There are fans of comic book movies, there are fans of Marvel movies, and then, there are fans of Spider-Man movies.
Most, if not all, fans are all three of those categories, but Spider-Man fans have a different type of passion few IPs can produce. A huge part of that is the fact there have been three separate live-action franchises for Spider-Man over the past 21 years, all of which feature unique Peter Parkers.
With a character with so much love and commitment from the fans, it is bound to produce lines drawn in the sand. Most web-heads claim to love all things Spider-Man, and this is mostly true. But the reality of the situation is that everyone has a favorite, and everyone can probably argue their favorite over the rest.
Tom Holland's Peter Parker has the immense benefit of being set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Being able to interact with characters like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Nick Fury has given the MCU Spidey an x-factor neither predecessor has been able to utilize. But in an effort to differentiate from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations of Spider-Man, Marvel Studios made some decisions to omit some of the Raimi and The Amazing Spider-Man's franchise's biggest plot drivers.
One of those drivers is the use of Uncle Ben, who is one of, if not the most, iconic supporting characters in the Spider-Man universe. This decision has received a wide array of praise and disdain from the Peter Parker hopeful.
Omitting Uncle Ben in the MCU was something that gave Holland's Peter Parker a wild card that could be played at any time. But recently, in the multiversal, all-animated series What If...?, an alternate Zombie universe Peter Parker, voiced by Hudson Thames, made the first mention of Uncle Ben in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it was a monumental moment.
The Direct sat down with Thames to talk about the experience of officially introducing such a legendary character into the MCU lexicon.
With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility
In The Direct's exclusive interview with What If...? Peter Parker voice actor Hudson Thames, Thames talked about how "heavy and special" the Uncle Ben moment was:
"I didn't realize that it was the first time until I was informed by the fans and people who pay close attention to that. But I definitely felt the emotion in that. Like, 'Oh, this is a heavy and special moment'. And then I kind of dove deeper into that and realized that was the first time that has happened."
Thames went on to mention how much he has learned about Spider-Man and the Marvel universe since the What If...? zombies episode released:
"But again, this whole thing has been such an interesting discovery. Like, my little brother is the biggest Spider-Man fan in the world. And he has been telling me about all of it. And it is something we connected over. There is such a well of information there that is really cool and special."
Thames is excited about being this iteration of Peter Parker in the MCU and is ready to take on this heady challenge moving forward.
Uncle Ben in the MCU
The history of live-action Spider-Man is a complicated one full of nostalgia, impactful moments, and some head-scratching decisions. By the time the MCU got hold of Peter Parker, the Spider-Man IP had become one of the most polarizing in the comic book movie industry. With it came a wide array of greatness and folly that left fans with a mixture of excitement and fatigue moving forward.
Tobey Maguire and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies of the early 2000s launched a new brand of superheroes on the big screen. But a muddled third act of the trilogy brought the franchise to a stop and initiated the launch of a rebranding. That led to the Andrew Garfield-led The Amazing Spider-Man movies that brought a new and more modern take to the iconic superhero. With a plethora of redeemable qualities, this franchise was brought to a sudden halt after The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
So that leads to Tom Holland's integration of Peter Parker into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The challenge was to contain what was special about the first five Spider-Man movies while also bringing something fresh, engaging, and in line with the current MCU. Among major decisions like the much younger age of Peter Parker, leaning into a tech-heavy suit, and a more dynamic cast of supporting characters, the biggest difference may be the omission of Uncle Ben.
Uncle Ben is and always will be the spark that lights the fire that leads to Peter Parker becoming the Spider-Man fans know and love. Keeping this origin storyline in the dark throughout Peter Parer's introduction into the MCU allowed writers to move forward with new and exciting stories for Peter with a “you get it” attitude.
This has been incredibly effective and efficient in providing a fresh take on Tom Holland's Spider-Man but has left much to be desired from the Spider-Man traditionalist who supports the importance of Ben in this story.
He has not been removed from Peter's story completely but has been glossed over in an effort to tell new stories. Hudson Thames dropping the name “Uncle Ben” in What If...? was a turning point for the brand as it re-established the character in this canon.
While the zombie story was in a different universe, it would be shocking for Marvel Studios not to follow up on this new momentum for Uncle Ben and capitalize on that ode to Spider-Man fans Spider-Man: No Way Home is shaping up to be.