To be sure, the MCU’s Spider-Man movies are about Peter cozying up to Tony because, on some level, they’re about Sony Pictures (which owns the Spider-Man rights and very nearly botched them utterly with the two Amazing Spider-Man movies) cozying up to Marvel Studios (which makes the Iron Man movies). Peter tries to draft off Tony’s success because, well, that’s literally what the movies he’s in are trying to do. And Far From Home is very noticeably interested in what happens to a superhero cinematic universe without its foremost member. Peter is so concerned about living up to Tony’s legacy because the MCU is very worried about what will happen to it without Iron Man.
One of the tensions within both these movies is that the villains in them are, on some level, right. Tony Stark represents corporate America, and corporate America really does shove the little guy aside and strip the imaginations of its employees for parts. But as is too often common with the MCU, both films are interested in these ideas only so far as they can be safely swept under the rug by the pseudo-parental relationship between Tony and Peter. Should Tony think more about how his actions affect other entrepreneurs and his employees? Eh, probably, but wouldn’t he be a good dad?
It’s fascinating to track how Marvel’s movies increasingly seem to be commentaries on what it means to be such a world-defining pop culture force. The Marvel films can never think too heavily about the amount of power a character like Tony Stark accrues, because to do so would require contending with the degree to which Marvel has run almost all of its closest competitors out of the game. And we certainly can’t have that. Like all culturally omnipresent things, the MCU works because it insists on its own importance. And that means questioning itself — and its greatest heroes — but only to a point, lest you start to question the mighty machine you’re watching.