Sony Pictures made big plans in the lead-up to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014), the second film starring Andrew Garfield in the second Spider-Man film series. The company announced two more sequels and numerous spin-offs starring related characters. Unfortunately, Sony failed to put the same degree of energy into making The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a worthwhile film, capable of bearing the weight of its cinematic universe ambitions.
In light of the film’s poor reception and, for a Spider-Man film, tepid North American box office, Sony quietly shelved all of its announced projects. Sony’s Spider-Man troubles were illuminated by the hack of its systems in November 2014. The hack was in response to Sony’s planned release of the controversial Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview (2014), and it released information that could be considered embarrassing to Sony executives. In the case of Spider-Man, emails indicated that Sony executives doubted their handling of the character and had explored other options.
One option was hiring Sam Raimi, director of the hugely popular first Spider-Man film series, to return to direct the character. Another option was negotiating with Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, to have Spider-Man join the incredibly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). These negotiations broke down prior to the hack, and the cinematic future of Spider-Man was uncertain.
But negotiations with Feige soon restarted, perhaps after the overwhelmingly positive response from fans to the idea of Spider-Man in the MCU. In February 2015, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announced an unprecedented character-sharing deal. The broad-strokes of the deal were that a new actor would be cast as Spider-Man. This actor would appear as the character both in Marvel Studios-produced MCU films and Sony Pictures-produced Spider-Man films. The films would exist in the same cinematic universe, allowing other characters and elements to cross between them.
Each studio would primarily profit from the films they produced, but the deal was beneficial to both. On the Sony side, Spider-Man’s appearances in high-profile MCU films would increase interest in the solo films. The chairman of Sony also clarified that, although Sony executives had final authority over everything in the solo films, they were “deferring creatively to Marvel.” In other words, Marvel Studios, which had a proven track record of successfully translating even the most obscure Marvel characters to film, would help Sony create a faithful, successful adaptation of Marvel’s most popular character.
As for Marvel Studios, there is of course, the cynical, financially-driven reasons for acquiring Spider-Man, as the character’s popularity could benefit any MCU film in which he appears. But beyond that, I believe that the executives at Marvel Studios love these characters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was missing a truly essential piece, and Sony’s concurrent Amazing Spider-Man films were doing the character a disservice. Marvel wanted to welcome him home, and do him justice.
Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures have a profit-sharing deal in-place regarding the Hulk. Hulk can appear in any MCU team-up film, but solo Hulk films share profits between the studios. As a result, there have been no solo Hulk films since The Incredible Hulk (Letterier, 2008). The Spider-Man deal demonstrates a very different approach, where minimal money changes hands and both studios are incentivized to make the best use of the character, since good films will lead to greater financial success.
The deal also highlights something interesting about the current state of Hollywood. Once upon a time, movie stars were under studio contract. Occasionally, studios would broker deals to lend out actors for specific films. If the film was a flop, it negatively-impacted the studio that produced the film as well as the actor’s reputation, which affected the actor’s home studio. So, in these star-sharing situations, both studios were invested in the quality of the films.
After the contract system went away, movie stars were still major drivers of a film’s success for decades — until recently. With notable exceptions, the value of movie stars has decreased in Hollywood while the value of recognizable intellectual property (IP) has sharply increased. In other words, the actor playing the superhero is now far less important than the superhero itself. And so, like in the days of Old Hollywood, we now have one studio lending, or sharing, with another studio for mutual benefit. I find this trend fascinating.
Marvel Studios was clearly very excited by the deal. In October 2014, the studio announced the titles and release dates of nine upcoming films, from 2016 to 2019. After the Spider-Man announcement, Sony announced that the first solo Spider-Man film in the MCU would be released in July 2017, and Marvel reorganized its previously-announced slate to accommodate the film. Spider-Man was Marvel’s biggest character, and the studio was going to make room for him.
Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017) was delayed four months, Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) was delayed eight months, and Captain Marvel (Boden & Fleck, 2019) was delayed four months. Feige described their initial slate announcement as Plan A, but admitted that they had worked out the new dates as Plan B in case they were able to make a deal for Spider-Man. That is how much Feige wanted Spider-Man. Before the solo film, the MCU Spider-Man would first be introduced in Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016). This meant that Feige, former Sony chairman Amy Pascal, and Civil War directors the Russo Brothers, would be responsible for casting the new Spider-Man.
