All the creatives and stars of Avengers: Endgame joined in a massive social media campaign asking everyone to be decent human beings and #DontSpoilTheEndgame…for two weeks until Marvel Studios used MASSIVE spoilers for Endgame in their trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was clear they were seeking to use all the emotions flowing in the wake of Endgame to motivate advanced ticket sales for Far From Home. Marvel Studios was very direct about how Spider-Man: Far From Home served as the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame. I enjoyed the film but was – and remain – frustrated by a plot point with seriously troubling implications.
Note, this has spoilers for both Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home (obvs.).
Before I begin the analysis I want to reiterate that I really did enjoy Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was light and fun, with all the sweet and goofy moments you expect when the MCU’s on point. I felt it was the perfect come down after the heavy emotional hit of Avengers: Endgame. Also, I’ve ALWAYS loved the Americans-travelling-in-Europe trope for setting up comedic hijinks and the high-school-Europe-trip subset is particularly entertaining. With this great cast and all that awkward (in a good way) chemistry, this film had everything I was looking for after Endgame.
But the central plot point on which the film turns illustrates a troubling direction/mindset for the MCU. It also makes absolutely no sense within the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The film opens with the world mourning the death of Tony Stark and the other Avengers who fell in the battle with Thanos and his Black Order. Thankfully the tone isn’t heavy and school’s out for summer! Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and some of their classmates are off to Europe for a science trip under the supervision of Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (J.B. Smoove). Things don’t go as planned and soon giant Elementals are threatening the world as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smoulders) are trying to pull Spider-Man into battle alongside the mysterious inter-dimensional traveler Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
But the question on which everything pivots is – Who is the next Iron Man? Who will follow in Tony Stark’s footsteps?
It is a question asked both in-universe and amongst MCU fans. With this first generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe concluded, what will the next generation look like? What shape will it take? Who will form the core as the original Avengers – specifically Tony Stark’s Iron Man, Steve Roger’s Captain America, and the always criminally-underrated Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow – did? The answer the film offers, both in-universe and to fans, is Spider-Man. And everything about this is a problem.
The film’s narrative works hard to underscores this point. While Peter doubts he can be the next Tony Stark, literally everything else about the movie reinforces this point.
While helping Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) at a fundraiser for those who returned from the snap to find themselves homeless, Peter – in his Spider-Man costume – finds himself surrounded by reporters. His mounting anxiety is evident.
Reporter #1 – “Are you the head Avenger now?”
Spider-Man – “Uh, no, I’m not.”
Reporter #2 – “If aliens come back, what are you going to do?”
Spider-Man – “Does anyone have any neighborhood questions?”
Reporter #3 – “What is it like to take over for Tony Stark? Those are some big shoes to fill.”
Spider-Man – “I’m uh, I’m gonna go. Thanks so much everyone for coming.”
So it is clear the press see Spider-Man as Iron Man’s heir apparent. Peter rushes out and sits on a rooftop, unmasked and crying, looking at a mural of Iron Man. His doubt and uncertainty are obvious.
Nick Fury catches up with Peter in Venice. As Fury takes Peter back to his makeshift HQ, he hands Peter the EDITH glasses telling him, “Stark left these for you.” Peter asks, “Really?” Peter opens the case, sees the glasses, and Fury tells him, “‘Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.’ Stark said you wouldn’t get that because it’s not a Star Wars reference.”
Now, in addition to the press, we know Tony Stark sees Peter in an important light. The gift he gives Peter is not a small one either. On the bus to Prague, Peter puts the glasses on for the first time. Opening the glasses case, he finds a note Tony left him. It reads, “For the next Tony Stark, I trust you. P.S. Say Edith – TS” Once Peter says “Edith,” the glasses activate:
EDITH – “Stand by for retinal and biometric scan. Retinal and biometric scan accepted.”
Peter – “Hello?”
EDITH – “Hello Peter, I am EDITH, Tony Stark’s Augmented Security and Defense System.”
Peter – “Huh. So he made you for me?”
EDITH – “No, but you do have access to all of Tony’s protocols.”
Peter – “Cool.”
