Between the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its current slate of films, fans have constantly been clamoring for the reunification of the intellectual property under the sole control of Marvel (re-Disney). Spider-Man officially joined the MCU at the beginning of its third phase, when he was introduced as a potential ally to Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team of pro-Sokovia accords heroes. Little was explained to him about what this really meant, and if his character arc since that initial outing shows anything, he wouldn’t have sided with the Accords in this iteration. Peter Parker (played once more by the hilariously adorkable Tom Holland) was not one to reveal his identity lightly, though the consequences for its revelation would ultimately prove to be the same in the film series as they were in the comic books. I’ll leave that for you to read up on.
Spider-Man Homecoming came the year after his debut in Civil War and expanded on his life as a burgeoning superhero, his struggles with his mentor-mentee relationship with Tony Stark, and the balance of his life – a superhero, a teenager, and a high school student. One defining aspect of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is that the latter always causes problems for the former. There seems to be no getting around it, and that holds true in this version of the character. Every move that he makes impacts a move he makes in his other identity – for good and ill.
Every character in Marvel’s repertoire has an array of characters that make up the world of that titular character, but Spider-Man is notable for having incredibly memorable and interesting characters to draw from. Each of them works together to build up the life of Peter Parker, showing a depth that fans often complain about not being in other MCU films. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May Parker in this film with a larger role than her brief introductory cameo in Civil War. Showing care and concern for her nephew as he struggles with his duality and all of the complications that arise from being a typical teenager. We are introduced to Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon), who is Peter Parker’s best friend at Midtown School of Science and Technology. Zendaya has a supporting role as Michelle (we all know who she is, and I never had any doubts), who has an apathy about her surroundings that makes her incredibly fun next to the awkwardness of Peter and Ned.
Filling out the colorful cast of Peter Parker’s high school experience includes a number of characters from the comic books. Flash Thompson has been reimagined from an athletically inclined bully to an academically inclined bully, played by Tony Revolori. Laura Harrier plays the love interest, Liz, a careful adaptation of Liz Allan, who seems to have little connection to her comic book counterpart – though this is not necessarily a bad thing. Betty Brant is played by Angourie Rice, who has a similar look to Gwen Stacy, such that it was believed that this was who she would be playing until official confirmation stated otherwise. Completing the ensemble of students is Jason Ionello (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) joins Betty on the high school news team rather than as a member of Flash’s gang of friends. What connects them all is their membership in the debate team, which plays a crucial role in tormenting Peter as he seeks to be a good student and a good superhero. This movie is also very much a high school story, hitting the expected beats of the house party, the big school dance, a much-anticipated field trip, and even the rigors of social hierarchy in school. It is designed to be a high school movie that just so happens to be about a superhero, allowing it to tackle tough teen subjects with a different lens.
Michael Keaton has gone for the trifecta wing-based characters, playing the villainous Vulture in a more mechanical suit, powered by Chitauri weaponry left over from the attack on New York in The Avengers. While it was meant to be collected by the Department of Damage Control (taking a much darker turn in recent events), some of it was haphazardly ignored during the revocation of Adrian Toomes’ government contract. Toomes had recently onboarded a bunch of new employees because of this contract, and by snatching it out from under him, Tony Stark effectively created another supervillain (though, in this case, they were right, after all, Adrian Toomes would go on to use that technology to become a supervillain). Under his employ, though, is another supervillain from Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery – Shocker, though there are two, Jackson Brice (played by Logan Marshall-Green) is an adaptation of another character by the name of Montana, and Herman Schultz (played by Bokeem Woodbine) who takes on the moniker after the former is… relieved of his duties.
In what was a fun and interesting addition and hopefully foreshadowing things to come, Donald Glover has a brief sequence where he is introduced as the character of Aaron Davis – better known as the supervillain Prowler, not to mention the uncle of Miles Morales, another Spider-Man. Whether or not this means that Glover will return to become Prowler in a future installment or even if Miles Morales will make an appearance is up in the air. Contracts being what they are, it could be a long way off from the upcoming set of films or planned within them. Sometimes, you never know what Marvel will do *cough* Namor *cough*, and sometimes, you just have to sit back and enjoy the slow burn.
Whether or not there was a grand plan on Tony’s part is left up to the imagination of the audience. It is clear, though, that throughout Spider-Man Homecoming, Tony is trying to protect Peter – from the mistakes that Tony has made, and does not want to see Peter make, from the danger that comes with being a superhero who has lost their innocence too soon, to the power that comes from being a superhero. Robert Downey Jr. may not have much screen time in Homecoming, but he absolutely makes the most of what he has in order to provide a constant presence in Peter’s life. One great comparison is when Peter first encounters the Vulture, and Tony simply sends the suit rather than himself. Later on, when the ferry incident occurs, Tony shows up in person because it matters. Not just his disappointment at Peter for not listening to him, but because the situation is dangerous, and he doesn’t want his mentee (his friend, even) to get hurt. Tony may feign ignorance at the end about this being a test of Peter’s character, and while I certainly believe Peter would have made a great addition to the Avengers, Tony understood what he was doing in that moment. If Peter had chosen to become an Avenger, to reveal his identity and reap the rewards he had earned, it was because Peter had grown as a person and hero. He had earned it. If Peter turned it down, it was because he was being honest with himself – about his limitations and lacks, but also to show that he is not doing this simply for approval.
Much like Tony Stark, we are also given the joyous return of Happy Hogan, once more played by Jon Favreau – though his lack of interest in actually working with Peter forms the crux of Peter’s problems throughout. In the wake of the schism between the Avengers, Tony Stark is officially moving things out of the Avengers Tower in Manhattan and out to the Avengers Compound in upper state New York, hilariously referred to as “moving day” throughout the entire film. What this means takes on increased importance the further on into the story we get, until it reaches its natural crescendo as the big heist that Vulture and his gang will plot. Granted, at that point, there’s little left of his gang for one reason or another. Sometimes, all you need is a dedicated high school student to upend your entire criminal organization.
Only do so if you also have superpowers, though.
Happy learns to appreciate what Tony is giving him when he tasked his friend with overseeing Peter. It wasn’t being “dumped” on him but entrusted to him. How this carries on through Far From Home and No Way Home is apparent. Happy is always there when Peter needs him, even if Tony can’t be.
Special mention must be made for Michelle (Zendaya), who, despite not having much of a role in this first outing, is clearly there to establish herself as a permanent presence in Peter’s life. If you pay attention, you can see that she like Peter long before he even really pays attention to her – something that becomes clearer with the following two films in his trilogy. Her apathy is a defense mechanism, but around Peter, she still shows warmth that she does not share with anybody else. The moment you can truly tell that she does care is during the Washington Monument scene, where she clearly shouts, “My friends are up there!” reminding us that there is more to a person than what they show the world when it is paying attention.
Spider-Man Homecoming had the unenviable task of setting the stage for a Spider-Man to be intimately connected with comic book characters outside of his own franchise, unlike the first two cinematic iterations of the character. At the same time, it was important for Homecoming not to shortchange the cast of characters that people are familiar with from Spider-Man as a franchise. I feel like Homecoming was able to carefully balance those two aspects, and show that this version is intricately connected with the Marvel Cinematic Universe without sacrificing the fun, colorful cast of characters we all know and love.