The History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chapter 16: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
In The History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ScreenCrush editor-in-chief Matt Singer looks back at every film in the MCU to date, leading up to the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War on April 27. Previous chapters can be found here.
Chapter 16: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Release Date: July 7, 2017
U.S. box office: $334.2 million
Worldwide box office: $880.1 million
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92 percent
Metacritic score: 73
Letterboxd average grade: 3.7
My Original Review
“Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like it gets to the core of its title character in ways none of the previous movies (including Sam Raimi’s very good original trilogy) did. It’s pure, concentrated Spidey, and a lot of fun.” - Read more here.
What Holds Up
Oh man, when this movie revealed that the Vulture (Michael Keaton) was actually the father of Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) date for the homecoming dance, I actually gasped. Spider-Man: Homecoming got me. It got me so hard.
That’s tough to do, particularly where Marvel is involved, because I’ve read most of the source material. Here’s an example of Marvel Studios making a break from its established continuity in a very positive way. The comics’ Vulture, Adrian Toomes, is a feeble senior citizen with a wing suit. He’s too old to have a teenage daughter. (He’s almost too old to have a teenage granddaughter.) His family isn’t an integral part of his story.
It is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe version. Keaton’s Toomes is a blue-collar dude who’s sick of being pushed aside by the Tony Starks (Robert Downey Jr.) of the world, who seem to break the rules time and time again, and always get away with it. Toomes’ family, we eventually realize, live in a really nice house, and clearly their lifestyle does not come cheap. After Stark and the Department of Damage Control (essentially the government’s superhuman cleanup crew) take away Toomes’ salvage contracts, he resorts to breaking the law to keep his family comfortable.
I also like that unlike so many comics, where the villains are too stupid to figure out the superhero’s secret identity even when it should be very obvious, Toomes realizes Peter is Spider-Man over the course of one exquisitely awkward car ride. And that whole dynamic — Peter crushes on Liz (Laura Harrier) for the entire movie, finally works up the courage to ask her out, only to discover on homecoming night that her dad is a super-villain — is such a perfect Spider-Man concept. Being Spider-Man is always Peter’s gift and his curse rolled into one. Spider-Man perpetually ruins Peter’s life, just as maintaining his life as Peter perpetually makes things more difficult for Spider-Man.
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man films are arguably more faithful to the tone and spirit of the classic comics, which were much more melodramatic than the light, poppy Spider-Man: Homecoming. That said, I’m not sure there’s a scene in any of the Raimi movies that feels more like it was ripped from some old forgotten Stan Lee/Steve Ditko book than that scene in the car between Peter, Liz, and Toomes.
What Doesn’t Hold Up
This is the dorkiest thing I’ve ever written, but I have to do it: Spider-Man: Homecoming creates an Ego the Living Planet-sized hole in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.
[Pushes up glasses.]
[Adjusts pocket protector.]
[Brushes off retainer.]
[Pushes up glasses again.]
Homecoming’s first scene is a flashback to the aftermath of The Avengers, where Adrian Toomes’ crew are salvaging wreckage from the Battle of New York. Then the film jumps forward eight years; an “EIGHT YEARS LATER” title card marks the time onscreen. If The Avengers took place in 2012, then that would set Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2020.
That would theoretically be fine if it didn’t also take place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, whose events we see play out again in the beginning of Spider-Man: Homecoming. And Civil War is supposedly set four years after the events of The Avengers (something I wrote about in that film’s History of the MCU column), which should be 2016. So somehow Spider-Man: Homecoming is set in both 2016 and 2020. Maybe Dr. Strange will do something with the Time Stone in Infinity War to explain all this.
[Pushes up glasses a third time.]
Coolest Foreshadowing of Future Marvel Events
Homecoming ends with Tony giving Peter exactly what he wants: Full membership in the Avengers, and a new high-tech spider-suit to go with it. Now that he’s got it, Peter realizes that being a big-league hero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he decides to turn Tony down. He’ll stick with being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man a little while longer. Tony agrees this is a good choice, he pretends the whole thing was a test, and gives a kiss to his returning girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, making her first onscreen MCU appearance since Iron Man 3).
We don’t know exactly what role Spider-Man will play in Avengers: Infinity War, but we know he’s in there, and so did Marvel. Their deal they made with Sony for the rights to put Spider-Man into the MCU included his appearances in Avengers 3 and 4. So this was deliberate and clever foreshadowing on Marvel’s part, introducing that new suit in the final moments of Homecoming. And if you’ve seen the marketing materials for Infinity War (like the publicity still above) you know that he will indeed put on that “Iron Spider” suit after all.
