Right about now, everyone’s excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming, and who can blame them? We’ve recently been bombarded with new promotional materials as the hype train prepares to leave the station. Tonight, the world will get to feast its eyes on the first official trailer for the Sony/Marvel Studios co-production that will further entrench Spider-Man within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that includes all of the members of The Avengers and the Guardians of The Galaxy. While most will focus on how exciting a time it is to be a Spidey/Marvel fan, there’s an unfortunate subplot here that needs to be stated:
Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to expose the biggest flaw in Marvel’s shared universe concept.
It’s a flaw that’s been discussed many times before, but nothing brings it to the forefront as powerfully as Spider-Man: Homecoming will. And that flaw is the relationship between Marvel’s movies and their TV shows.
Up until now, the connection between Marvel’s TV series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones and their movies has been spotty, at best. There are times when the worlds work together rather seamlessly, like when Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a direct and immediate impact on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and there are times when the connection feels more like tacked-on fan service (like when characters on Marvel’s Netflix shows make passing references to the big screen heroes).
A lot of the way we’re able to explain away the apparent disconnect between Marvel’s big and small screen characters is that the bulk of the latter ones deal with very localized threats. All of the members of Marvel’s The Defenders, who have been getting introduced one by one on Netflix for the last two years, are based solely in New York City. They deal with threats in Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, and their villains- while formidable- aren’t necessarily big enough to warrant someone like Iron Man getting involved. So we can sort of overlook the fact that Daredevil doesn’t get any kind of assist when he’s tussling with Kingpin or The Hand.
But Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place…in New YorkCity. NYC is Spidey’s base of operations, his Metropolis (or his Gotham), if you will. and he will be facing an outsized threat when he battles Vulture right here in the Big Apple. Also, in terms of timeline and continuity, Homecoming will take place now- after most of The Defenders have made their presence felt in the city.
Meanwhile there’s no credible reason to think that there will be any kind of crossover between what’s already been well-established in the Marvel shared universe and what’s going to happen in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
This is a case where the bold and ambitious approach that Marvel Studios has used since Iron Man exploded onto the scene in 2008 starts to come under serious scrutiny. Their whole “Everything we produce is part of the same shared world” storytelling conceit is about to have its greatest test, and possibly be dealt a knockout blow.
Every other time Marvel movies have visited New York, there’s been a logical reason that the heroes based out of there weren’t involved. The biggest example was the final battle in The Avengers, and the explanation there was iron clad: None of the Defenders characters had come out of the shadows yet.
A lot of what we’ve seen on Marvel’s Netflix shows has been about life post-“The Incident,” which has given those shows some added gravitas, as it added an undercurrent and urgency to the idea that these folks with special abilities need to show themselves to defend the people of New York.
So what happens now, as Spider-Man becomes a huge part of Marvel’s cinematic continuity? Plot issues galore.
2017 is going to put Marvel’s movies and their Netflix shows on a collision course that the studio may not be able to avoid until it’s too late. In the span of a single calendar year, they’re going to have the major events depicted in Homecoming, as well as the epic crossover event that finally unites The Defenders, all seemingly take place in the same city…with neither one addressing the other.
You may wonder why I assume that there’ll be no crossover, and my answer is simple: For starters, we would’ve heard something by now. But more importantly, there’s too much red tape. Remember, while Marvel Studios has its hands all over Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s still a Sony movie and they own the movie rights to Spidey and his corner of the Marvel world. To get these characters to interact there’d have to be a cohesive vision and plan that is approved by Disney, Sony, and both sides of Marvel Studios (which are run somewhat independently with Kevin Feige overseeing the movies and Jeph Loeb in charge of television).
That red tape will even run the risk of keeping Vincent D’Onofrio’s fantastic depiction of Kingpin from tussling with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, despite their well-trod comic book history- and the fact that they will both technically reside in the same version of New York City once Kingpin eventually gets out of prison.
Many fans have felt that there should be some sort of clean break between the MCU and Marvel TV since their connection so often seems to be merely cosmetic, but nothing is going to drive that point home like Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Defenders stepping on each other’s toes like they will in 2017.