In Civil War, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is introduced as a teenager in Queens, New York, already several months into his superhero career. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) reaches out to him for help against Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). Peter and Tony bond over tinkering with technology and the personal guilt that drives them to help people. Their meeting scene is one of the highlights of that film and, arguably, the entire MCU. Tony gives Peter a new, technologically-advanced suit to replace the sweatsuit he had been wearing, and Peter joins Tony for a massive action scene in Germany.
The film bypassed the origin of Spider-Man, which had been previously told in two films in the previous 14 years, and established a sweetly funny mentoring relationship between Tony and Peter that would continue in future films. During casting, the top candidates read a scene with Downey to find the right chemistry. The goal of the filmmakers was to go younger with Peter. Besides having a youthful look, Holland was 19 when he first appeared as Peter Parker, as opposed to 24 for Tobey Maguire and 27 for Andrew Garfield. Holland’s casting was announced in June 2015 along with Jon Watts as the director of the solo Spider-Man film. Although Watts was not involved in casting his lead, he was on set of Civil War for Peter’s scenes, offering input on sets and character beats that would carry into his film.
The film that would become Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) was already different from previous Spider-Man films due to its connection to the MCU, but the filmmakers aimed to differentiate it further. This was the third cinematic version of Spider-Man, and sixth film, in 15 years. Audiences would not appreciate more of the same. Luckily, 55 years of immense cultural popularity had made Spider-Man highly versatile. Homecoming would demonstrate that to some degree, while Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey & Rothman, 2018) would take the character’s versatility to the next level a year and a half later.
The first screenwriters on Homecoming, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, began the project with a list of things to avoid from previous Spider-Man films. In terms of action and setting, for example, they endeavored to take Spider-Man away from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, where his powers are most useful, and put him in more challenging environments (the Washington Monument, the Staten Island Ferry, atop an airplane in-flight). They also wanted the stakes to be relatively low, grounded, rather than huge, world-threatening disasters. They wanted a villain that had never been depicted in a Spider-Man film before.
Spider-Man has the best rogues gallery in Marvel Comics, allowing filmmakers to dig deep and still find quality villains to use. Despite this, I find it mildly frustrating that we may never see this Spider-Man battle classic villains such as the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus simply because they previously appeared on film. The screenwriters also painted themselves into interesting, new narrative corners, such as having Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) discover his identity at the end of the film, to ensure the character’s depiction would continue to be unique moving forward.
The biggest difference in Homecoming‘s approach to Spider-Man, and the element that ultimately defines the film as a whole, can be summed up by one influence: John Hughes. Marvel Studios previously brought fresh perspectives to the superhero genre by filtering it through other genres, such as political thrillers or heist films. Homecoming is a superhero film by way of coming-of-age teen comedy. John Hughes defined that subgenre in the ’80s, writing and directing the likes of Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). These films succeeded and endured because of their funny, touching, emotionally-honest depictions of teenage and high school life. The writers of Homecoming took a Hughes-inspired approach to Peter/Spider-Man, making the film teen-focused and allowing the ordinary problems of a high schooler time to breathe.
There is a long-standing impulse in Spider-Man comics and films to make the character younger and more relatable, but few properties make such good use of that impulse. By bypassing the tragedy of Spider-Man’s origin, including the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben, the character is freed from the heavy dramatic angst that features prominently in previous Spider-Man films. Homecoming, therefore, features a much lighter, brighter version of the character. Besides his high school problems, Peter is depicted as a relatively immature kid using his powers for personal gain or glory. His primary motivation is impressing his mentor/hero, Tony Stark, in an attempt to join the ranks of the Avengers. He acts like a real kid, fighting to grow up as fast as he can and making mistakes along the way.
