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The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Secret Identity “Problem”

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (2008)

So look, Iron Man ended with Tony Stark telling the entire world that he was Iron Man, which, at the time, was wild for fans because we were used to a world where superheroes hid their true identities. Fast forward to the trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home, and it seems as if Peter Parker’s futile attempts at keeping his identity a secret were … well, futile. MJ (or Michelle, if you prefer) walks up to Peter when he’s about to confess his feelings and tells him she knows that he’s Spider-Man.

That’s what makes Marvel’s “problem” so interesting to me: It isn’t really a problem, but a solution. In so many superhero narratives, half their issues come from the fact that they can’t tell anyone who they truly are. Bruce Wayne is bogged down by his inability to share the truth behind Batman. Superman has Clark Kent wearing glasses to hide himself. They are all so worried about someone finding out their truths that they lose a bit of their humanity that would appeal to audiences, and this was a problem we had for quite some time.

Then the MCU flipped that entire idea on its head and made almost all our favorite heroes into their own version of celebrities. Tony Stark was a celebrity in his own right, but Iron Man? That was a hero.

Now, though, that idea of celebrity is seemingly falling on the shoulders of Peter Parker. Peter is probably one of the few superheroes whose secret identity always remained as such. In the comics, he doesn’t tell anyone about his superhero life because when he did tell his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, she died. That isn’t the case, though, in the MCU.

To be fair, nothing that drastic has happened to any of the heroes as a result of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe handles secret identities in general, let alone to Peter Parker. Most every hero has their true identity out in the world and, if anything, their villains just want to carry out their evil deeds without any interruption. They don’t care so much about the families of those coming after them.

Look at Scott Lang in Avengers: Endgame. He literally tells a group of kids that he’s Ant-Man when he isn’t wearing a single piece of his suit (even though they don’t care).

To be quite honest, it’s nice to see Peter not being constricted by his “secret” life. Every other movie telling of the character is so bogged down in no one finding out about his life as Spider-Man that he doesn’t get to live his life to the fullest.

That’s not to say that this version of Peter Parker hasn’t suffered. I’d even say that he’s experienced even more pain than both Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s combined. Or maybe I’m just old enough that I believe that Tom Holland really is a child trying to process the grief of losing a father figure, rather than a nearly 30-year-old man attempting to do so.

All that being said, here’s why the lack of secret identities works in the MCU: These characters have bigger things to worry about than someone knowing that Steve Rogers is Captain America. Their lives are not really centered around relationships, and those who are have made it so those close to them can defend themselves if it comes to that (look at you, Pepper Potts). The world of the MCU has created a perfect solution to the less-than-stellar side of superheroes and made it so that we, as the audience, aren’t constantly asking ourselves how people haven’t figured out who they are yet.

And if the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer is any indication, most everyone in Peter’s life has already figured out his secret because, let’s be honest, he’s not that great at keeping it a secret.

Whatever the case is with Marvel and secret identities, it’s going to be interesting to see how Peter deals with MJ knowing. Maybe we’ll even get a “superhero disguise” moment with Peter. (You know, the one where Cap and Falcon just wear baseball caps and sunglasses?)

To honor Marvel’s lack of secret identities, let us finish this with the best reveal of a “secret identity” yet.

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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Rachel is an I, Tonya stan who used to have a poster of Frank Sinatra on her wall as a kid. She loves superheroes, weird musicals, and wants Robert Downey Jr. to release a new album. She is Leslie Knope and she's okay with that. At least she gets to live in New York City though!