Beware: This story contains several Spider-Man: Homecoming plot points. Stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers.
You don’t need to be a Spider-Man expert to enjoy the web-slinger’s latest adventure, Spider-Man: Homecoming… but it helps. The first entry in the latest reboot of the 15-year-old franchise is also the first one that’s been made under the direct creative control of Marvel, and the studio has made sure to mine their signature character’s extensive comic book history in the form of fan-friendly Easter eggs. Here’s an explainer on the many shout-outs, callbacks and in-jokes hidden in plain sight throughout Homecoming.
What’s Your Damage?
Homecoming wastes little time establishing that this new chapter for Spider-Man is part of the ongoing graphic novel known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film opens directly in the wake of the Battle of New York that closed out the all-star 2012 team-up, The Avengers, with staunchly blue-collar salvage company owner Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) clearing away the destruction with his trusty team. That is, until a more corporate clean-up crew arrives and kicks them off the job, pink-slipping Toomes with a grievance that sets him on the road to becoming the Vulture. This group is a joint U.S. government/Stark Industries task force called the U.S. Department of Damage Control, a mainstay in Marvel’s comic book universe since the late ’80s. They’ve even scored several of their own miniseries, the first of which featured none other than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man on the cover of issue No. 1.
In Homecoming, Tyne Daly plays Damage Control’s head honcho, Anne Marie Hoag, a woman whose considerable forthrightness masks a mysterious past. She’s the brainchild of Dwayne McDuffie, the celebrated comic book writer and editor who passed away in 2011. In one memorable Damage Control storyline, Hoag had to turn to Nick Fury to help her company avoid financial ruin. (Someone better tell Samuel L. Jackson to warm up his eye patch again for the next Spider-Man outing.)
Interesting side note: the main events of Homecoming are indicated as taking place eight years after the Battle of New York, which may lead you to assume that the citizens of the MCU are living in the distant future of 2020 even as we’re still languishing in 2017. Not so, says Marvel Studios head, Kevin Feige. “Very rarely do we ever put specific dates on our movies,” he tells Yahoo Movies. “Nowhere in The Avengers will you see it say, ‘2012.’ It more or less corresponds to the not-too-distant future. We try to keep it slightly vague as to the specific date of any single event.”
All the Real Girls
Gwen Stacy may be MIA (for now, at least), but Homecoming otherwise makes room for three of Peter Parker’s past and future flames. Laura Harrier plays Liz Allan, the popular girl that nerdy “bookworm” Parker (played here by Tom Holland) crushed hard on in the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. Unlike her onscreen counterpart, comic book Liz is going steady with Flash Thompson and almost certainly wouldn’t accept Peter’s invitation to the school dance. Still, her animosity towards him thaws later on, and they graduate high school on good terms. Eventually, she marries Harry Osborn and gets sucked into his Green Goblin drama.
With his mind consumed by thoughts of Liz, Peter doesn’t notice the other romantic possibilities in his midst, starting with Michelle Jones (Zendaya) or “M.J.” to her friends. Those initials, of course, correspond to the (second) greatest love of Peter’s life, Mary Jane Watson. Co-screenwriter John Francis Daley confirms to Yahoo Movies that he intended Michelle to “be a reinvention” of Mary Jane. “It’s not up to us, but that’s certainly how we planted the seeds in this movie. Just to make her wholly different.” Different indeed; to put it in Breakfast Club terms, Michelle is Ally Sheedy while Mary Jane is Molly Ringwald.
Finally, who should be anchoring the student news network at Peter’s Queens high school than newshound Betty Brant? Played by the breakout young star of The Nice Guys, Angourie Rice, Betty is the future secretary of cigar-chomping Daily Bugle editor in chief — and No. 1 Spider-Man hater — J. Jonah Jameson. (Elizabeth Banks previously played Betty in Sam Raimi’s original Spidey trilogy.) She and Peter don’t share any scenes in Homecoming, but do have a brief dalliance in the comics, which Betty breaks off when she feels that he’s acting too swoony over Liz. With Parker in her rearview, she proceeds to hook up with someone her ex knows pretty well — a guy named Ned.
Is There a Goblin in the House?
Even lonely bookworms need friends. And fortunately, the Homecoming version of Peter Parker has a good buddy in the form of Jacob Batalon’s Ned, an amiable guy who relishes, rather than regrets, his role as the funny sidekick. His continued happiness with his role in this duo, however, may hinge on one seemingly tiny thing: his last name. See, in the comics, the main Ned in Peter’s life is Ned Leeds, a Daily Bugle reporter who vies with Parker for Betty Brant’s affections. Leeds ultimately emerges the victor in that particular battle, and even walks down the aisle with Betty.
But he comes out on the losing end when he tails Roderick Kingsley, a.k.a. the Hobgoblin, in the hopes of breaking a big story, and instead winds up brainwashed and framed as the supervillain. Leeds is later killed off in Germany — the same country where the MCU’s Spider-Man made his in-costume debut in Captain America: Civil War as part of Team Iron Man. Memo to Batalon’s Ned: if your buddy ever has to go back to Germany for a rematch of that fight… stay home!