This teen-focused, Hughes-inspired approach not only makes Spider-Man: Homecoming feel fresh in the realm of Spider-Man films, but in superhero films in general. The filmmakers take some of the best elements of the MCU (colourful palette, reverence for the comics, irreverent humour, strong focus on characters, Iron Man) and pair them with a light, fresh, youthful tone while actively avoiding well-worn territory to produce one of the best Spider-Man films yet. It’s all anchored by Tom Holland, whose vulnerable, relatable, endearing Peter Parker emerges as the best cinematic version of the character. All of the cancelled Sony films, months of negotiation, rearranging of Marvel’s schedule proved to be well worth it to bring Spider-Man back home.
Homecoming opens in 2012 at the base of Avengers Tower in Manhattan, after the Battle of New York from the climax of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers ( 2012). Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) runs a salvage crew hired to clean up the mess of alien technology left in the wake of the battle. Government officials arrive to order Toomes and his crew out of the site to allow the Department of Damage Control to take over. But Toomes hired new workers and bought new trucks for the job, and he has a family to support. Losing this job would ruin him.
Furthermore, Damage Control is owned by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey). Stark created the mess, now he’s profiting from the cleanup. Faced with this unfairness, and potential ruin, Toomes orders his crew to keep the salvaged alien technology and find more to sell. In the present, his business is booming and Toomes acquires new materials using an advanced, vulture-like wingsuit. Toomes is a notable villain for his relatability and working-class perspective. He experiences the rigged game created by the super-rich, like Stark, and he needs to break the law to stay afloat and support his family. This doesn’t make him any less of a criminal, but his motivations don’t begin from an evil, hateful or violent place.
His street-level perspective on the MCU also connects him to Peter thematically. Homecoming follows a low-level, working-class hero and villain each striving to find their place in a world of superheroes and aliens. This is a unique perspective in the MCU. On a side note, the film jumps eight years to the present, rather than five years, which doesn’t fit the MCU timeline at all and was later acknowledged as a mistake. Only geeks like me noticed, but it really bugged us.
After the cold open with Toomes, the Marvel Studios logo appears, scored by a full orchestral version of the classic theme song from the ’60s Spider-Man animated series by Paul Francis Webster and Robert “Bob” Harris. Michael Giacchino delivers a robust, fun score for the whole film, but this glorious 40-seconds may be the highlight. The logo is followed by a brilliant bit of catch-up on Civil War, presented as a video diary filmed and edited by Peter. This reminds viewers of what occurred in that film, establishes his relationship with Tony and Tony’s right-hand man, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and introduces Peter as an exuberant, modern teen who films everything on his phone.
In the video, he annoys Happy on a private plane and in adjoining hotel rooms, gets excited about his new Tony-designed costume, and even films snippets during the massive Civil War airport fight. As Tony drops Peter back at his home in Queens, New York, the film leaves the phone perspective to fully establish Tony’s mentoring relationship with Peter. Tony allows Peter to keep his advanced costume, encourages him to continue neighbourhood crime-fighting, and establishes Happy as their go-between. All Peter is concerned with, however, is when he can become an official Avenger. Tony lets Peter down a bit too nicely, leaving Peter to feel like he will imminently join the big leagues.
These are the seeds of Peter’s coming-of-age story throughout Homecoming. He wants to impress Tony Stark and become an Avenger, to the detriment of every other aspect of his life. He values his time as Spider-Man, which he refers to as his “Stark Internship”. When he’s not swinging around the city, he’s in high school. But his assumption that he will be called up to full-time superheroing at any moment causes him to pay little attention in class, drop out of extracurricular activities, and avoid hanging out with friends. The film makes no qualms about the immaturity of this perspective.
By the end, Peter embraces his role as a street-level superhero, accepts the importance of his regular life as a teenager, and stops living to impress his mentor/father figure. It’s a straightforward narrative, but well-told. The highlights of the film tend to be the Hughes-inspired, regular teenager sequences, while the superhero scenes, though well-staged, exist to demonstrate Peter’s immaturity and inexperience. This all combines to create a unique, immensely entertaining superhero film.
