Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a hyperactive screwball character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He is a character defined by those he has learned from in his short career. These mentors include Tony Stark, Nick Fury, and even Quentin Beck. We’re also expecting Doctor Strange to leave a lasting impression when Spider-Man: No Way Home comes out next year. However, I also believe the Tom Holland MCU Spider-Man is something else, something akin to an advertisement for toys. The character has more in common with a poor man’s Power Rangers character than a superhero with nuance and depth.
Now, it’s nothing new for superheroes to have multitudes of suits in a film. However, Peter’s ever-shifting fashion is a bigger issue for the character in the MCU. The MCU has neutered Peter Parker’s depth, pathos, and his tragedy for power-ups that tie in with his latest mentor. He’s not a hero; he’s the latest surprise to pull from your cereal box.
Captain America: Civil War introduces Peter when Tony goes scouting for a new recruit. When we meet him, he is the categorical friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He saves a bus filled with people by stopping a car from colliding with it. It’s an impressive feat, and when we learn about his dumpster diving for parts, we are enamored by his down-to-earth nature. He is then blown away by the world of Tony Stark: all the glitz, the glamour, and the over-the-top heroics.
A Minor Upgrade for MCU Spider-Man
When Peter returns to his normal life with his new duds, issues begin to crop up with the character in Spider-Man: Homecoming. His new suit is under Training Wheels Protocol, thus restricting full access to its capabilities. His suit has over 500 combinations of web-shooting available to it alone. It’s like saying to a child, “This toy has tons of customization – go nuts.”
It feels to the audience like he has been handicapped, even though Spider-Man never has been about the suit. Then when these shackles are deactivated, he becomes far too dependent on the cheat sheet he is given access to. And the fact he relies too heavily on an A.I. is systemic of a much larger issue: Peter hasn’t been Spider-Man long enough to truly establish what being Spider-Man even means in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Fortunately, his strength of character still shows up at key moments, particularly when he is trying to save the ferry and when he goes up against Vulture by himself. Unfortunately, the film then hampers this with another reminder he’s in a shared universe when Tony Stark slaps him down and takes away his toy costume. To this, Peter delivers the brutal line, “I’m nothing without this suit.”
Since the character’s inception, the suit has never made Peter; Peter is the one who has always made the suit. He is what makes Spider-Man so spectacular, but moments like these reduce complex Peter Parker into just the next Sideshow Collectible you can buy.
To me, the character of Spider-Man feels most like himself when his back is against the wall and all he has are his wits and savvy to survive. This makes the third act of Spider-Man: Homecoming the most resonant moment in the MCU iteration’s history. He’s crafty, wild, and requires nothing fancy to defeat his foe.
But then the film retreats again into offering the shiny toy suit to Peter, as well as the audience at retailers all around the world.
Not Too Far from Your Local Store
Spider-Man: Far From Home, the second solo film in Spidey’s MCU adventures, further diminishes Peter Parker as a character in favor of pushing new merchandise into the spotlight. He gets several new suits that didn’t need to be in the film when we had already learned from the previous film that Peter’s first suit from Tony had seemingly everything in it. The Night Monkey suit feels like a knock-off Spider-Man, while the suit seen in the climax of the film feels more like one of these special collector’s edition-type deals you get for heading to San Diego Comic-Con.
In lieu of character beats and growth, Peter Parker receives hollow power-ups to sell toys.
All you have to do is look at all the news and the new trailer for the upcoming film. The announcements about Spider-Man: No Way Home have turned from character details to almost constant suit reveals via toy leaks. People have been able to discern potential developments in the story due to the reveal of Peter’s shiny, mystical suit potentially from Doctor Strange.
One aspect of what makes Peter great is his underdog nature. He is an everyman. A noteworthy interview segment resurfaced a while back with Andrew Garfield discussing what makes Peter Parker so relatable and why Peter maybe should not get along well with Tony Stark in the first place, and I feel that since Spider-Man’s supposed homecoming that he has lost a lot of that relatability.
With the loss of pivotal people in his life and a shift in motivations, MCU Spider-Man is more a knock-off Power Ranger rather than the webslinger we all know and love.