If you’re someone who’s tired of shared universes, then allow Spider-Man: Homecoming to show just how great they can be. After all, while there’s certainly a lot of intriguing elements to Spidey’s latest reboot, the thing that’s obviously drawn the most attention is that this time Peter Parker’s in the MCU; after his assured debut in Captain America: Civil War, this solo outing features Iron Man and sees the webhead as obsessed with The Avengers as a teenager in the real world.
In a landscape that allegedly “revolutionizes” every few months, Homecoming feels genuinely like a major step. It’s the result of a now-historic deal between Marvel and Sony to share the character, ostensibly stripping back narrative concerns to make clear everything is blatantly business motivated; Sony needed serious help correcting a brand that was sullied after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 while Marvel can always do with more A-list power to add to the MCU.
We’ve already looked at how the deal works and is specifically structured to benefit both parties equally (even though Marvel totally make more money), but what’s important is that – regardless – the resulting films are a creative triumph. Captain America: Civil War has already been heavily analyzed, but it’s worth repeating just how assured it works as a culmination of every film in the world thus far (Guardians of the Galaxy aside) while also doubling as a springboard for the likes of Spider-Man and Black Panther and, if Kevin Feige is to be believed, will retroactively become essential set-up for Infinity War.
Homecoming is the flipside of this; a smaller film against the backdrop of an epic. But for every Spidey fan burned by what Sony did with The Amazing Spider-Man delighted to see it done right, there’s a dissenter ready to roll their eyes at the mere thought of everything being connected.
The Shared Universe Backlash
Shared universe have been in vogue pretty much since The Avengers, with every major studio trying to spin one off whatever IP is to hand. However, despite their seeming financial advantages and Marvel in particular’s continued success, there’s been an emerging backlash against the idea. And a lot of it’s fair – having an overt focus on the bigger picture can lead to choppy storytelling, something amplified when you have franchise launchpads like The Mummy that presume interest without ever offering anything. Further not everything needs to be a shared universe, and the cases where mega-franchise filmmaking has worked beyond the MCU – thus far Star Wars and the MonsterVerse – have tailored their structure to their individual ideas. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that the Marvel model is specific to superheroes, built from the comic books – you can’t just do the same for, say, classic monsters. Bad attempts don’t intuitively mean a bad core idea.
However, it’s easy to bandwagon jump and hate on shared universes, and 2017 has definitely given a lot of fuel; Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman were all part of bigger franchises yet were considerably more concerned with just their own story in contrast to previous series entries, while Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy were sluggish as a result of continuity obsession.
Complaints against the established MCU tend to center on how unwieldy they can be, taking down the very narrative freedom that first made The Avengers such a delightful prospect. As the critics tell it, to see the latest Spider-Man film requires days of research – you just have to watch Civil War, which requires The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron to get the most out of, which in turn necessitates going back through the MCU to see pretty much everything since Iron Man. And that’s nothing on having to reimmerse yourself in the character’s separate lore.
But, frankly, that’s an obtuse reading that seems to push against franchise filmmaking as a pure concept. The whole shared universe idea relies on give-and-take; you’re making a standalone movie that forms part of a bigger narrative, and so need to ensure both sides feed each other. The story at hand is strengthened by context and advances arcs, but done right you can enjoy things on a plainer level. As such, the claims that it’s just like television on the big screen aren’t quite fair – you’re not making something explicitly episodic or serialized but want to instead have movies that operate on multiple levels – and neither is the suggestion you need to have a full canon of details in your memory banks to remotely enjoy the films.
And, thankfully, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a perfect antidote to all this chatter.
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