Two months after Civil War, Peter is frustrated that he has not yet become an Avenger. The next sequence treats the viewers to a typical day in the life of Peter Parker, efficiently establishing the key aspects of his life. Peter takes the train to his science and technology-focused high school. There he’s bullied by an insecure rich kid, Flash (Tony Revolori), hangs out with his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), crushes on Liz (Laura Harrier), is sardonically mocked by Michelle (Zendaya), and dodges the Academic Decathlon team run by Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr). Peter also secretly makes web fluid in chemistry class, which he hides under a bank of lockers.
Above all, Peter watches the clock, itching for the school day to end so he can suit up as Spider-Man. As soon as he can, he hops the fence, suits up in an alley, and swings around Queens. His superhero life is mostly a series of odd jobs like stopping a bike thief, impressing onlookers with flips on rooftops, giving directions to an old woman, and webbing a man to his car after mistaking him for a car thief. The Spider-Man montage is light and fun, demonstrating the joy Peter gets from life in costume. It also makes Spider-Man feel like a part of the local community, a sweet neighbourhood celebrity/do-gooder.
The montage is set to ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ by the Ramones, who grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, precisely where Peter Parker lived in the comics. Spider-Man and the Ramones seemed destined to come together. As night falls, Peter reports every detail, no matter how mundane, back to Happy’s voicemail, then returns to the apartment he shares with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). This is a typical day for Peter Parker.
On this particular day, though, the dumpster to which Peter webbed his street clothes has been taken away, so he sneaks into his bedroom in costume. He doesn’t notice Ned waiting for him, so Ned inadvertently learns his secret. The character of Ned is a good example of merging various comic book influences in Homecoming. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy drew stories and characters from classic Amazing Spider-Man comics, while Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films differentiated themselves by drawing from Ultimate Spider-Man comics. Homecoming just uses elements from any Spider-Man comic that feels fresh and new.
For example, in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics featuring Miles Morales, Peter’s successor, Miles attends a science-focused high school and rooms with his best friend, a geeky, chubby, Lego-obsessed boy named Ganke. The filmmakers of Homecoming took the character of Ganke, made him friends with Peter Parker, and renamed him Ned Leeds, the name of a completely different character from Amazing Spider-Man comics. None of this matters to the film, but I appreciate that the filmmakers didn’t feel beholden to any one comic or version of Spider-Man. The next day, Ned asks Peter a million questions about Spider-Man, filling in some of the gaps left by skipping the origin story. Ned also jumps at the opportunity to earn an invite to a party thrown by Liz. When he hears Liz has a crush on Spider-Man, he claims that Peter can get Spider-Man to appear at the party.
This beat feels very ‘John Hughes’, with two relatively unpopular guys trying to climb the high school social ladder at a party. It’s fun until, like always, superhero life intrudes. Peter sees a suspicious burst of energy in the distance, and leaves the party, and his chance to impress his classmates, to investigate. Since there’s nothing to swing from in suburbia Peter is forced to run across a golf course. He breaks up a weapons sale between Toomes’ men, Herman (Bokeem Woodbine) and Jackson (Logan Marshall-Green), and Aaron Davis (Donald Glover). Peter chases Herman and Jackson’s van through the suburbs, and the chase includes Peter running through a series of backyards like the climax of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As if the homage and Hughes influence was not clear enough, Peter runs past the Ferris Bueller scene playing on a backyard television.
Toomes is called in to help, and he puts on his Vulture suite and grabs Peter. Peter’s suit automatically deploys a parachute that Peter was not aware of, hinting that there’s more to the suit than he suspected. But he becomes tangled and nearly drowns until an Iron Man suit saves him. Tony controls his suit remotely while he attends a wedding in India, and lectures Peter to stay away from such serious threats. It’s fascinating to track Tony Stark’s development from irresponsible, selfish, iconoclastic jerk in Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) to guilt-ridden government man in Civil War to stern parental figure in Homecoming.
Peter believes that stopping these arms-dealers is his ticket into the Avengers. He disobeys Tony and investigates further, bristling with impatience under Tony’s mentorship. Meanwhile, Toomes worries that his men have exposed his operation and tries to fire Jackson. When Jackson threatens to talk to the authorities, Toomes shoots him with an advanced weapon, thinking it’s an anti-gravity gun. Instead it vaporizes Jackson, much to everyone’s surprise. Toomes doesn’t intend to hurt anyone, but he’s capable of killing if his livelihood is threatened. This is the only death in the film, another refreshing departure in a genre known for widespread city — and body — destruction.