K.A.R.E.N. and J.A.R.V.I.S. Sitting in a Tree
As part of his initiation into Team Iron Man, Tony Stark designed a spiffy superhero suit for Peter to replace his distinctly amateur hour ensemble. As a Homecoming present, Tony updates those duds with another new Spidey costume, this one equipped with the same kind of A.I. that Stark depends on for aid and good conversation when flying around the globe. In Iron Man’s earlier, happier days, that A.I. went by the name of J.A.R.V.I.S. and spoke with lilt of British actor Paul Bettany, who entered the MCU in corporeal form in The Avengers: Age of Ultron as the Vision. Spider-Man dubs the female voice in his eye as K.A.R.E.N., and her dialogue is spoken by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, Bettany’s real-life wife. That’s one way to keep it all in the family.
Donald Glover is on the Prowl
The Atlanta star’s presence in Homecoming provides three Easter eggs in one. For starters, Glover famously ignited a Twitter flame war in 2010 when he let it be publicly known that he wanted to sling webs in the planned franchise reboot. (Sony wound up going with Andrew Garfield instead, a choice that maybe we all regret a little; however, Glover wound up voicing an animated version.) Homecoming doesn’t hand him the Spidey suit, either, instead casting Glover as Aaron Davis, an ordinary New Yorker who is seeking to buy some of the Vulture’s high-tech toys. He flees when Spider-Man catches him in the act, only to come face-to-face with the wall-crawler later when the hero is trying to play detective and track down Toomes’s gang.
In that later encounter, Davis seems a lot less like a potential troublemaker and a lot more like a concerned citizen who wants to do something about the rising level of violence in his city. He makes a point of mentioning that he’s particularly concerned about his nephew — a kid that Marvel zombies know to be Miles Morales, who shares Spider-Man duties with Peter Parker in the comic book universe. Fans have been clamoring for Miles to make his live-action debut for years now, and Glover’s appearance, plus that line of dialogue, paves the way for that to happen.
But that’s not all! Aaron Davis is also one of the alter egos of The Prowler, a gadget-powered criminal who, with Spider-Man’s urging, redirects his energies towards a more positive kind of vigilantism. (It’s worth noting that Davis’s version of the Prowler appeared in the now-defunct Ultimate line of comics, where he didn’t undergo that change of heart.) So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Glover may yet put on a costume in the MCU, which would please Homecoming helmer Jon Watts to no end. “One of the first things I said was, ‘I don’t know who he’s gonna play, but Donald Glover has to be in this movie,‘” the director tells Yahoo Movies. “I’ve known Donald for a long time, so the idea that there could potentially be that kind of connection and that he has somewhere where he could go as a character is something that he thought was cool.”
An Amazing Spidey Pull
Towards the end of Homecoming comes a scene that, for Feige, has been 17 years in the making. In it, Peter is trapped underneath a mountain of rubble in the Vulture’s since-abandoned warehouse hideout as water is rushing in. Even with his enhanced strength, he’s not able to free himself of its crushing mass. Digging deep into his energy reserves, he slowly, but surely gets to his feet, like Atlas shrugging the weight of the world off his back. It’s a sequence that comes directly out of the comic book — specifically The Amazing Spider-Man No. 33, originally published in 1966. “I’ve wanted to do [that scene] since the first time I ever set foot in the Marvel offices,” Feige says. “As we were developing the movie, I called our writers, our filmmaker and our fellow Marvel producers, and said, “This story is about a kid who becomes a man. It’s about a hero who becomes a superhero, and we’re going to do it exactly the way Steve Ditko did.”
It’s one thing to give the order to recreate that famous scene; it’s quite another to be the one tasked with bringing it to life. According to Watts, shooting the tribute to ASM No. 33 was no picnic, particularly for the movie’s star. “It was absolutely the worst day Tom had,” he reveals, pointing out that Holland was underneath a hydraulic pile of junk with actual water pouring on him. “It’s scary when you’re trapped like that, and he’s wearing that cloth mask. When that gets wet, he’s essentially being waterboarded. He has to hold his breath to pull the scene off, which was really intense and horrible for him. Hopefully it makes for an intense moment in the movie!” It’s also a moment where the characteristically chatty Peter is largely silent, which is a departure from the source material where the hero narrates his struggle. “Tom was so amazing, we just played [the moment] on his face, and he sells it,” Feige says.
He may not receive the Steve Ditko panel-by-panel recreation treatment, but popular Marvel artist, Mark Bagley — who has sketched Spider-Man in such series as The Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man — does cameo, after a fashion, in Homecoming. His last name can be glimpsed as part of the rooftop graffiti adorns the buildings around Peter’s home base in Queens. And speaking of cameos hidden in artwork, Tony Stark’s father, Howard, is part of a mural that can be glimpsed at Peter’s high school.
Watch: ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’ Cast Offers Dramatic Reading of Classic Cartoon Theme:
Get more Spider-Man: Homecoming scoop from Yahoo Movies: