NOTE: This contains no spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming. You’re fine.
Spider-Man is such a primally identifiable hero. No one is happy with the way their life is going in high school — everyone feels like an underdog no matter what advantages they have, everyone feels things are tougher and sadder than they have to be — and Spider-Man is a literalization and projection of those feelings onto the stage of a grand, mad-science operatic adventure.
I identify with that, of course, and always have, but for me there’s a deeper level to it. “Spider-Man! Where are you coming from, Spider-Man?”, asked the theme to his segments from The Electric Company, my first exposure to the character’s stories. I knew, and that’s what fascinated me: Spider-Man was Peter Parker, a dorky kid from the middle of Queens in New York City, exactly the same as me.
I’ve always been a trivia nut when it comes to unelaborated, mundane aspects of everyday life, which means I have a particular affinity for trivia about my hometown. Not only does Spider-Man: Homecoming have a Peter Parker who’s on his high school’s academic decathlon team, but it uses the geography and culture of NYC in general and Queens in specific to greater effect than any movie of its kind. Join me on a tour of Homecoming’s New York, and of mine:
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL AND AVENGERS TOWER
The movie begins with a prologue shortly after The Avengers, focusing on the damage the battle with the Chitauri did to Grand Central Terminal, the beautiful, classical station on 42nd Street serving points north of the city. In real life, the MetLife skyscraper has been attached to one side of the Neoclassical station for more than fifty years, but in the MCU, Stark Industries has long since bought out the property and built the ultramodern Stark Tower in its place.
Stark Tower – or Avengers Tower – has appeared facing in all directions in various media, always cheating to the camera so the building’s slope goes top left to bottom right, which is easiest for our eyes, trained by a system of writing which goes in that same direction. In the movies, though, the “lip” – that open air balcony/helipad/whatever near the top – always faces east, so it’s correctly oriented from the south, where the finale of The Avengers took place.
THE 7 TRAIN
Like most of Manhattan, Grand Central is served by multiple subway lines. The one we’ll concern ourselves with for now is the 7 train, which starts going east under 42nd Street, goes under the East River, and emerges above-ground in Queens. In many ways, the elevated line is the backbone of the borough: A hundred and two years ago, when Queens was almost entirely farmland with a few scattered factory towns, the train going all the way to Flushing (more on that later) led to a boom for development in the ‘20s, all spreading out from the train line. Peter is shown riding on an R-32 car – old livery never used on that line.
The one station we see clearly in the movie is called 36th Avenue Station, right next to Midtown High, and it doesn’t exist at all (the line goes parallel to 36th Avenue so there’s no obvious place for it). Other locations in the movie mean it’s probably meant to be somewhere near the Western edge of Queens, in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Long Island City.
Meanwhile, Peter lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building just off the next section of the line, on 44th Street just off Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside – see the picture below for the exact building they use. 1 This is a really short distance in New York terms, and it means Peter’s commute to school is about 20 minutes on the longer end. Since the subway goes right by his house, and has a station literally touching the boundaries of his school, Peter already had super commuting powers long before any web-slinging got involved.
We don’t see a lot of Peter’s high school from the outside, but the few glimpses show us the building is a smaller, transplanted version of Forest Hills High School – one of the biggest high schools in the city, smack in the middle of Queens, tremendously crowded, and producing graduates as varied as Ron Chernow, Paul Simon, and my father. Midtown is much better funded than Forest Hills could ever hope to be: Sending quiz bowl teams to Washington is one thing, but having pristine murals, spotless floors and TV monitors on every wall is quite another.
It’s admirable how much care has been taken to give Midtown Tech an authentic diversity in their students, both in terms of their backgrounds and their interests (The bully is an amateur DJ! The popular girl is on too many committees to count! Apathetic people still have chess club and band!). There’s still a bit of a suburban feel to it in the social structure, though: We see someone driving to school in a cool car to impress people, which is not really on the radar of city kids at all, and we get a Mean Girls-authentic party at a fancy house in the suburbs, where you have to really stretch the definition of “Suburbs” to fit within zoning laws.
FLUSHING AND LaGUARDIA
Peter’s introduction in Civil War was a part of Tony Stark’s arc as the main antagonist of the movie (not the villain, those are two different things) but it was on Peter’s turf. In the movie, Peter is still eagerly working for Tony, and that means Peter gets to ride through his hometown in style, in Stark Industries limos and private planes. During one of these rides we see him looking out the window on the Whitestone Expressway as they pass the Unisphere, meaning they’re cutting through Flushing Meadows Park, home of The First Avenger’s World’s Fair, Iron Man 2’s Stark Expo, and the Mets.
So where are they headed? Ultimately, the new Avengers compound in upstate New York, but that’s by way of LaGuardia Airport – the smaller of the two airports serving the city (hence why it gets a lot more private use). LaGuardia is named for the city’s mayor during the Depression, located north of central Queens, and is currently undergoing an expensive renewal project in real life.
Quite a bit of the action in the movie is centered around an intersection on 21st Street. Delmar’s Grocery is a good place to start: Bodegas are really great places to set short movie scenes, since they have reams of subtle visual character that you can show off with just a few shots. Murph the fat cat on the counter really ties the whole scene together (no bodega is complete without its lurking cat, judging you for your candy purchase), especially when Spider-Man has to take time out of a bank robbery, to save him.
That bank robbery happens at the fictional “Queens Community Bank”. There are a few banks local to the city, but since the recession you don’t get any independent banks serving somewhere as small as a borough. What feels right is the old man in a suit on the wall, observing the whole sequence with a little smile: Ads of old smiling men in suits dot New York’s history like palimpsests, from plastic surgeon Jonathan Zizmor (THANK YOU DR. Z!) to injury attorneys, Cellino and Barnes.
THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY
New York consists of five boroughs, all clustered together quite closely…except for Staten Island, a couple miles south of Manhattan, nestled in the nourishingly toxic New Jersey coast. Part of the city mostly because everyone who owned the land preferred to live in Manhattan, Staten Island boasts such landmarks as a huge garbage dump, a subway breaking down even worse than the rest of the subway is breaking down, and lots of pizza places not worth the trip.
The usual way to take this trip is the Staten Island Ferry, running from the southern tip of Manhattan to the north end of the Island. Despite the open contempt everyone in the city has for the borough, the ferry’s quite a nice experience if you find yourself pressed to take it. Don’t expect to take your car, though: That’s an invention of the movie, so the much-hyped action scene on the ferry can have some environmental damage in such an unstable environment.
In fact, while I’m giving you tourist advice, look into stuff like the LINKWater Taxi if that’s really your bag. You can go to better islands that way, like Randall’s Island (basically a municipal athletic center) or Governor’s Island (which features an army base, a huge music festival, and that weird superstructure Iron-Man and Spider-Man have a big falling-out on, which is actually a ventilation tower for one of the city’s many tunnels).
The movie takes place in the last days of summer, and before the movie ends Peter sends the season off with a trip to Coney Island. We don’t spend much time on the famously long boardwalk or the grand old rides at the amusement park, but Peter gets to soulfully stand at the top of the Cyclone rollercoaster, with no regard to Alvy Singer’s family below, and the movie makes quite clever use of the Parachute Jump (a big red tower that hasn’t been used for its nominative purpose for decades).
Something we very specifically don’t see is just a few blocks to the east of the amusement park: The home stadium of the Brooklyn Cyclones, low level minor league baseball team affiliated with the Mets. Like a lot of stadiums, it’s named after a local bank, in this case NYC’s Municipal Credit Union. So, if Peter had wanted to, he could have taken in a ball game at…
I feel that’s the perfect way to end a trip around this corner of the MCU. The next time you see Homecoming check out New York, and the next time you’re in New York check out the places they show in Homecoming.