Peter tracks Toomes’ men to Maryland. He rejoins the Academic Decathlon team just in time for their trip to a national championship in Washington, DC, near Maryland. This gives Peter a glimpse of the fun he could have as a regular kid, and a chance to be close to Liz, but he’s all business. Ned disables the restrictions in Peter’s suit, Tony’s hilariously-named “training wheels” protocol, unlocking all of the suit’s features. These features include an audio AI-assistant, much like Tony’s JARVIS, voiced by Jennifer Connelly.
The AI, which Peter names “Karen”, helps him navigate the multiple modes of the suit (including Instant Kill mode) and the over 500 web-shooter options. Some viewers criticize Homecoming and its sequel for depicting Spider-Man more as a young Iron Man, but this approach nicely ties the character into the MCU by contrasting Peter and Tony.
Peter prevents Toomes from robbing a Damage Control truck, but ends up locked in a Damage Control vault overnight. He misses the Decathlon but, even worse, Ned sends his backpack through an x-ray scanner at the Washington Monument. This activates a power core Peter recovered from Toomes.
The Washington Monument scene encapsulates what the filmmakers hoped to accomplish with the Spider-Man scenes. It puts Peter in a different city and climbing a 555-foot obelisk with no buildings nearby to use for web-slinging support. It tests Peter’s tolerance for heights and takes away the safety net of something else to swing on. Also, inside are Peter’s best friend and romantic interest, hanging precariously in an elevator that’s severely damaged by an energy burst from the core. This is the intersection of Peter’s superhero life and school life. Peter jumps off the top of the Monument, and glides with webbed wings under his arms through a window to save the elevator just in time.
In the comics, Spider-Man’s costume originally had web under the arms for no functional reason, and it eventually disappeared from the design. The web-wings are a nice nod to that early design. Overall, the scene is fun and a big win for Peter as a superhero, but he’s still far from perfect.
Peter becomes recklessly focused on stopping the arms-dealers. He earns a detention for missing the Decathlon, but skips it to track down the bad guys. He interrogates Aaron Davis for their location in a funny scene that, again, demonstrates Peter’s inexperience. He first tries to intimidate Aaron with his suit’s Advanced Interrogation Mode, but it is laughable. When Aaron agrees to give him information, Peter is so thrilled that he nearly leaves without getting the information. Then he leaves Aaron’s hand webbed to a car.
Donald Glover’s brief appearance as Aaron Davis is exciting to Spider-Man fans. Several years earlier, Glover expressed interest in starring in The Amazing Spider-Man (Webb, 2012), sparking online debate over Spider-Man’s race. Furthermore, Davis is the uncle of Miles Morales in the comics, opening the door to the introduction of Miles in future films.
Aaron sends Peter to the Staten Island Ferry, where Toomes has arranged a major arms sale with Mac Gargan (Michael Mando). Peter impetuously stops the deal, but in the process ruins an FBI sting operation. He fights Toomes, but the fight splits the ferry they’re on in half. Peter fails to web the boat together until Tony arrives as Iron Man. After saving everyone, Tony lectures Peter. He called the FBI on Peter’s tip and has been trying to help Peter, but Peter petulantly argues with him. Appropriately for a coming-of-age film, the scene is a good depiction of a teenager who has made a mistake being dressed down by a disappointed parent. Given Peter’s increasingly irresponsible behaviour, Tony takes back the suit. Peter says that he’s nothing without the suit, to which Tony replies “if you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”
This end of the second act low-point is a traditional beat in coming-of-age stories, when the mentor gives the protagonist the tough love he needs to grow. It may be predictable, but it’s well-played and fresh to the superhero genre. Peter began the film caring very little about anything but Spider-Man, and that only intensified as he closed in on Toomes’ operation. This turn of events gives Peter a hard reset, a chance to reevaluate his priorities. He apologizes to May for his sneaking around, accepts his detentions at school, engages more in class, and even asks Liz to the Homecoming Dance.
