Last week my partner finally said those three little words I’ve waited our whole relationship to hear: “let’s watch Spider-Man.” I’ve been trying and failing to convince her to watch Marvel movies for more than four years, but even she couldn’t help but get swept up in the hype surrounding Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Now, of course, you don’t start a trilogy at the endpoint. Especially not a trilogy as immensely watchable as Tom Holland's Spider-Man run, and we really need a good shorthand name for his trilogy (Editor's Note: The Home Trilogy?).
Naturally, I proposed that we begin with Spider-Man: Homecoming and to my great delight she agreed to give the film a shot. However, what started as a cause for celebration has quickly descended into a frustrating first hand experience of just how inaccessible the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be for newcomers. Even worse, I can tell this potentially disastrous flaw is only going to get worse with time.
Spider-Man's first movie isn't his first MCU outing
Before watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, my partner had exactly zero previous exposure to the MCU. Sure, she was aware of some of the characters like Iron Man and Captain America but she’d never watch even a single film within the inter-connected MCU series.
While Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the most natural jumping-in point, it’s the 16th MCU film by release order, my partner specifically wanted to watch Spider-Man for a few reasons. Even her own friends were talking about No Way Home, she’s aware that the web-head is my personal favorite superhero and (probably primarily), she has a crush on Tom Holland.
Going in, I felt pretty confident that Homecoming would work fairly well as an MCU entry point. Granted, I did have to lay some groundwork before watching. The film’s opening is set during Captain America: Civil War and there are quite a lot of references to the Avengers, not to mention multiple appearances from Iron Man himself Tony Stark. However, after a few minutes of pre-amble, I felt confident pressing play.
I’m happy to report that watching Homecoming went smoothly. Sure, there were a few in-jokes and references that definitely went over her head, but she watched the whole thing through with a smile on her face. I call that a success. However, the real problem surfaced when she asked about watching Spider-Man: Far From Home next.
Marvel movies get too complicated too quickly
Anyone who’s seen Spider-Man: Far From Home knows that it is heavily tied to the events of Avengers: Endgame. The death of Tony Stark weighs heavily on Peter Parker, and the responsibility of filling his metallic boots is a task he grapples with throughout the movie. Oh, and Nick Fury and Maria Hill show up too.
In short, Far From Home may be the sequel to Homecoming, but it definitely assumes viewers are familiar with more than just Tom Holland’s first solo outing as Spider-Man. The problem was obvious, the odds of my partner enjoying Far From Home seemed small to me considering the whole emotional crux of the movie would be lost on her.
I considered suggesting that we watch Avengers: Endgame first. Then I realized that doesn't work without watching Avengers: Infinity War first. But neither seemed like a good place to start either as she has no familiarity with any of the characters beyond Spider-Man, and wouldn’t even have the first idea what an Infinity Stone is. Infinity War and Endgame are all pay-off, for which build-up is required.
To really understand, and not be completely confused, the most recent Avengers films you probably need to go back to phase two of the MCU, and potentially even the first Avengers movie if not even earlier. I was able to successfully pitch watching Homecoming, but the idea of convincing her to watch a dozen or so movies just so she could fully enjoy Far From Home was essentially a non-starter.
The MCU has an onboarding problem
As it stands, the MCU is comprised of 27 films and four Disney Plus series. That’s a borderline inaccessible amount of content to consume for a newcomer. By the time someone has worked their work through all of that, another half a dozen films and series will probably have been released.
For people like myself, who were an appropriate age to watch the very first Iron Man film in theaters, and have watched each entry in the MCU as they’ve been released, it’s not an issue. I’ve never really had to worry about catching up or staying up to date. For a newbie that’s a major concern.
There’s also the problem that some of the MCU isn’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 all painfully average at best and not especially worth your time. Our guide for how to watch Marvel movies in order does a good job of spelling out which you need to watch.
However, each of them contains important story beats and character developments that are critical 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 introduces Vision, a main character in the brilliant WandaVision series, Eternals and the Celestials are sure to be significant in the future of the MCU etc.
Each MCU misfire still has elements that are critical to the bigger picture which makes skipping them ill-advised. If you're trying to onboard a newbie to the Marvel Universe it's hard to advise anything but to start from the very beginning.
Is Phase 4 of the MCU too obtuse to newcomers?
The MCU is so closely stitched together at this point, that consuming components piecemeal is essentially impossible, or at the very least it’s extremely unwise. I’m not necessarily complaining about that fact, a significant part of the reason I’m so invested in the MCU is that each new piece feels important either immediately or in the future, but it’s created an overwhelming amount of content for newbies.
I do appreciate that Disney seems at the very least aware of this issue. The recap series Marvel Studios Legends appears to be designed to fix the problem. Of course, short Disney Plus episodes highlighting a character's backstory and essential plot beats are an imperfect solution, but at least it’s something.
For now, I’m still grappling with how to solve my Spider-Man: Far From Home conundrum. Perhaps, I’m better just trying to convince my partner to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse instead. At least with that film, I won’t need to give her a mini-lecture before watching in order to catch her up on everything she’s missed.