Spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the web-crawler officially into the MCU fold, but does it break the fabric of the shared universe in the process? After two iterations existing totally on his own, Peter Parker is now in a world of Avengers, Defenders, Gods and Sorcerers. And Jon Watts has an awful lot of fun with this, bringing in Tony Stark as a substitute father figure and having Spidey's main drive be to join Earth's Mightiest Heroes. However, while the film delights in its MCU connections, upon deeper inspection it actually destroys the timeline.
On a fundamental level, the Marvel timeline is really rather simple. Phase 1 is a bit of a jumble, with movies happening concurrently (we'll explain shortly), but from The Avengers - released and set in 2012 - onwards they moved into being set at the time of release unless otherwise stated. Of course, when you add in period-set content like Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter, flashbacks, several forms of television narrative (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. unfolds in real-time and reacts to in-movie events) and even its own run of comics, things get a little more complicated. Thankfully, Marvel has a massive timeline scroll themselves to keep track of it, and fans have made their own version to keep the rest of us updated.
But there's now a big, big problem.
Spider-Man: Homecoming's Plot Hole
With all that aforementioned context considered, we'd expect Spider-Man's solo debut to be set in Summer-Fall 2016; it details Peter Parker's life in the months after Captain America: Civil War and culminates in the sub-titular high-school dance. But that's not quite right. Homecoming opens with a prologue in the aftermath of The Avengers, with Adrian Toomes and his clean-up crew dealing with the devastation from The Battle of New York. After they're pushed out by Damage Control and vow to change to reflect the new world, we jump forward to Toomes' fully-fledged crime empire and completed Vulture suit ahead of the movie's main story. According to a title card, this is "Eight Years Later".
Those of you keeping track of dates will have already noticed that this creates something of a problem; The Avengers is accepted as being set in 2012, which would put Homecoming as occurring in 2020, three years on from release and four after the accepted canon. That, or we've been misinformed and the team-up actually took place in 2008. Either way, the timeline's broke - and it gets more complicated the deeper you go.
Is this just a simple mistake, the sign of a bigger shift in Marvel Studios, or something more narratively pertinent? Let's find out.
For the sake of brevity, we're going to mostly try and keep just to details in the films, but a note on some of the other MCU mediums as several provide concrete dates that back up Homecoming being a problem; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is explictly in real-time and ties into most of the Earth-set movies post-Avengers, while fictional news network WHIH also locks movies into their release window. That said, for our eventual solution we'll need to ignore these, although will still elaborate on specifics at the suitable points.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) release date: Jul 07, 2017
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018