Best Marvel Easter Egg
This might be the coolest Marvel Easter egg of them all. Two of Vulture’s goons, Herrman (Bokeem Woodbine) and Jackson (Logan Marshall-Green) wield an energy gauntlet in the style of the Marvel Comics villain Shocker. They even wear hoodies that resemble the Shocker’s famous red-and-yellow costume. But that’s not even the best part of the Easter egg.
The Easter egg is the fact that we’ve seen this gauntlet before. It was originally used by Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in Captain America: Civil War. While Spider-Man follows the crooks on their way to a heist, he overhears this snippet of their conversation:
“I got the gauntlet from the Lagos cleanup, the rest is my design.”
“Can’t believe they’re still cleaning the Triskelion mess.”
“I love it. They keep making messes, we keep getting rich.”
The “Lagos cleaup” refers to the opening of Civil War. (The “Triskelion mess” is the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, another fun Easter egg.) This also explains why Jackson and Herman only have one Shocker gauntlet instead of the two he usually wears in the comics: In the Lagos scene from Civil War, Captain America actually yanks one of Crossbones’ gauntlets off his arm during their fight and tosses it to the ground. The other gauntlet gets incinerated when Crossbones blows himself up.
You’ll see Cap break and drop the gauntlet at 2:06 of this clip:
This is a borderline absurd level of detail: Cap disarms Crossbones, tosses the gauntlet away, someone in Vulture’s crew salvages the gauntlet (but just that gauntlet), enhances it, and then it shows up in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Whoever worked all this out deserves a medal, or at least a No Prize.
This could be my pro-Spider-Man bias talking, but Spider-Man: Homecoming has to be one of the most re-watchable and purely pleasurable films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Director Jon Watts, his fleet of writers, and his team from Sony and Marvel set out to make a Spider-Man free of baggage — no origin, no Uncle Ben, no fretting about rent or college tuition, no conspiracies involving Peter’s parents or their secret subway station laboratory — and they succeeded. Not everything goes Peter’s way, and not everything works out in the end, but this is ultimately a movie about the thrill of being a hero, and on that level it succeeds.
I’m becoming a broken record here, but it’s my main takeaway from this column: Marvel’s super power is casting. They find the right person for every role, every time. Tom Holland is a terrific younger Spider-Man; funny and sweet and radiating goodness. Michael Keaton is an ideal Vulture in part because he’s Michael Keaton; a guy who once played a hero now turning to the dark side is the perfect avatar for the Vulture and his belief that Peter is too naive to understand how the world really works. Zendaya is hilariously droll comic relief as Michelle, a fellow student at Midtown High School. And Jacob Batalon steals scene after scene as Peter’s friend and “guy in the chair” Ned. (My favorite Ned line, when he’s busted using the school computers to help Peter during the homecoming dance: “I was just ... looking at ... porn.”)
Of course, the final key member of this ensemble is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Peter Parker’s mentor as a hero and scientist. Most of the marketing for Homecoming focused on this aspect of the film; how this is the first Spider-Man set in the MCU and that Iron Man is a major character in the film. Ultimately, while Downey’s role is bigger than a cameo, he was way more important to the movie’s advertising than its plot. He’s only in about four major scenes; for the rest of the movie Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, head of Stark’s security, stands in as the Stark Industries authority figure. Downey’s entire part is summed up by the sequence where Iron Man rescues a drowning Spidey from a lake, only to reveal that Tony isn’t even inside his armor. He’s remotely piloting the suit — almost literally phoning his performance in — while enjoying a vacation.
So the Marvel stuff doesn’t add a ton, but it also doesn’t distract from the main story, and it fits nicely into the themes of the film about growing up and dreaming big dreams. (Peter toiling away in Queens while auditioning to become an Avenger in Manhattan basically makes it Spider-Man Night Fever.) Plus, Marvel is where Spider-Man belongs. His values about power and responsibility — even if they’re never expressly mentioned in this film — are Marvel’s values, and in Spider-Man’s absence the studio grafted that message onto a lot of their movies. Bringing Peter Parker back into the fold made for a satisfying homecoming, even if, in typical Spider-Man fashion, Peter never got to dance with Liz.
Gallery - The Best-Dressed Characters in the Marvel Universe: