A challenge that, no matter the stresses he faces in Homecoming and Far from Home, he cannot quit and stand by in the face of the evil surrounding him, or, as the lore of all Spider-man films ever made tells us, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

The most memorable part of the cultural phenomenon that was Avengers: Infinity War − and a large part of the motivation to see Endgame that made it the highest-grossing film of all time − was our heartbreak over the death of Peter Parker. After the film’s release, even now, Peter’s then-final words; “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good, I don’t wanna go. Please, I don’t wanna go”, quickly became the most quoted part of the film. While half of the film’s enormous cast was also turned into dust, no loss was heavier than Parker’s. As Tony Stark’s biggest fan and his attemps to emulate him in his protection of New York City, seeing Spider-man fail at saving those he loved, something he tried wholeheartedly to do, feels like a highly personal failure. It comes as no surprise that Spider-man is the mascot of Marvel and a favourite of Stan Lee’s – our connection to him is of rather kindred spirits.

That’s why this second loss of Spider-man from the universe feels so hurtful – the size and the scope of the MCU feels like it has much to offer him, and Sony’s rather spotty record on Spider-man films (from the highs of Into the Spider-verse and the lows of Venom) seems risky, especially in Disney’s increasing stranglehold on film.

However, there is some optimism to be had. One of few complaints about Holland’s Parker is that he’s rather restricted by a cinematic universe, or, as some fans put it, “Iron Man Junior”. At times, Spider-man’s existence is, sometimes for the worse, tied to one grand MCU story that he himself is not the biggest part of, and often finds himself in the shadows of the Avengers. One reason that Spider-verse was so well made was its freedom to be whatever it wanted – no ties to hundreds of other characters, higher creativity than the average studio-controlled Disney flick, and a very simple, yet meaningful message, that “anyone can wear the mask”. Corporate greed is never praiseworthy in any of its forms, but perhaps a more Peter-focused Spider-man for Tom Holland to play around him is just what he needs.

 

by Bethany Gemmell

Bethany Gemmell is currently a student at The University of Edinburgh.  She has a highly embarrassing talent of being able to tell which episode of Friends she’s watching in about 15 seconds of screen-time. Bethany’s favourite scene in all of cinema is in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout sees Boo Radley for the first time. You can follow her on twitter @chandIermonica.

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