Many were hoping that when Kevin Feige took the stage to unveil the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that he would have a friendly neighborhood Spider-man in tow with him, but alas, it was not to be. All of Marvel’s output was plotted out through 2019, but Spider-man’s name was nowhere to be found. Interestingly enough, one of those films featured was Captain America: Civil War.
When Feige revealed that the third Captain America film would indeed be Civil War, fans were quick to mention the huge role that Spidey plays in that major event in Marvel comics. Before diving into that, let’s put a light on the events referenced. Marvel’s Civil War storyline, in the comics at least, grew out of public concern when super-powered vigilantes cause so much collateral damage that eventually the federal government calls for the identification of these masked men and women. Inciting the outrage is a battle between two unknown comic-book players (Speedball and Nitro) that results in the death of 600 people. The Superhuman Registration Act is created in reaction to that horrific event, a bill that requires every superhero to make their identity known to the government.
The problem with adapting this into the next Captain America film is that no one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a secret identity. Tony Stark publicly revealed himself as Iron Man at the end of his first film, Bruce Banner has been identified as the Hulk, Thor has no secret identity and Captain America’s name is in history books everywhere. Even Black Widow had her day before Congress in The Winter Soldier.
Where Spider-Man made his mark in the graphic novels was as a third party stuck in the middle of Captain America and Iron Man. Spider-man unveils that he is Peter Parker at a press conference staged by Iron Man to gain superhero trust in the pro-registration movement. Tony’s victory is short-lived when the measures taken by pro-registration forces are deemed excessive and Spidey switches sides.
While Spider-man is a recognizable face at the center of the debate, he isn’t as necessary as fans think. Bringing such a huge name to an already stuffed sequel just to be an interloper would be a mistake. Especially when the presence of Black Panther in Civil War would be suitable enough to serve as the innocent torn between two factions. Black Panther’s alter-ego, T’challa, has just as much to lose as Peter Parker would from his identity being leaked, as he is also the Prince of Wakanda.
Having Spider-man stand between Captain America and Iron Man would be great, but it’s just fan service. The real draw to Civil War is seeing two leaders come to blows over their beliefs in what heroism is. Everything else is just window dressing.
Marvel has taken liberties with epic storylines before – the Age of Ultron we’ll see in theatres is not the same plot that fans anticipated – and one assumes that won’t change with this sequel either. The events of Age of Ultron are sure to cause some anxiety in the public and Feige confirmed as much during the Phase 3 showcase. S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer around to police the actions of the Avengers; Tony funds the team and Cap runs them, so they are an autonomous being with no figure of authority like Nick Fury above them. That Tony and Cap are working so close together in the Avengers sequel will only make the future betrayal all the more powerful.
Tony sneered at government interference throughout Iron Man 2, basically telling the government that “you can’t have it.” It would be a moment of growth for Tony to allow a higher being than himself to run his organization, but creating Ultron might fundamentally change his opinion on how effective he is at policing himself. After the events of Winter Soldier, Cap is unlikely to favor power consolidated under authority. HYDRA parading around as S.H.I.E.L.D. saw to that.
While both men’s points of view are reasonable, a crucial piece of information about Bucky killing both of Tony’s parents will likely be the spark that ignites the MCU’s Civil War. It would certainly be a stripped-down affair with Cap and Tony facing off compared to the all-out war between superheroes in the graphic novels. This move makes the story easily contained within one film, with the fissures affecting the MCU for several films to come.
Even if you ignore Civil War, Marvel doesn’t need that trump card that Spider-man could eventually serve. He is recognized globally like D.C.’s Batman and Superman, but Marvel has consumer trust in their brand now. When a movie featuring a talking raccoon and a sentient tree made $300 million domestic, Marvel proved they don’t really need Spider-man.
Sony isn’t having luck with the web slinger at the moment, but they would be foolish to sell the rights or let them lapse back to Marvel. Even with a relatively tame box-office gross, Spider-man can bring in around $500-600 million pretty easily. Lending him to a rival studio at any rate wouldn’t be worth it. Because as we all know, filmmaking is still a business and there are no friends when box-office receipts are on the line.
Getting Spider-man back under the Marvel banner would be great for Spidey, but Marvel doesn’t need him anymore. They’ve moved on.