Tom Holland is such a perfect Peter Parker: boyish, sweet, funny and slightly awkward. He’s a big reason that the John Hughes-esque high school scenes work so well. With his dream of the Avengers behind him, Peter gets ready for the Homecoming Dance like a regular kid and May drops him off at Liz’s house. Then comes the big brilliant twist that brings the film completely into focus: Liz’s father, Adrian Toomes, opens to door to greet Peter.
Up to this point, Toomes has been a relatable villain, a working-class guy criminally bucking an unfair system to support his family, but he has been relatively low-key and undeveloped. Now he becomes intertwined in Peter’s non-superhero life, complicating everything. But the connection between Peter and Toomes goes deeper than Liz. Both characters are lower-level in the scope of the MCU. Peter aspires to more, a place on the Avengers, and this drives him to be better.
Toomes, on the other hand, has an inferiority complex. From the beginning of the film, he asserts his status as a working man, just scraping by, one missed job away from ruin. But his big, modern home and his expensive car demonstrate that Toomes is thriving as a criminal. He sees himself as an impoverished Robin Hood, but this is the lie he tells himself. Peter aspires to be a bigger player, while Toomes refuses to admit how big he has become. Keaton plays the dad role well, joking with Peter, looking at Liz with fatherly pride, and mistaking Peter’s apprehension for teen awkwardness.
After taking some photos of them, Toomes drives the kids to the dance. As he learns about Peter (the Stark Internship, the disappearances, missing the Decathlon), he beings to put things together. When they arrive at the dance, Toomes asks Liz to leave under the guise of having the “dad talk” with Peter. It’s really a villain talk, however. Toomes is menacing, threatening to kill Peter and his family if Peter reveals anything. Peter doen’st not deny he is Spider-Man, and nods along. This is the crackling centrepiece of the film, elevating Toomes from a relatively undeveloped stock villain to something really special. The screenwriters were so excited at the reveal of Toomes’ identity that they restructured the entire screenplay around the reveal for maximum impact.
Toomes lets Peter go, as thanks for saving Liz’s life in Washington. Peter then faces the choice of whether to embrace high school life, listening to Tony and Toomes, by just attending the dance. But, of course, he’s a hero and he has to stop the villain. He grabs an old sweatsuit costume from his locker and follows Toomes.
In the climax, Toomes plans to hijack a plane of Tony’s technology that’s travelling from the Avengers Tower in Manhattan to the Avengers facility upstate. Peter confronts him in a warehouse, and the vulture suit destabilizes the building to trap Peter under rubble. The scene of Peter trapped under the debris is a direct reference to the classic scene in Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966) in which Peter draws upon his guilt, pain and need to help others to find the strength to free himself.
In the film, Peter begins by crying for help, seeming more like a scared kid. Then, remembering Tony’s words about not needing the suit, he finds the strength to free himself. Peter webs onto Toomes and then onto the plane. They fight, damaging the plane enough for it to crash. Peter manages to steer it away from the city and it crashes on the beach by Coney Island. He and Toomes fight until Toomes notices valuable technology to steal. His suit malfunctions, however, and explodes. Peter, always the hero, saves Toomes from the wreckage, and webs him up for Happy and the authorities to find.
Afterward, Liz has to leave the city with her mother, Michelle (Zendaya). Michelle becomes the new Decathlon team leader, revealing her nickname to be MJ. This, of course, is a reference to Mary Jane, Peter’s chief love interest in the comics. Some toxic fans decried Zendaya’s casting as MJ. This was certainly not because she’s brown-skinned, but because she’s not redheaded (of course). But Michelle is not the classic version of MJ, who was originally depicted as an extroverted, flighty model. Michelle is the modern equivalent of a “cool girl”, who nowadays is offbeat, artistic, highly-intelligent and into causes. It’s an astute update, and fortunately the character returns with much more to do in the sequel.
