Last week, my partner finally said those three little words I’ve been waiting our entire relationship to hear: “Let’s watch Spider-Man.” I tried and failed to convince her to watch Marvel movies for over four years, but even she couldn’t help but get carried away by the hype surrounding Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Now, of course, you don’t start a trilogy at full stop. Especially not a trilogy as immensely watchable as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man run, and we really need a good short name for his trilogy (Editor’s note: The domestic trilogy?).
Naturally, I suggested we start with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and to my delight, she agreed to take on the film. However, what started out as cause for celebration quickly turned into a frustrating first-hand experience of just how inaccessible the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be for newcomers. Worse still, I can say that this potentially disastrous flaw will only get worse over time.
Spider-Man’s First Movie Isn’t His First MCU Outing
Before watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, my partner had no previous exposure to the MCU. Sure, she was aware of certain characters like Iron Man and Captain America, but she would never watch a single movie in the interconnected MCU series.
While Spider-Man: Homecoming might not be the most natural starting point, being the 16th MCU movie in order of release, my partner specifically wanted to watch Spider-Man for several reasons. Even her own friends were talking about No Way Home, she knows the web-head is my favorite superhero, and (probably mostly) she has a crush on Tom Holland.
Going in, I felt pretty confident that Homecoming would work quite well as an MCU entry point. Admittedly, I had to lay down some groundwork before watching. The film’s opening is set during Captain America: Civil War and there are plenty of references to the Avengers, not to mention multiple appearances by Iron Man himself, Tony Stark. However, after a few minutes of preamble, I felt confident pressing play.
I’m happy to report that watching Homecoming went well. Sure, there were a few jokes and references that definitely went over her head, but she watched it all with a smile on her face. I call that a success. However, the real problem came when she asked to watch Spider-Man: Far From Home next.
Marvel movies get too complicated too fast
Anyone who has seen Spider-Man: Far From Home knows that it is closely tied to the events of Avengers: Endgame. Tony Stark’s death weighs heavily on Peter Parker, and the responsibility of filling his metal boots is a task he tackles throughout the film. Oh, and Nick Fury and Maria Hill show up too.
In short, Far From Home may be the sequel to Homecoming, but that definitely assumes viewers know a lot more than Tom Holland’s first solo outing as Spider-Man. The problem was obvious, the chances of my partner enjoying Far From Home seemed slim to me given that the entire emotional heart of the film would be lost on her.
I considered suggesting we watch Avengers: Endgame first. Then I realized it didn’t work without watching Avengers: Infinity War first. But neither seemed like a good starting point either, as she didn’t know any of the characters beyond Spider-Man and wouldn’t even have the first idea what a stone is. of infinity. Infinity War and Endgame are all paid, for which an accumulation is necessary.
To truly understand, and not be completely confused, the most recent Avengers movies, you probably need to go back to the MCU’s Phase Two, and potentially even the first Avengers movie, if not even earlier. I managed to launch Homecoming successfully, but the idea of convincing her to watch a dozen movies just so she could fully enjoy Far From Home was essentially a no-start.
The MCU has an integration problem
As it stands, the MCU is made up of 27 movies and four Disney Plus series. This is an amount of content that is borderline inaccessible for a newcomer to consume. By the time someone has worked through all of this, half a dozen more movies and series will probably have been released.
For people like me, who were the appropriate age to watch the very first Iron Man movie in theaters and watched every MCU entry as they came out, this is not a problem. I never really had to worry about catching up or staying current. For a beginner, this is a major concern.
There’s also the problem that some MCUs aren’t really worth watching in hindsight. The likes of Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Eternals, and The Falcon and The Winter Solider can be painfully average at best and not particularly worth your time. Our guide on how to watch Marvel movies in order does a good job of explaining what you need to watch.
However, each of them contains important story beats and character developments that are essential to enjoying the best of the MCU. The excellent Thor: Ragnarok isn’t as enjoyable without first seeing the setup in The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron features Vision, a main character from the brilliant WandaVision series, Eternals and the Celestials will be certainly important in the future of the MCU etc…
Every misfire in the MCU still contains elements critical to the bigger picture, which makes omitting them misguided. If you’re trying to get a newbie into the Marvel Universe, it’s hard to advise anything other than starting from the beginning.
Is MCU Phase 4 too cluttered for newcomers?
The MCU is so intertwined at this point that consuming components piecemeal is essentially impossible, or at the very least extremely reckless. I’m not necessarily complaining about that fact, a big part of why I’m so invested in the MCU is that every new piece feels important immediately or in the future, but it’s created an overwhelming amount of content for the beginners.
I appreciate that Disney seems at least aware of this issue. The Marvel Studios Legends recap series seems to be designed to fix the problem. Sure, short Disney Plus episodes highlighting a character’s backstory and essential plot beats are a flawed solution, but at least it’s something.
For now, I’m still trying to solve my Spider-Man: Far From Home riddle. Maybe I better try to convince my partner to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse instead. At least with this movie, I won’t need to give her a mini-lecture before watching it to catch up on everything she missed.