Spider-Man: Homecoming was released worldwide to a huge critical and commercial success, giving many fans what they've anxiously waited for a decade: a live-action Spider-Man film set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When it was announced that Marvel and Sony had struck a deal to bring the web-slinger over to the MCU, many were skeptical about how seamless this process would actually be, integrating one of the most well-known superheroes in the world into this already existing universe. Thankfully, in both Civil War and Homecoming, Marvel has created a Spider-Man who not only feels at home within the MCU but does so without sacrificing any of the beloved elements of the character.
However, while Homecoming is definitely a fantastic addition to the MCU, there could be a massive continuity error within the film that could have serious ramification for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, if you've seen Homecoming by now, you'll remember the film's opening sequence depicting Adrian Tombs running a cleanup operation in New York after the Shitari invasion from the first Avengers movie, before he's screwed out of the contract by Damage Control, and seeks revenge against Tony Stark.
Now, after this prelude, we get an eight years later timestamp, before catching up with Peter Parker, following off from the events of Captain America: Civil War. So, this means that Homecoming is set eight years following The Avengers, and while this at face value doesn't seem like too much of an issue, it actually could confuse the MCU timeline quite a lot. You see, the MCU timeline is overly complicated to try and explain because Marvel has tried to maintain that their films are set in real time, ie, the time in which they are released in theaters, and as a result, this creates something of a headache.
If Homecoming is set eight years after The Avengers, then it means both itself and Civil War are either set in the year 2020, or that Homecoming is set now in 2017, and therefore The Avengers actually occurred closer to 2009. While we are able to safely plot down a few key dates, drawing an overall timeline of the MCU is incredibly difficult. For instance, we can say that Iron Man is set in the year that
it was released, 2008, thanks to a Mad Money episode briefly shown, which just happens to be dated 2008. Furthermore, it's also revealed that Tony Stark's birthday is May 29th, and he celebrates his birthday in Iron Man 2 by racing in the Monaco Grand Prix.
In real life, the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix was held on May 24th, only a few days prior to Tony's birthday. Around this time, the events of both Thor and The Incredible Hulk take place also. In The Avengers prequel comic, Fury's Big Week, we get a little more clarification about this, seeing Nick Fury and Shield's response to several key events which all occurred at this time, such as the Stark Expo explosion from Iron Man 2, Hulk's battle with The Abomination in Harlem, and the destruction of a New Mexico town from Thor, meaning that all of these events occur in the summer of 2009. And, as a result, it's safe to assume
that The Avengers takes place sometime during 2010, as Fury mentions it's been a year since the events of Thor.
So this means that if Avengers is set in 2010, and therefore Homecoming takes place eight years later in 2018, that settles it, right? While it is somewhat feasible that Homecoming takes place in 2018, this theory begins to fail when you take into account that it takes place months following Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, The Vision references Stark being Iron Man for eight years, meaning that, with Iron Man is set in 2008, Civil War was also likely to set in the year that it was made, 2016.
And with Homecoming very much dealing with Peter's life months following the Civil War, it must also take place around this time. See, the problem is that, because Marvel Studios has been so vague on assigning exact years to most of their films, despite attempting to follow a real-time chronology that corresponds to their releases, trying to connect the events into a linear map becomes difficult. However, there is another explanation for this and can be found through the history of Marvel comics, dating back to the early 1960s.
The Marvel Universe as we know it today was first published within Fantastic Four number one in 1961, with all of the characters and stories introduced prior, ie, Captain America and Namer, retconned to have occurred earlier on in this universe. And for the first handful of years, Marvel's stories operated in real-time, with the stories set in the present years that the comics were printed. However, this soon became an issue when the character with age-defying backgrounds, like Peter Parker, were introduced.
You see, Peter was a sophomore in high school when he gained his powers in 1962, and because Marvel was still publishing in real-time, graduated from high school in 1965. Had Marvel continued at this rate, all of their characters would age out of their roles eventually, creating a huge headache for the writers. As a result, they adopted a metric known as Marvel Time.
This, also known as a sliding timescale, saw Marvel begin to slow down time within their universe, causing the characters to age much slower. For instance, Peter Parker started as a freshman in college in Amazing Spider-Man 31, in 1965, and spent four in-universe years in college, until he graduated in Amazing Spider-Man 185 of 1978. In short, the idea is that each story takes place as it's being read, with the history of the book happening a while ago, or a few years ago.
Everything since The Fantastic Four first debuted has happened in a near 15 year period, just without clear markers on the years the particular stories took place in, only that they were published prior to the current story. It could be that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has quietly adopted a sliding timescale and that each film released does indeed take place now.
But as they do, the events of previous films get pushed back a little further, and this could explain how Homecoming takes place now, in 2017. It's because the events of The Avengers and the earlier films have been subtly pushed back a couple of years. It's possible that the retcon for the eight-year gap is more so to match Peter's Age with that of his recently retconned cameo in Iron Man 2. If Iron Man 2 is set in 2009, and Homecoming in late 2016, it gives Marvel a seven-year
time difference to work with, allowing Peter to be a freshman like he is in the film, without it causing a larger continuity issue. Furthermore, it's not necessarily unheard of either, but Marvel would attempt to play loose with their canon. In fact, Kevin Feige, during an interview with Cinema Blend, discussed why the Marvel films don't overlap in time anymore, as they did in phase one, stating that
-[Kevin Feige] "I think people like to talk about our long-term plans, which we certainly have. But very rarely do these long-term plans dictate the specificity of any individual film. It's usually the opposite. It's focusing on a story and focusing on the individual movie that we're making to do what's best, and then if something changes that we weren't quite expecting down the line because it was made for a better movie, then we'll deal with it down the line."
And I think Feige's statement encapsulates the entire issue. While it's true that not every day in the MCU timeline perfectly adds up, is that not to be expected to happen eventually in such an interconnected cinematic universe, spanning multiple franchises with multiple different writers and directors, all seeking to make their film? While these inconsistencies will occasionally irritate us, it'd be difficult to say that they seriously impact our viewing experience, and as Feige alludes to if continuity prevents the best possible film from being made, then maybe it's best to focus on the individual movie and deal with any repercussions at a later date.
In short, while the eight years later setting of Homecoming from Avengers doesn't perfectly line up with the timeline, it appears that Marvel isn't too worried, so why should we be? Marvel's ability to create a flexible continuity in a way which subconsciously adapts the nuanced details of previous films in order to fit their vision is something smart and gives both the filmmakers and the overall universe a little time on their side.