The latest “Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer certainly set the stage for the July-arriving superhero blockbuster, continuing the story of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his ambition of becoming an Avenger. It highlighted the young hero’s high-school dynamic, family life and aspirations, but amid all of the epic action sequences, what stood out most to us is the prominence of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). His role may well be smaller in the movie than the three-minute trailer implies, but it nonetheless begs the question: Is this really a Spider-Man story, or are we going to see an Iron Man spinoff?
Tony Stark is a major presence throughout the trailer, not just dispensing advice to the budding superhero, but as Iron Man, actually helping Spidey. A key scene pops up when the lead Avenger helps Spider-Man save a Staten Island Ferry that’s been split in two following an attack by the Vulture. It’s a signature Spider-Man rescue, and it’s nice to see Stark helping his protege maneuver the learning curve. On the other hand, there’s just way too much advice from the billionaire, outweighing the practical aid he offers in the form of the high-tech costume. The fear is that this may foreshadow a situation where the presence of Stark is felt on and off screen way too much. The tone of the trailer, thanks in large part to Stark’s multiple appearances and voiceovers, makes it feel like Tony’s always looming overhead, that Peter’s Spidey is living in Iron Man’s shadow.
Of course, if this is the direction the entire movie follows, will it hinder “Homecoming” from being a true Peter Parker coming-of-age story?
Following the boat sequence, Stark takes back Peter’s new suit, warning the teenager that the man makes the suit, not vice versa. It comes off as a subversion of the Uncle Ben mantra of “with great power, comes great responsibility,” which always pointed to the hero within, whether you’re superpowered or not. We’re not keen on yet another movie diving too deep into Uncle Ben’s death, but we do hope Ben’s message reverberates, and leaves a lasting impression on Pete, accentuating and complementing what Stark offers later down the line. We’re also hoping Stark isn’t a hip, new replacement for Uncle Ben, a concern amplified when we look back on him hitting on Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May in “Captain America: Civil War.”
This story of the man who doesn’t need a suit feels cut from the same cloth as “Iron Man 3,” where Shane Black dealt with Stark questioning if he was a hero without his armor. Stark’s PTSD from all his Avengers work factored in against Guy Pearce’s take on Aldrich Killian/Mandarin, but Stark overcame all these hurdles, before blowing up all his suits. He made it clear that “I am Iron Man!,” a nod to the line at the end of the Avenger’s first movie, where Stark said these same words to reveal his superhero identity to the public. Ironically, at the end of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, Pete (then played by Tobey Maguire) ended with a monologue, “Who am I? I’m Spider-Man!” — which also draws a strong parallel to this reboot.
We don’t need his desire to join the Avengers or being Iron Man’s little buddy to be the character’s defining trait. We want a Spider-Man who is young, brash and confident, the traits that made him such an iconic character in the comics. These traits informed him as an Avenger when he did get the call-up, and differentiated him from other heroes. This attitude and self-discovery is what made guys like Wolverine, Punisher, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch gravitate to him. Pete’s strength has always been the fire of youth and the innocence of not necessarily wanting to grow up too fast, as illustrated by his quippy one-liners. Presenting Stark as a stern mentor could work against this and stifle his identity, unless that’s the arc the writers are going for, one which will eventually see him break away and become his own man. The Joe and Anthony Russo-directed “Captain America: Civil War” presented him as a character in awe of Steve Rogers, so maybe being Stark’s pet for now isn’t actually grooming him to step into an Iron Spider suit, as it appears he’s a step-and-a-half away from doing right now.
Another spin on the relationship (or partnership… or internship) we’ve seen so far could be that director Jon Watts is using “Homecoming” to address the fallout of the Sokovia Accords and the splinter in the Avengers team ahead of “Avengers: Infinity War.” After all, Stark plucking a kid from Queens to throw him into a firefight against the likes of Cap, Falcon, Winter Soldier and Giant Man, is, well, let’s call it highly inadvisable. Just dropping him back home afterward with some new toys is not the way to go either, but it is arguably the only way Stark knows. Could the relationship mirror that of the one Stark had with his dad? Is that a hidden gem in the script that Marvel Studios negotiated, which is why the senior hero is so present? If that ends up being the case, this may well be a story about growth and mentoring, but, as Watts hints in a new interview with Fandango, for Tony, from Peter.
Even if that is the long game for both studios, in the interim, we’d really like to see the filmmakers ease off and not max out the Stark mileage right away. There’ll be plenty of that from Marvel Studios when Thanos comes to Earth, after all. For now, let’s hope “Homecoming” gives us the Spider-Man we deserve — human, resilient and someone trying to be his own person.
Directed by Jon Watts (“Clown”), written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (“Vacation”) and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Zendaya, Donald Glover and many, many others, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” swings into theaters on July 7, 2017.