Spidey has finally come home to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I know we’ve already seen him in Captain America: Civil War, but with so many characters in that movie, his appearance was more of a side note than anything. But now, we have a movie which focuses on him and his teenage problems while being part of the superhero universe he belongs to, and interacting with his older superhero siblings. We’ve never seen a Spider-Man movie that does the latter before, because Sony has always hoarded the rights to Spider-Man… until now.
It helps the movie in more ways than one; one of the most important being it gives Peter Parker the free reign to be a kid who happens to be a superhero, instead of a kid who has to take on the burdens of the whole world because there is no one else to do the saving in situations where it would have been better to call the Avengers. By setting the film in high school — junior high even, since Peter is only 15 in the movie, a long way from graduating — and having Tony constantly treat him as a kid, it drives home the fact that Peter really is still a kid, despite his enhanced abilities.
Homecoming has been compared to John Hughes’ ’80s teen movies — because that’s what Marvel was aiming for. It sets the film in high school with all its youthful vigour, cliques, problems, homework, crushes, nerdy best friends (who aren’t children of evil villains), and has Peter actually attending classes, unlike previous Spider-Man films which loaded up on the angst. Of course, we don’t get to see Uncle Ben die and Peter having to cope with it, so that helps a lot in removing the emo stakes from this film. But this is also the first time I’ve actually seen Peter as a high school student, and not just a superhero. In previous incarnations, I always felt more of a disconnect, as the actors were clearly older and behaved more maturedly than a typical high school student would. It might be because when Spider-Man came out in 2002, I was in high school myself and Tobey Maguire was obviously much older than I was. (He was 26. If I remember correctly, they bypassed that problem quickly by making him graduate and start working very shortly after getting his powers.) Andrew Garfield looks boyish, but he was 28 when The Amazing Spider-Man came out in 2012, and his movies went much darker with hints of an underlying evil conspiracy behind his parents’ deaths — problems a normal teenager won’t face. Tom Holland is 21 now, which makes him overage for a high-schooler too, but he looks the part and he behaves the part; re: his vlog detailing his “Stark internship” in Berlin, which was so funny and cute in its exuberance. He is like an overeager puppy trying to please the most important adult in his life: the billionaire mentor who can grant him entry into the Avengers, so he can do greater things with his powers and help save the world with them.
We get constant reminders that Peter is a kid too, by Tony treating him like a kid. Tony would rather Peter remain the “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” — unwilling to draw him into more danger than necessary (except when he needed him to help fight Cap, but his comment about Cap going easy on him also reveals that he was pretty certain Peter wouldn’t come to much harm from Cap’s team), and keeping an eye on him with trackers in his suit, and getting frequent updates from Happy, even when we think Tony is neglecting him.
Thing is, like all kids who are treated as kids, Peter wants to “grow up” faster and be treated as an adult, so he gets his best friend Ned to hack the suit so he can go after the villains himself, because he thinks Tony isn’t taking him seriously. But it also creates the whole mess of the confrontation with the villains gone wrong on the Staten Island Ferry, and if not for Tony coming to the rescue, people would have died that day. (By the way, there is a very nicely framed shot where Peter is in between the broken halves of the ferry trying to hold it together with his web strings and the Statue of Liberty is right behind him in the background, in the exact centre of the broken halves. Don’t know what’s the significance, if there’s any, but it was a great shot.)
The Staten Island Ferry scene reminds me of the Spider-Man 2 scene where Peter single-handedly had to stop the runaway train and it exhausted him so much that he fainted and the train passengers were able to really look at him and see that he was just a kid. Of course, in that movie, he was the lone ranger so he *had* to succeed — or at least, the movie had to show him succeeding, whether or not it was possible for him to have stopped the train — even though it was the sort of situation where an arsenal of other superheroes were more fit for the task.
And that’s what incorporating Spider-Man into the MCU has done for the character: they gave him people who can help when the going gets too tough for a single hero who is just a kid. The next Spider-Man films probably won’t have Robert Downey Jr. in them because contract issues (and RDJ is expensive), but they will be able to borrow other characters from Marvel’s store. Some critics think the MCU tie-ins are the film’s weaker points, but I beg to differ. How else would you get Peter treating his suit’s AI as an Agony Aunt or fumbling around with his suit capabilities, because for the first time, his suit was created by Tony, and Tony being the genius tinkerer that he is, naturally included hundreds of special features that Peter didn’t know about because he bypassed the “Training Wheels Programme”?
A Spider-Man who can play with his older brothers and sisters in the Marvel Universe is something we’ve never seen before and that makes it all the more fun because the MCU is fun. (Now, if the MCU is as dark as the DC Cinematic Universe, that would have been a totally different story. We’ll probably have seen Uncle Ben die for the third time and heard the third variation of “With great power comes great responsibility”, to pile on the angst that the DCCU is famous for.)
There are a ton more things I observed in Homecoming, but I will leave them for my next post, because this post has gone on long enough.