I’m going to start by saying something that I think is unpopular. I was not excited for Spider-Man to join the MCU. Part of it comes from growing up in an era when Spider-Man was not only not an Avenger but was generally disdainful of superteams unless they offered him a paycheck. But I also feel like, besides sharing villains, which he has a proud tradition of, Spider-Man doesn’t need the greater Marvel Universe to shine.
So having enjoyed the Amazing Spider-Man movies in that way you do when you feel something is good underneath the layers of corporate inevitabilities, I was sad to see Andrew Garfield go in favor of tying Spider-Man to Tony Stark.
And yet, we’re here. And Spider-Man: Homecoming is good. Really good, in fact. And I wanted to talk about one element of the film that I think is a huge part of its success: its perspective on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I don’t think that I’m letting much out of the bag when I reveal that a huge portion of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s plot builds out of the Battle of New York from The Avengers and the resulting fall out. Now, ignoring the fact that there have been a lot of franchises that have been launched out of that concept, this is where things start to go right for Homecoming, and it’s the first five minutes, so that’s pretty good. We already have a firm grounding in the MCU and in its version of New York.
In this, Homecoming favors quality over quantity. Both Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes are deeply connected to one element of the Marvel Universe, so there’s no need to also add in that Peter was bitten at a demonstration of Bruce Banner’s gamma radiation tech or that Toomes was funded by Hydra! None of the call outs or connections to other Marvel movies feel forced or unnecessary.
Homecoming includes Tony Stark not because Robert Downy Jr. is good for ratings, though he clearly is, but because this film is an opposite and, in my opinion, more than equal response to his arc in Captain America: Civil War. Likewise, the Chitauri may help build the Thanos narrative that Marvel desperately wants in the forefront of your lizard brain ahead of Infinity War, but they really get a name drop because they are an easy, pre-accepted excuse to revel in the Silver Age science-wonder that Lee and Ditko breathed into early Spider-Man. It’s a strategy that contrasts plainly with the criticisms of many of Marvel’s less successful filmmaking efforts in recent years.
This isn’t a story that exists to serve Marvel and their universe. This is a movie that embraces the Marvel Universe because it serves its story. And that makes all the difference.
But while that puts many worries to rest, I can happily say that Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t just sidestep these problems, but actively reverses them.
Every Spider-Man launchpoint has featured at least one moment demonstrating Spidey’s connection to New York City. Thus far these have all been fun moments that feel more and more saccharine and awkward the farther in time that you get from them, seemingly growing closer to a tolerable level with each film. Homecoming completes the transition from tell to show expertly and, what at first seems to be the part of the film that triumphs separately from its integration of the MCU, proves to be a huge part of its appeal as a Marvel Studios film.
Homecoming depicts a New York, and especially Parker’s native Queens, with a flavor and charm that appeals equally to the authentic and the mythological visions of the city. This hero, more than any film version before, is a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and the concerns of Homecoming explicitly reframe Spider-Man’s story as a matter of community and blue-collar crime. These themes have always been central to the Spider-Man mythos, but rarely have they been so clearly addressed or clearly articulated. It’s no surprise that this is the first interpretation of Spidey that has no Oscorp or stripy-haired billionaires to be found.
Where Spider-Man 3 famously squandered its potential by cramming villain after villain into its bloated runtime, Spider-Man: Homecoming gleefully brings nearly every classic Spider-foe previously unseen onto the screen for at least a moment and near instantly communicates who they are, what their role in the super-criminal underworld is, and what to expect from this franchise going forward.
The Spider-Man franchise, it seems, is what happens when all that Avengers madness truly collides with the world outside your window. And I can’t remember the last time a superhero film has not only teased sequels without putting the cart before the horse but also effortlessly made the argument for why they will be original, fun, and interesting.
Before July seventh I was worried that Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man would be just another step for their juggernaut, another triumph of capitalism that produced a decent movie, more to end Sony’s control of the franchise than for fans of the character. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jon Watts and the host of other screenwriters that worked on this movie not only avoided the pitfalls of the Marvel formula, but, at least for one film, solved it. In connecting Spider-Man to the greater Marvel Universe, they expanded the MCU, not the other way around.