EDITH – “Would you like to see what I can do? ‘EDITH’ stands for, ‘Even Dead I’m the Hero.’ Tony loved his acronyms.”
Peter – “Yeah, he did.”
EDITH – “I have access to the entire Stark Global Security Network, including multiple defense satellites as well as backdoors to all major telecommunications networks.”
For the next Tony Stark. I trust you. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, indeed. Tony hasn’t just placed his faith in Peter, saying he can be “the next Tony Stark” but has given him access to the entire Stark Global Security Network. So the idea of Spider-Man being the next Iron Man has been introduced by the press and now endorsed by Tony himself. It was Tony’s idea that Peter follow in his footsteps.
Finally, we return to this theme in the third act. Peter is beaten, separated from his friends, Beck has EDITH, and everyone is in danger. He calls Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to pick him up and, on the plane, they share the film’s most emotional scene. Peter doesn’t know what to do with “the whole world” asking “Who’s going to be the next Iron Man?” Crying, he tells Happy he’s unsure if he can do it. Happy tells Peter, “You’re not Iron Man. You’re never gonna be Iron Man. Nobody can live up to Tony, not even Tony. Tony was my best friend. And he was a mess. He second-guessed everything he did, he was all over the place. The one thing he did that he didn’t second-guess was picking you. I don’t think Tony woulda done what he did if he didn’t know that you were gonna be here after he’s gone. Now your friends are in trouble. You’re all alone. Your tech is missing. What are you gonna do about it?”
The implications are clear. While this speech alleviates the pressure Peter feels to be Tony it reinforces the idea he’s supposed to fill that void, he’s just to do it in his own way. Despite Peter’s personal doubt, every point in the movie’s narrative reaffirms this idea. Happy even plays AC/DC as Peter makes his suit. Hearing “Back In Black” blare screams Tony. Tony saw the future being built around Peter and everyone in-universe sees/affirms it, too. The film is telling the viewer Spider-Man is now the heart of the MCU; Peter Parker is the next Tony Stark.
But this role should never be Peter’s. It makes no sense in-universe and it points to deeply troubling ideas motivating/shaping the MCU’s future.
Looking at the in-universe problem first, why Peter Parker should and would never be “the next Tony Stark” is obvious. He is a child. He is a sixteen-year-old kid. He’s in no place to lead the Avengers. He lacks the life experience and emotional development to do so. And it would be irresponsible to presume otherwise!!!
I’ve taught high school for nine years. Before that I was a youth minister and a religious ed. instructor. So I’ve worked with teenagers, in one capacity or another, for almost twenty years. I am continually amazed by my students’ potential for insight, compassion, courage, and intelligence. However, I would never place the responsibility Tony (and the world, presumably) places on Peter on them. It’s unfair, developmentally inappropriate, and unhealthy. I’d never want any of my students on the front lines of world-ending events either because I care about them.
The one thing he did that he didn’t second-guess was picking you. I don’t think Tony woulda done what he did if he didn’t know that you were gonna be here after he’s gone – yep, that’s a fair amount of pressure to put on a teenager in a world literally filled with other adult, superpowered individuals. Every other hero on Earth is better suited to use EDITH and lead the Avengers than Peter. The idea that Tony would put all this unhealthy responsibility on Peter would say Tony didn’t really grow during the MCU’s ten years at all. He’s still carelessly making thoughtless and irresponsible choices, regardless of how they may hurt those around him.
The guilt/pressure doesn’t end there. After they defeat the Fire Elemental in Prague, Fury tells Peter, “[Y]ou got to decide whether you’re going to step up or not. Stark chose you. He made you an Avenger. I need that. The world needs that. Maybe Stark was wrong. Was he? The choice is yours.” You can see the tears in Peter’s eyes as Fury says this! What the fuck is wrong with everyone in this universe? He is a child who doesn’t deserve this pressure.
Do you know who would be a good choice to have EDITH and step up to lead the Avengers with Tony gone? How about Sam Wilson/Captain America? Or Bruce Banner/the Hulk? Or Hope Van Dyne/the Wasp? Or Wanda Maximoff/the Scarlet Witch? Or Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier? All have a combination of leadership/tech/combat experience. All are old enough to vote or drink legally, too.
