During The Saturn Awards presentation last Friday, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige surprised Marvel Cinematic Universe fans by sharing a little something special from the upcoming Infinity Saga box set -- a deleted scene from 2008's Iron Man featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) dropping a couple of significant references to other pockets of the Marvel universe. For most fans, the big takeaway has been the name-drop of "mutants" but there's another mention in the scene and it's one that, had the scene been left in, would have ruined Spider-Man's MCU role.
The scene itself is an alternate cut of the post-credits scene that did make it into the film. In this deleted one, Fury steps out from the shadows to address Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and says, "As if gamma accidents, radioactive bug bites, and assorted mutants weren't enough, I have to deal with a spoiled brat who doesnt' play well with others, who wants to keep all his toys to himself."
Now, the gamma reference leads to The Incredible Hulk which came out just over a month after Iron Man and the mutants reference is a nod to the X-Men who were with 20th Century Fox when Iron Man was filmed. But the bug bite? That's a reference to Spider-Man whose own cinematic situation was in an interesting place when Iron Man debuted. You see, just a year before Iron Man kicked off the MCU, Spider-Man 3 opened in theaters. Directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as the friendly neighborhood hero, the film ended up being the last film of Raimi's trilogy, but at the time Iron Man was made there were still active plans for Spider-Man 4 as well as a Spider-Man 5, though Spider-Man 4 ultimately was the only one to have entered any form of development. Had the Iron Man reference been left in, it could have led to a deal between Marvel Studios and Sony years earlier than the one that ultimately brought Spider-Man into the MCU. That in turn would have brought the character -- likely played by Maguire -- into things much earlier into Iron Man's overall character arc.
If that had been the case, the MCU would have seen a much older Spider-Man join up with the heroes, as Maguire's Peter Parker is a physics student at Columbia University in Spider-Man 3. It's a move that would have eliminated Spider-Man: Homecoming entirely and have completely erased the surrogate father-son bond between Tony and Peter. While that wouldn't necessarily have changed the broader strokes of the Infinity Saga story, it's not hard to imagine that Avengers: Endgame would have been very different without that relationship.
There are also more functional, studio-related elements of an early Spider-Man introduction that would have ruined Spider-Man in the MCU. It's easy to forget, but when Iron Man came out Marvel Studios was not a part of Disney. Disney didn't purchase Marvel Entertainment until 2009 (Iron Man was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures in 2008.) While the deal wouldn't have necessarily changed any arrangement Marvel Studios had with Sony for Spider-Man at that time, it's possible that the current Marvel/Sony situation regarding the character could have happened years earlier and as much as losing Spider-Man sucks now, the hole in the MCU as it currently stands is relatively small. Holland's Spidey showed up towards the end of the Infinity Saga and arguably got to complete his role. Spider-Man showing up earlier, say during 2012's The Avengers, would have been a very different situation.
There are also the issues that Sony was having with Spider-Man themselves. Remember, Raimi had more Spider-Man movies in mind after Spider-Man 3, but things fell apart with plans for Spider-Man 4 officially cancelled in 2010. Raimi's involvement with the franchise ended and Sony attempted to reboot the series in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, this time starring Andrew Garfield. Who's to say that the collapse of Raimi's series would not have also led to Spider-Man no longer being able to be a part of the MCU, again at a much earlier point in the overall story?
Ultimately Spider-Man entered the MCU at exactly the right time. Spider-Man: Homecoming not only served to expand the MCU, but it also rebooted the Spider-Man franchise (again) without having to fully build a world for the character to exist in. It also allowed for Iron Man's story arc to play out a bit more fully, offering fans a chance to see the hero go from the "spoiled brat who doesn't play well with others" to a character willing to sacrifice himself for others. Any way you slice it, Spider-Man was worth the wait. Now we just have to hope the wait for the character's return isn't too long.
What do you think? Would an early entrance of Spider-Man into the MCU have ruined things? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @lifeinpolaroid to chat about Spider-Man, the MCU, and more!