Good news. Any doubts about whether Marvel Studios could achieve with Spider-Man what Sony could not can now be put to rest.
“Captain America: Civil War” offers the sixth film appearance of a live-action Spider-Man. But the brilliance with which he’s deployed is of the first order.
So just how did we get to this magical “make mine Marvel” moment with Spider-Man? Well, first, Marvel needed to gain joint custody of Spidey in response to Sony’s two recent ham-handed attempts to get this movie franchise back on track. (It must have been disheartening for Sony not be able to get the character back on track after Sam Raimi’s successful, mostly well-received Spidey trilogy that helped usher in a new wave of superhero cinema.)
It should be noted that Raimi had this advantage: When his first two Spidey films were released, Marvel Studios didn’t yet exist. Which means, of course, that Marvel hadn’t yet set a new superhero-movie standard.
But after the mess that was “Spider-Man 3″ and a wasted opportunity with one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains (Venom), Raimi and his star, Tobey Maguire, departed. Sony scurried back to the drawing board, seemed to rush its too-soon reboot of the franchise – and Spider-Man suddenly needed to be himself saved.
Were those movies starring Andrew Garfield – “Amazing Spider-Man” 1 and 2 – entertaining? Sure. Did they make money? Well, yes, but they’re the commercial smashes that Sony wanted. Spider-Man movies were no longer the pop-culture events they had been — a fact that was reflected at the box office.
The underlying problem? The arrival of Marvel Studios.
By the time director Marc Webb’s Sony-Spidey movies landed, Marvel Studios had become a well-oiled machine with a winning streak. Meanwhile, Sony couldn’t give true fans what they wanted. Why? Because part of the fun of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is being able to see so many of Marvel’s movie heroes on the screen simultaneously.
The MCU was huge and had reach. The Avengers team-ups were massively embraced. Suddenly, Black Widow was showing up in a Captain America movie; the Falcon was showing up in Ant-Man. Captain America even had a fun, seconds-long cameo in a Thor movie.
Meanwhile, Spidey was in his own singular universe, as if in timeout, apart from the class. Sure, you might see any Spider-Man villain you could imagine, but that was it. There was no chance to see any other type of Marvel team/up as long as Sony had the exclusive rights to Spider-Man movies.
Fortunately, Sony ultimately realized that its Spider-Man franchise was broken, and that not even the delightfully winning chemistry between Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy could fix it. Sony needed Marvel’s magic touch.
Thanks to Sony’s wise decision to team with Marvel Studios, we’ve now got Spider-Man fighting alongside Iron Man and webbing up Captain America’s shield.
And what makes this new Spider-Man most stand out? The youth. Sure, Spider-Man isn’t currently a kid in the comics, but going with a genuinely young Spider-Man (actor Tom Holland is 19, and looks even younger here) is a brilliant move.
Not only does casting a younger actor distinguish Marvel Studios’ Spidey from the iterations that came before. This version also feels more organically in line with the high-school Peter Parker as rendered in Spider-Man’s comic-book origins in the ’60s — one of the most popular versions of the character — as well as Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man.
Marvel gets so much else right, too. Aesthetically, the character gains the classic, smaller eye lenses from the 1960s and ’70s, now mixed with a newly designed suit — a combo costuming that feels like an authentically knowing decision.
Under Marvel’s sure hand, Spidey feels as though he’s home (a sense that is underscored by his next movie’s subtitle: “Homecoming”).
And who knows? Maybe Spider-Man even has a permanent Avengers roster spot in his near-future.