“He is critical to the movie,” Captain America: Civil War director Anthony Russo told io9.com of Spider-Man, “or else he wouldn’t be in the movie.”
I thought this was bullshit after seeing the flick. Spider-Man has fun in the showcase superhero fight, but it’s a fight – Russo and his writers could have easily figured a way for Captain America and Winter Soldier to get away (which plot-wise is all that needed to happen) without Spider-Man.
It wasn’t the fight where he was critical, though. It was his other scene, with Tony Stark (Iron Man). Peter Parker saves Stark’s soul.
This whole modern comic-book-movie-universe era began with Iron Man in 2008, because Robert Downey Jr. brought everything he excels at to the role. His journey through seven (!) Marvel movies has been a pure hero’s arc. After starting cynical and sarcastic, he learned humility and responsibility and almost sacrificed himself to stop a nuke from decimating New York (in The Avengers).
It’s been bad since, and Civil War is his darkest time. He has a fat black eye for most of the movie. A dead boy’s mom calls him a murderer. Pepper Potts dumped him. Captain America, friend and colleague, keeps punching him. Tony feels this stuff, because he’s a sensitive guy with alcohol and trauma issues, whose brash attitude masks deep pain. Civil War even digs up his dead parents. It’s brutal.
But in the first scene with Spider-Man, we see Tony’s joy return. He’s finally funny, hitting on Peter Parker’s hot aunt and admiring the web shooters Parker made for himself… like a young Tony Stark. There’s life in Tony’s eyes around Spider-Man, while with the Avengers, and all the guilt and disagreements and problems that team brings, it’s just shitty.
It had been irksome seeing Iron Man get more popular than Spider-Man, but we were just waiting. It turns out they held him back for the perfect amount of time. Now, at the end of a true hero’s saga, Tony can help build and train Marvel’s all-time greatest superhero, then pass him the torch of the entire Marvel Universe.