People are worried that Marvel Studios getting the rights to utilize Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe means that Spider-Man will join the Avengers in the movies, which is problematic at best for the character. They have come to this conclusion based on the fact that every MCU installment so far has been about the Avengers, either focused on the team or on individual members of the team, and every other movie announced for future development has been based around characters prominent in Avengers history in the comics. As it always has been, so it always will be, forever and ever, excelsior.
I can’t believe I have to spell this out, but … Guardians of the Galaxy?
Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit because it was (in part) about a talking raccoon and an ambulatory tree and a ton of other aliens and only one Earth-man and it was based on a comic book property that few people were aware of and even fewer would claim to be gigantic fans of. It also was not tied directly into The Avengers, by which I mean the team, not the movie. Of course it was tied into the movie. The two films take place in the same universe, and with enough fuel Peter Quill could technically fly the Milano all the way from Xandar to Earth and (setting aside relativistic time dilation) bump into Captain America or the Hulk. Thanos was the big post-credits easter egg reveal for The Avengers, and Thanos got a slightly bigger part to play in Guardians of the Galaxy. No doubt the Collector, the Nova Corps, the Celestials and various other elements introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy will factor into the overall story being told through the Avengers and its sequels and the franchises of its constituent members.
But, Guardians of the Galaxy does break the mold in the sense that it’s very difficult to see Star-Lord or Drax or Groot as permanent members of the Avengers. A team-up, on the other hand, seems all but inevitable. I had a theory at one point that GotG were being set up as sacrificial lambs who would all get themselves heroically killed by Thanos to demonstrate how insanely powerful the mad Titan was before he headed for Earth, to better set up the climactic showdown between Thanos and the Avengers there. But given the way audiences fell in love with the Guardians, I think if that ever was the plan it has no doubt changed. So more likely is a story where the Guardians learn Thanos is headed for Earth, they race there to tell the population to evacuate (Peter assumes that of course Earth has developed commonplace space travel since he left as a kid) and then when they find out evacuation isn’t a possibility the Guardians join forces with the Avengers to stop Thanos together. I don’t know if that would be a GotG movie or an Avengers movie, or if Marvel Studios would just upend the paradigm yet again and not make the movie specifically part of one franchise or the other. It will be fun to find out!
I think I was talking about Spider-Man, though? Oh, right. So Star-Lord wasn’t introduced to the MCU to become an Avenger, even if his story advances the Avengers story. Therefore it’s not a foregone conclusion in my mind that Spider-Man will be introduced fated to become an Avenger, either. I am apparently in the minority in thinking this, but there it is.
Some people might say that GotG is the exception that proves the rule. The Guardians are inherently goofy, whereas Spider-Man is a mainstream superhero cut from the same cloth as Iron Man or Thor. The Guardians milieu is way off in a different solar system, so they have huge logistical hurdles to becoming Avengers, whereas Spider-Man lives in New York and could easily be part of the Earth-based team. Perhaps.
I’ve been saving these examples until this point in my argument, because I’m sneaky like that, but Marvel has announced other plans for future movies besides Ant-Man and Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Doctor Strange and Inhumans are on deck as well, and the connections between those properties and the Avengers are tenuously thin at best. The Inhumans are a secret race of people who are descended from the subjects of alien experiments on humans which resulted in enough genetic variance that exposure to a certain gas (or, in the MCU as evidenced by this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a certain metal inside a certain hidden temple) gives the Inhumans superpowers and, often but not always, a weird alien appearance. Sometimes in the comics Inhumans refers not to the entire race but to the royal family of that race, who constitute the rough equivalent of a six-member superteam. One of the members of that team, Crystal, who can control the four classic elements of fire, earth, air and water and who looks basically like a normal woman, has spent time away from her family and the hidden home of the Inhuman race, and been a member of the Fantastic Four as well as an Avenger (married, briefly but long enough to produce a daughter, to Quicksilver). That is a lot of heavy lifting for a movie to pull off to wind up with a minor connection to the Avengers.
1 - Not an Avenger
2 - Also not
3 - Not him either
4 - Avenger!
5 - Nope
6 - Nope
7 - Nope
Doctor Strange is the sorcerer supreme. Was a real doctor, survived a terrible accident, turned to magic in hopes of curing his career-ending injuries, wound up realizing that using magic to fight supernatural threats to all mankind and reality as we know it was more important than saving individual lives as a surgeon. Was he ever a part of the Avengers, in the comics? Not really. Very briefly, within the past ten years or so, he had his strongest connection to the team when he was allowing them to crash at his pad (during one of those recurring storylines where the Avengers are fugitives and need to lay low) and thus was a de facto unofficial member. I could go on and on about the kind of character Doctor Strange is (basically high fantasy) and how he’s fundamentally at odds with the kind of setting the Marvel Universe is (basically sci-fi pot pourri) and how he’s not a good match with the Avengers meta-sensibilities, but instead I’ll just leave it as an undefended statement and move on. Whatever the connection between Doctor Strange and the Avengers, it’s fleeting at best.
So I think it’s a much more defensible position to say that Marvel Studios was already planning on broadening their approach, spreading out the MCU to keep doing things that directly relate to the Avengers alongside things that have little if anything to do with the Avengers. GotG is the current lone outlier, but I don’t believe it was always meant to be that. I wouldn’t want to bet real money against Ant-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel eventually joining the MCU Avengers, but I would stake a non-zero wager against Doctor Strange as a core member. Inhumans is now the new wildcard.
Of course, none of the above proves anything about Marvel Studios’ intentions for Spider-Man. Shoot, they only just finalized the deal a matter of days ago, I doubt they have a fully-formed plan themselves, however close they’re ultimately going to play it to their collective vests once they get it together. But taken all together, it’s the reason why I don’t accept 1) Spider-Man cameo 2) Spider-Man solo movie 3) Spider-Man as Avenger as the only logical sequence of events. It’s logical, I’m not denying that, but it’s one of several possibilities as far as I’m concerned.
I think the most likely step 3 is that Spider-Man shows up in Avengers 3 (or whatever the title/branding of the slobberknocker where the Avengers duke it out with Thanos ends up being) as part of a massive hero coalition making Earth’s last stand, along with the Guardians and the Inhumans and Doctor Strange and all the other not-directly-Avengers-affiliated characters. Because, like I keep saying, why wouldn’t Spider-Man be there, both from a consistent fictional characterization standpoint within the narrative and from a maximizing IP visibility standpoint from the producer’s real world point of view? But he can be in that movie and be part of that story without joining the Avengers. I honestly believe MCU Spider-Man joining the MCU Avengers is only slightly more likely than Spider-Man not appearing in the Thanos storyline finale at all.