Also known as “Why fucking awful Fantastic Four movies keep coming out for some reason.”
Recently Spider-Man: Homecoming actor Tom Holland revealed in an interview that according to Marvel big-wig Kevin Feige Peter Parker appeared in 2010’s Iron Man 2 in a brief cameo. Some people are chuckling to themselves about it but some people are flipping their lids thinking that Marvel’s had this whole Spider-Man thing on the back burner for seven years and they’ve just been waiting to let the hype train loose from the station until now.
As a Marvel fanboy I’d love to be able to tell everyone that Kevin Feige is some kind of secret genius, but as many people already know, given Marvel’s current cinematic landscape, it was impossible for this to have been the plan all along. To explain why, we have to step back about twenty-five years.
Basically, it’s been Marvel’s plan to make movies for a while. However, it hasn’t been Marvel’s plan to make movies in-house until quite recently. The first film in the so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe” was 2008’s Iron Man and they’ve been making money hand-over-fist ever since. Everyone knows that the big superhero boom started around 2000 though, with the first Marvel hit technically being 1998’s Blade. So what happened here? If Iron Man was the first Marvel Studios film, who was making these other superhero movies?
Well, frankly, a lot of people. Blade was done by New Line Cinema, Ang Lee’s Hulk was Universal, X-Men, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four were 20th Century Fox, and importantly, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films were done by Columbia Pictures, which is a division of Sony. Studios also owned Namor the Sub-Mariner, Black Panther, and a bunch of others who never ended up getting stand-alone movies.
These rights were sold off to various movie studios in the 90s back when Marvel didn’t even dream of making its own films. The problem with having sold off these rights is that Marvel Studios circa 2005 was actually not allowed to make films using their own characters. The rules of these sales, as I understand it, state that if a certain amount of time goes by without a product containing these characters being made, the rights automatically default back to Marvel. That’s why Fant4stic (Pronounced fant-four-stic) got made recently and why the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films got made as well.
Which brings us back to our original problem: The kid in Iron Man 2 not being Peter Parker. Iron Man 2 was released in 2010 amid early production for 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which was back when Sony and Marvel were, to put it overdramatically, not talking to each other. Marvel was in a bit of a scramble to re-acquire the rights to their own characters, but certain studios, Sony included, were dragging their feet on the issue.
Personally, my theory is that when Marvel started killing it at the box office, those who owned the rights to Marvel properties went into panic mode and started developing anything using the characters that they had available. This explains why we ended up with the 2011 reboot X-Men: First Class and probably why we got 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Remember that one? Yeah, me neither.
So for Feige and the rest of Marvel’s film division to have planned a Spider-Man cameo in 2010 would have just been poor business strategy. What if they never got the rights to Spider-Man back? Then they would have promised Peter Parker and been unable to deliver. With 2012’s The Avengers still right around the corner promising huge payoffs to four years of waiting, Marvel was treading on some very untested and potentially unstable ground. It would have been foolhardy to try to promise something that they knew they couldn’t deliver.
So what appears to have happened is some kind of retroactive cameo. It was just a kid, but now they’re embracing the idea that this kid is Peter Parker. Holland himself even confirms this in the cited interview, saying “[Feige] didn’t confirm [the kid was Peter Parker], I took it upon myself just because I thought it would be a good story.” And you know what? That’s totally fine! I have absolutely no problem with them retroactively making that kid Peter Parker. In fact, I think it might be cool if there was a throwaway line in the next MCU Spider-Man film confirming it. “You saved me at the Stark Expo, it made me want to be a hero.” Or something. I fully support going backwards and adding depth to the character by retconning certain innocuous events into important parts of Parker’s origin story.
I just want to make sure that everyone knows it’s a retcon.