Happy awkwardly meets with Peter in the school bathroom to thank him, and to invite him to Avengers headquarters. There, Tony is proud of Peter’s accomplishments, even pointing out the clichéd effectiveness of his “tough love”. He offers Peter everything he ever wanted: a spot on the Avengers, a high-tech update of his suit, and a big press conference announcement. Having matured, however, Peter declines the offer, preferring to stay closer to the ground for now. He deduces that the offer was simply a test. Tony admits it was. It’s then revealed that a press conference had been convened, the offer was genuine, but Tony is proud of Peter’s conviction. Not wanting to waste the press conference, Tony decides to instead propose to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Peter’s decision is the proper ending to his coming-of-age character arc in the film, but it can’t help but feel hollow in retrospect. After all, the next time we see him, in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brother, 2018), he gets the new suit and immediately joins the Avengers. This is, of course, one of the limitations of shared universe films. The arc works in this film, in isolation, but falters in the larger MCU scale. The same is true of the final moment of the film, when May walks in on Peter in his costume and yells “What the f-!” This is a new direction for the Peter/May relationship, never seen on film before. The ending ensured that sequels would continue to depict different Spider-Man stories. But this thread isn’t followed up on in Peter’s next two appearances, both Avengers films, thus blunting its impact.
But these are quibbles. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a spectacular superhero film. It’s light, funny and breezy, with a unique perspective for Spider-Man films and comic book films in general. The superheroics are grounded in the teen-oriented coming-of-age high school genre, strongly inspired by the ’80s work of John Hughes. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker feels like a real modern teen, with real teenage problems that are augmented by his role in the superhero community. The scale of the film is refreshingly narrow as a result. Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture is also at the centre of a fantastic misdirect, which is still potent when you know it’s coming.
All around, despite a winding behind-the-scenes journey to the big screen, Homecoming works on every level. The film rehabilitated the commercial appeal of Spider-Man, which had waned through the two Amazing Spider-Man films. It earned $334 million in North America, and $880 million worldwide, much more than the Amazing Spider-Man films. Sony used the success to relaunch some of its shelved Spider-Man-related films starting with Venom (Fleischer, 2018). For Marvel Studios, the film represented a reset of the character in the image of the MCU. It fully established the Tony/Peter relationship, which would become vital to the next two Avengers films. Marvel and Sony were not shy about using Holland’s Spider-Man, as Homecoming was just the second of five cinematic appearances of the character in four years. This was a major step towards making Peter the centre of the Marvel Universe on film, as he is in the comics. Spider-Man had come home to the MCU, and the character’s future once again looked bright.
* * *
Stan Lee Cameo Corner: Lee appears in the Blitzkrieg Bop montage, calling Spider-Man a punk as one of many neighbourhood people yelling from a window. That is 30 cameos in 45 films.
• In a mid-credits scene, Mac Gargan confronts Toomes in prison about whether he knows Spider-Man’s identity. Perhaps out of gratitude for saving his life, Toomes keeps Peter’s secret.
• A running joke in the school scenes has videos of Captain America (Chris Evans) being trotted out by lazy teachers to lecture students about fitness, detention, or even puberty. As the fairly long credits for
Homecoming come to an end, and audiences have waited for the standard post-credits scene, Captain America comes out to talk about patience. Sometimes it leads to very little, and you wonder why you waited so long for something so disappointing. Then Cap asks how many more videos he needs to film and the scene ends, expertly trolling audiences trained to wait through credits for a hint of future films.
• Director Jon Watts returns for
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).
• Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, two of six credited screenwriters on
Homecoming, are the only two credited screenwriters on Far From Home.
• Jacob Batalon returns as Ned in a least three more films.
• Zendaya, Tony Revolori, and several other members of the high school cast return for
Far From Home.
• Editor Debbie Berman would edit future MCU films
Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order: Homecoming follows a couple months after Captain America: Civil War. I inserted a couple films between Civil War and Homecoming to accentuate the frustrated delay Peter feels about not being an Avenger yet:
1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
4. The Incredible Hulk
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
6. The Avengers
7. Iron Man 3
8. Thor: The Dark World
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
14. Captain America: Civil War
16. Doctor Strange
17. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Next Time: Marvel finally gets Thor right in one of the MCU’s best films.