Marvel Didn’t Skip Spider-Man’s Origin. It’s Going On Right Now.
Tom Holland is the third big-screen live-action Spider-Man and the first whose story began after Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider.
Wait, was he bitten by a radioactive spider?
It’s probably safe to assume Holland’s Peter got his powers from some kind of scientifically modified arachnid. But we really don’t know. We also don’t know conclusively that he had an Uncle Ben — or if he did, if he was killed by a criminal Peter could have stopped but didn’t. In Holland’s first appearance as Spider-Man, 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, he made some vague references to events that could have involved Uncle Ben — with lines like “When you can do the things that I can, but you don't, and then the bad things happen? They happen because of you.” But viewers have to want to really look for those hints to find them.
When I interviewed director Jon Watts about the new Spidey film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, he said that when he made his first Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel deliberately avoided all of those details of Spider-Man’s earliest days. “Back then,” Watts told me, “people were saying ‘Why are you making another Spider-Man movie?’ The focus was on showing people things that they had never seen before, not retelling that origin.” After the public reception of The Amazing Spider-Man films, which retold Spidey’s classic origin with a new Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) just a few years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man had done the same, that makes total sense.
So Watts and Marvel avoided discussing Uncle Ben — if there was an Uncle Ben at all. There were no magical spider-bites. No one talked about great powers or their affiliated great responsibility. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home are instead hugely entertaining Spidey adventures, with young Peter Parker battling classic villains while trying to balance his private life with his public superhero persona.
At least that’s how those movies have been positioned. There is another way to look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man, though. From a certain perspective, it’s possible to argue Marvel hasn’t skipped Spider-Man’s origin. Instead, they’re telling it right now — much more slowly than ever before, with Peter Parker learning that with great power comes great responsibility not from Uncle Ben, but from a series of men in his life.
Most viewers who know Spider-Man’s history assume that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker had an Uncle Ben. But the longer the MCU’s Spidey franchise goes without mentioning him or his famous lessons about power and responsibility, the more I’ve begun to wonder if the reason this Peter Parker never talks about it is because he hasn’t fully learned those lessons yet. Both Homecoming and Far From Home feature a very young Peter Parker who waffles — somewhat uncharacteristically, at least within the larger canon of Spider-Man stories — between doing what he wants, and what his elders want for him.
In Homecoming, that older man is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) who recruits Peter Parker to fight in his Civil War, but then tells him to go back to his relatively quiet life with his aunt in Queens. Having gotten a taste of the superhero big time, Peter wants to instead become a full-fledged Avenger, and continually disobeys Tony’s orders not to pursue the super-villainous scavenger known as the Vulture. It’s only at the end of the film, after Peter manages to defeat the Vulture and prevent a major theft of Tony’s technology, that the older hero relents and offers Peter a spot on the Avengers. Instead, Peter turns him down, returning to his friendly neighborhood for a little while longer.
It’s possible to read this scene as Peter learning the lesson Tony wanted him to understand about not trying to do too much too soon. It’s also possible to say Peter hasn’t learned all that much, and he’s instead decided, as teenagers often do, that he now wants something else — namely a prolonged adolescence. In essence, he rejects greater responsibility, something a Peter Parker with an Uncle Ben and those famous lessons of his would never do.
Sure enough, when Spider-Man: Far From Home begins, Peter is still avoiding his responsibilities, even though they’ve only grown in the interim. In the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Tony Stark is dead, and the world is looking for a new hero. Everyone — from former S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to Tony’s old friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and even Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) — want Peter to step up and become the new Tony Stark.
Peter Parker ghosts them all and goes on vacation in Europe.
Trouble follows him across the Atlantic, but even after a bunch of monstrous creatures called the Elementals show up — even after a new hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) warns him they have the power to destroy the entire world — Peter keeps trying to bail and go back to his class trip. When Mysterio feeds into his desire to have a sane, simple life, he cons him into forking over his technological inheritance from Tony Stark. It’s only when Peter realizes Mysterio tricked him, and is planning to use the stolen tech to harm thousands of people, that he answers the call and saves the day.
Whether Mysterio’s unusual lesson about power and responsibility sticks won’t be clear until the next Spider-Man film. And Spidey purists could certainly argue that Marvel’s current approach to Peter Parker, and the way he is growing into his role, is very different than the way he’s always been portrayed. But I like watching Holland discover, in subtle ways, the meaning of power and responsibility. Spider-Man is, at his core, an imperfect hero. He didn’t save Uncle Ben. He didn’t save Gwen Stacy. Failure and mistakes are as essential to his DNA as radioactive spider venom. So while a somewhat irresponsible Spider-Man sounds like a contradiction in terms, it actually makes total (spider) sense.
Gallery — Every Spider-Man Movie Ranked: