Spider-Man’s back, rebooted once again and doing whatever a Spider can as usual. Third time around in 15 years, does Spidey still have what it takes to keep audiences interested in a post-MCU world? Lee and Darren review.
Regular Marvel villain Tony Stark has struck again, putting impoverished labourers out of work and on the road to crime. Who’s going to clean up the mess with their fists this time? None other than yours and mine favourite, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man! Watch out!
Serial pastiche really only survives in soundtrack name checks only these days; that’s why this segment ends so abruptly. Spider-Man Homecoming welcomes you back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an exhaustive series of movies that at all times are and aren’t the most fun/inclusive/popular/dying; the perpetual Schrodinger’s series of boxed quality and social mandates.
Much rests on the shoulders of Peter Parker, but, as always, the most interesting stakes are in the movie itself. Here, burgeoning adolescence is the true villain – the impetus that comes with wanting the world all at once and being wholly and utterly unprepared to handle how terrible it is makes for surprisingly entertaining summer blockbuster fare even as it reminds adults how cruel the world is and alarms kids of what is yet to be.
The great twist this time around is that it’s not the Spider-Man that has to learn responsibility – its Parker himself. A terrible friend who puts everyone in harm’s way and refuses to keep a single date in his schedule thanks to a perceived spider sense of inflated self-worth, the only stumbling block is in the resolve not sticking strong enough to the rulebook, favouring more action set-piece finale over anything too original. Unless you’re into metaphorical readings, in which case, enjoy whatever Freudian road that incoming twist leads you down.
More importantly: how does it work as a blockbuster? Damn well, thankfully – especially by the final act, which may borrow heavily from ideas already explored in other Spider-films but tweaks them just enough to look like revisionism rather than plagiarism. Toss in a genuinely terrifying villain who we also care for right from the outset and you’ll find yourself hooked more often than not.
The Stark stuff pays off as a father-figure stand-in we never get to see Peter ignore (now he’s too real) and amazingly it really is the Parker High-School Days that totally steals the show. He’s the perpetual teenage superhero, this is where he belongs!
Sarky, good-spirited fun for the whole family. I mean, sure, the bad-guy does call Spider-Man a bastard, so maybe not the whole family, but pretty close.
Spider (hyphen) Man is arguably the most rebooted character of all time. Sure, Batman has lots of interchangeable actors playing him, but Peter Parker almost always goes through a new iteration every 5-10 years. Do a quick google search and find out exactly how many actors have played him on Movies, TV and cartoons. Bet you’ll find someone you didn’t even know played him, like Neil Patrick Harris.
My point is that Spider-Man has to keep being retconned, rebooted and rebranded every once in a while, more so than any other comic book character. And it’s not because writers are lazy or can’t think of new stories to tell – the reason’s rather simple.
Spider-Man is an allegory for puberty.
Peter Parker is your average high-school student… blah blah, you know the drill even if you haven’t seen Spider-Man before. Peter has to juggle his busy school life while crushing hard on a girl and balancing his afternoon escapades as everyone’s favourite wallcrawler. Classic, simple and it works.
Tom Holland puts on the tights for his second outing in tights and is very likeable. A goofy mixed up 15 year old trying to be a man when he hasn’t even nailed down how to be a boy yet. His best friend Ned plays comic relief and has left next to no impression on me. Maybe it was the role, or the lines but it’s a forgettable performance despite the attempts to get you on board with him. Maybe it was the whole fedora thing that made me switch off but it was a fairly lacklustre relationship. Awkward in a way that feels real but with no chemistry to really nail it down.
The rest of the high school cast read like your classic Mean Girls rip-off. Flash Thompson, local bully, is now more like Kenny G than the imposing figure Flash typically cuts in other Spider-man media. Add in your always watching social outcast girl Michelle (Janis anyone?), always quietly watching and judging, with quick satirical barbs and a line about the Washington monument that really shows how different this is to other Spider-man movies. Her knowing glances and witty dialogue made her an easy favourite that I think fans will love.
Finally switch out traditional love interests of Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane for newcomer Liz and that about rounds out the cast. There is no forced love triangle or overly convoluted ‘she likes me but I can’t tell’ scenario going on. The entire high-school is this wonderfully diverse area that even if we only see in great detail the ‘nerdier’ aspects, there is still visible representation throughout. Be it a gay guy on the stairs, images of Frederick Douglas or James Baldwin on the walls in a decently POC heavy school or just that line in Washington. Could there be more? Absolutely. But it’s getting there and that at least deserves a shout out.Michael Keaton has had a bit of a renaissance of the last few years, gone are the days he had to be in a forgettable Herbie movie. More relatable a villain than any previous Spider-Man movie, he’s a guy trying to make a buck to support his family. Of course, being the movie’s villain, this is talked about a few times but not really given the actual time to fully develop. Still, it’s a better backstory than most.
Speaking of those elites Iron Man and Happy Hogan stick their face round more than you’d expect. Almost as if Marvel doesn’t want you to forget that this is tied in with all the other movies. There’s not a lot to say about them; it’s RDJ doing what he does with nothing new or surprising. If you liked Tony before, you’re still gonna like him.
This is easily the most classic Spider-Man movie that could possibly be made. He doesn’t fight gun wielding crooks right of the bat, he is more about stopping a bicycle thief or making sure that nice old lady gets the right directions to church. And we get to see a lot of this ‘comic-book’ style hero. Ever wanted to know how Peter would fare in the suburbs without any big buildings? You got it. Want a reference to a short running series that ending back in the 70’s? Sure. How about a nod to classic costume designs or to Ditko’s first time writing Peter as a Nietzschean ubermensch who doesn’t need anything but the strength of will? Uh, yeah that’s oddly specific but we got that too. This is definitely a movie by fans for fans that fits neatly into the current movie-verse without feeling just tacked in.
And I think that the reason all of this works so well is the setting: having Peter back in high school, being only 15 and unsure of himself. Even the name Homecoming evokes the right direction for the movie. I said it at the beginning of this review, and you thought I was crazy, but Spider-Man is about puberty. It’s about not knowing who you are, about going through weird body changes and shooting white liquid everywhere (I’m sorry, I’m disgusted too but my point stands). Figuring out how romance works and learning about responsibility. It’s about trying to grow to be a man and not a boy.
It’s why we keep rebooting him over and over again. No generation’s teenage life is the same and Peter has become the cultural teaching tool to tell teens that it’s ok to mess up, it’s ok to not know who or what you want to be. Not being able to ask out that girl/boy/other you like is normal. You’re normal.
This is a great movie and I’ll be sorry to see it get rebooted.