But the two most GLARINGLY OBVIOUS CHOICES to follow in Tony’s footsteps, lead the Avengers, and become the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and T’Challa/the Black Panther. Carol’s been a superhero – across the entire galaxy – longer than anyone else in the MCU. Sure, Thor’s lived for millennia but as his origin movie makes clear, it wasn’t until 2010 that he found himself a truly worthy hero. She’s seen more, done more, and is – by far – the most powerful hero they’ve got. Then there’s T’Challa. He’s literally born to lead and he’s the king of the most technologically advanced society on the planet. He’s a super genius, a diplomat, a hero, and his Wakandan labs make Stark Industries look like an elementary school science department.
Both of their solo films made over one billion dollars at the box office and both were rightly celebrated for Marvel Studios FINALLY placing the spotlight on their female characters and characters of color for a change. It took a decade of Marvel movies before it wasn’t a white male hero front and center in the plot and on the film’s title card.
But who’s the next Iron Man? Who’s taking the mantle and following in Tony Stark’s footsteps? Another of Marvel’s white, male characters – and such an illogical narrative leap is required to bring us to this. I really want to believe I’m wrong but it’s hard to see this as anything other than an intentional move to keep the white male focus of the MCU front and center. Yes, we see more diverse characters coming with some of their Phase Four films but the message in Spider-Man: Far From Home is clear. Iron Man was the most important hero they had. Iron Man is gone. Now Spider-Man is taking his place. Spider-Man is now the most important hero they have.
In Spider-Man: Far From Home we see everyone looking to Peter/Spider-Man to fill the void left by the death of Tony Stark. Everything about the movie tells us, as viewers, Spider-Man is the new Iron Man, too…even though literally every other superhero in the MCU would be better suited for the job. Peter is just a kid. No one – especially Tony who was a father himself by the time Endgame rolled around – would ever realistically put Peter in that role, especially when there is a universe full of competent adult heroes who can do the job, Captain Marvel and Black Panther chief among them.
For the sake of argument, let’s say there was some weird and unfathomable reason Tony needed to give EDITH to a teenager, to leave a teenager in charge of the entire Stark Global Security Network. Even in this completely implausible scenario, why would he pick Peter, whose first costume was made out of sweatpants and welder goggles, as opposed to Shuri, the Wakandan super genius who was able to instantly and effortlessly understand Vision and his relationship with the Mind Stone in a way neither Tony nor Bruce nor Tony AND Bruce TOGETHER were able to do? Sure, you can argue Tony had a close relationship with Peter and saw him as a protégé or student or even a sort of surrogate son. But for Tony to place the fate of the world in such a direct way on an inferior and inexperienced choice just because he was his protégé reeks of ego and arrogance. Wasn’t a big part of the MCU’s story over the last ten years how Tony had grown beyond that?
The only thing making Peter Parker/Spider-Man the central point of the MCU after Tony Stark accomplishes is serving to further endorse the narrative that power and importance is primarily the prerogative of white men within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the creatives who shape the MCU wanted this so badly they had to disregard any and all storytelling logic to do so.
Yes, Spider-Man: Far From Home was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the film. And I love Spider-Man. I’ve always loved Spider-Man. For my entire life he’s been my all-time favorite fictional character. But he SHOULD NOT be the center of the MCU. He shouldn’t be the next Tony Stark. The people in-universe deserve a more competent and capable leader looking out for them. A sixteen-year-old kid doesn’t need that sort of pressure. And the people outside of the MCU, those of us who are fans, certainly deserve more from Marvel Studios than another ten years of stories where a white man is the most important character in the narrative.
Granted, seeing people disregarding all logic to make it seem as though the white man is more important than anyone else certainly reflects some of the more troubling realities of our times…but we’re long past the time where anyone with any shred of intelligence or awareness believes that’s true. I want more from my superhero movies than reinforcing a troubling and divisive fallacy. I want them to be better and, in so doing, remind all of us that’s what we must always aspire to, too. Lead by example Marvel. That’s what real heroes do.