How Spider-Man saved ‘Civil War’ from being too predictable


After nine years of character plotting, world-building and over a dozen movies, Marvel has unleashed “Captain America: Civil War,” which will forever be remembered as the undoing of the Avengers. Given the themes of personal apocalypses and broken family bonds, the studio knew it had to inject this bloody battle with the signature Marvel charm. “Civil War” needed Spider-Man.

In a move few could have seen coming back when “Iron Man” kicked first off in 2008 (only a year after Tobey Maguire ended his reign in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” film series), Marvel Studios swayed Sony Pictures into rebooting its crown jewel superhero in “Civil War.” It wasn’t easy getting Peter Parker into the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold, but, according to the crew behind Marvel’s new feature, it was very necessary.


In February 2015 it was officially announced Spider-Man would be joining the Marvel movie world, but the negotiations to get Spidey back had long been underway. “It was a very difficult process,” “Civil War” co-director Joe Russo told The Times. “Certainly trying to get two studios to collaborate on a very high-profile piece of [intellectual property], where there’s a lot of money involved, is not easy. It is probably unprecedented. Only a guy like Kevin Feige could pull it off, and he did pull it off. Credit goes to him and Amy Pascal, who was running Sony at the time; the two of them collaborated and figured out how to share the character.”

However, Marvel wasn’t interested in acquiring Spider-Man as some sort of ornamental superhero dressing the films could vaguely reference to, like so many comic book Easter eggs we’ve seen before. The new iteration of the character would launch a whole new Spidey franchise back at Sony and bridge the gap between the previously split Marvel worlds. (Similarly, the “X-Men” franchise, also based on Marvel comics, is currently isolated at Fox.)

But more importantly, Spider-Man would also be saving the Avengers from their own predictable premise. “The reason that we wanted the character in the movie is that we felt as we were working on the storytelling of ‘Civil War’ it was becoming binary, it was bifurcated, two opposing sides and it was becoming very linear and predictable,” Joe Russo said. “So we wanted to introduce free radical characters into the storytelling.”

Yes, a 15-year-old kid from Queens would be responsible for shaking up the whole of the MCU, right in the middle of a superhero war. “We were all in lockstep pretty early on to make him as naturalistic as possible,” said “Civil War” co-screenwriter Stephen McFeely. “In addition to being as young as possible. So what is it really like for a 15-year-old kid? Where does he live in Queens? That’s partly why his aunt isn’t 80 years old; if she’s the sister of his dead mother, why does she have to be two generations ahead?”

And with that youth comes the awe-inspired fun that may have been drowned out over the sound of Captain America repeatedly smashing his fist into Iron Man’s face. “The very point of the movie is the heroes, they’re having real problems with being superheroes now,” said co-screenwriter Christopher Markus. “They’re jaded and it’s encroaching on their lives and it’s not easy. And if you only have those people in the movie, then you’ve got a movie that is saying the thing the audience enjoys isn’t any fun. It’s like slapping their hands when they reach for the candy. It’s great to have a character, like Spider-Man, who’s brand new. Who’s still having a blast, he’s super-excited to be meeting Captain America for the first time, because it injects that kind of wonder back into the situation…. You need an outside voice to shine a light on the things the people in the scene already know. [Black Widow is] not going to look at anybody with wide-eyed wonder.”


This fresh perspective couldn’t be captured just on paper, it would need to be cast as well. As opposed to signing on yet another late twentysomething to play Peter Parker (as Sony had done with Maguire and recently with Andrew Garfield), the studio would look to 19-year-old Tom Holland.

Best known for his role on stage as the title character in “Billy Elliot the Musical,” Holland just happened to be working on a film with Jon Bernthal during the audition process with Marvel. (Somewhere, out in the great wide ether of cool things we’ll probably never get to see, is an audition tape of Bernthal -- who would later be cast as the Punisher for Marvel’s “Daredevil” Netflix series -- running lines with Holland for his Spider-Man audition. And vice versa.)

“I was doing a movie in Ireland [“Pilgrimage”] and the guy, Tom Holland who’s going to be the new Spider-Man, he was in the movie with me and we had been making mini tapes for Marvel to try to get him the Spider-Man job,” Bernthal told The Times. “He and I made a tape for the Punisher [as well]. We worked on it together. We’re really good friends.”

Clearly the pairing worked because Holland is signed on for the next Spider-Man movie, officially titled “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Whether that’s a nod toward Parker’s high school dance, or a return to the fresher-faced teen pop days of the Spider-Man comics, we’ll have to wait and see. But so far Holland has already proved himself invaluable to Marvel Cinematic Universe by saving the wonder. Because no matter how serious these movies get, they’re still human adults in tight clothes pulling off incredible feats of heroism for cash.


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