Marvel skipped Spider-Man’s origin in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming – and it was a smart move for the House of Ideas. Marvel has never been particularly keen on doing a rinse-and-repeat of stories and ideas that have already appeared on the big screen. That’s not been a problem with most of their characters – Robert Downey Jr. is the definitive Iron Man, after all – but with Spider-Man it was something of an issue.
Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had drastically underperformed at the box office, and critical responses had forced Sony to (temporarily) shelve their plans to build a cinematic universe out of the Spider-Man franchise. That led Marvel and Sony to strike an unprecedented deal that brought the wall-crawler into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel was clear that they wanted to relaunch the franchise once again, which meant letting Andrew Garfield go, but it meant the studio was launching the third cinematic version of Spider-Man since the year 2002.
Marvel went to great effort to differentiate their Spider-Man from either Andrew Garfield’s or Tobey Maguire’s. They cast Tom Holland as a young Peter Parker at high school, they stressed the dynamic between their new Spider-Man and the other heroes of the MCU, and they even chose to represent some of his powers slightly differently. But the most notable difference between this iteration of Spider-Man and the previous ones was the decision to avoid re-telling Spider-Man’s origin story.
- This Page: Spider-Man’s Origin Story Told Time & Again
- Page 2: Spider-Man’s Origin Is A Smart Secret
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: a teenage boy gets bitten by a radioactive spider and develops incredible super-powers. At first he uses these powers for his own benefit, becoming a wrestler, and he becomes increasingly selfish. Then, in a tragic twist of fate, the teen’s uncle is shot by a criminal who he could have stopped earlier. He’s forced to learn a painful lesson; with great power must come great responsibility.
Everybody knows the broad strokes of Spider-Man’s origin. That’s the tale as told by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko all the way back in 1962; it’s been retold in countless popular animated shows, and it’s even been adapted twice for the big screen. One version was told in Spider-Man in 2002, and a revised one a decade later in The Amazing Spider-Man. The story beats have been absorbed into popular culture, in the same kind of way even a non-superhero fan tends to know Superman was sent from his dying homeworld of Krypton as a baby. Marvel always wants the MCU to feel fresh and original, and as a result they really didn’t want to repeat the same formula.
The MCU’s Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and he’d already been operating as a superhero for several months. That single decision meant Marvel didn’t need to retread ground already explored; they could settle for just tossing in vague references, knowing that viewers would join the dots with ease. In one telling scene, Tony Stark asks this young Peter Parker why he dresses up as a superhero. “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t,” Peter explained, “and then the bad things happen… They happen because of you.” While it clearly carried the sentiment of the famous “power and responsibility” speech, it was a very different way of putting it. In fact, where Uncle Ben’s ghost pretty much haunted the previous Spider-Men, the MCU’s Ben Parker will get his very first mention in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the fifth movie featuring Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. The trailers have already shown Peter traveling with his uncle’s suitcase, literally the first explicit nod to Ben Parker in the MCU to date.
Page 2 of 2: Spider-Man’s Origin Is A Smart Secret
But there’s another reason Marvel has chosen not to tell Spider-Man’s origin story again; it’s because they’re well aware people will think they know it, and as a result the studio can take audiences by surprise if they switch things up. As Kevin Feige explained in an interview with Cinema Blend:
“The truth is, we want audiences to bring their own… let them fill in those blanks right now. They’ve seen the other films. They’ve read comics. They can fill that in. That was a very purposeful decision we made to not retread that ground. There are little things that are said here and there that people can read into. What the specific facts are in the past, we don’t… we haven’t revealed yet.”
The significance of all this becomes clear when viewers stop to ask themselves a few key questions. Where did the radioactive spider come from? In the original comics, the spider happened to dangle in front of an experiment, and its body was suffused with mysterious energy. Dying, the spider fell towards the ground, and landed on Peter Parker’s outstretched hand. Reflexively, it bit, injecting its venom into his bloodstream, and thus creating Spider-Man. That’s the traditional origin, but it’s actually been reworked a number of times in the comics. One story arc suggested the spider was destined to bite Peter, transforming him into a mystic “Spider Totem.” It was always going to bite him, and the radiation was an accident that simply complicated things. In the Ultimate Comics version, a modernized retelling of the Marvel Universe, the spiders had been genetically engineered by Norman Osborn in order to create super-soldiers. One escaped, and bit Peter Parker when he was visiting OsCorp on a school trip. Between these three very different options, the comics allow Marvel Studios a lot of leeway. And they could even choose to do something completely fresh and new – should they ever wish to.
Another question: Did the spider bite only Peter, or did it go on to bite someone else as well before it died? During the “Original Sin” event in the comics, writer Dan Slott revealed that another of Peter’s classmates was also bitten by the spider. Cindy Moon was quickly ferried away by Ezekiel, a man who understood the power of the Spider Totems and who feared she would draw the attention of an interdimensional race known as the Inheritors. When Peter learned of Cindy’s existence, he broke her out, and she became the superhero Silk. Tiffany Espensen plays one of Peter’s classmates, Cindy, in the MCU – and she’s the spitting image of Silk. Cindy has yet to demonstrate any super-powers, but that could change in a future movie. Again, the fact Marvel hasn’t shown the spider-bite means the spider could easily have survived long enough to create more superhumans.
And are there any other spiders? If the MCU’s spider was an accident, then it’s unlikely to be repeated. If it was created, as in the Ultimate Universe, then the odds are good that there are other radioactive spiders out there. In the Ultimate Comics, another spider escaped OsCorp, and it eventually found its way to a teenager called Miles Morales. Miles became the Ultimate Spider-Man, one of Marvel’s most popular teen heroes, and the star of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. He’s already been confirmed to be part of the MCU, meaning the potential is there for him to be introduced as another superhero further down the line. It all depends on just what happened.
By concealing Spider-Man’s origin, Marvel ensured they had the maximum room to maneuver. They could effortlessly write OsCorp, Norman Osborn, and the Green Goblin into Spider-Man’s backstory, and nobody would bat an eye. They could set up superheroes like Silk and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, and it would all feel natural and organic. It really was a smart move on Marvel’s part.
More: Brian Bendis: Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse Interview