The greatest strength of Marvel Studios is its ability to craft stories that can be enjoyed both by longtime comic readers and new viewers largely unfamiliar with the characters. The key to that is trimming away those elements that aren’t necessary to the hero, and retaining his or her core. Even in those Marvel Cinematic Universe films that received mixed reviews, the protagonists remain recognizable. But in the streamlining of Peter Parker for Spider-Man: Homecoming, some of the most important aspects — those very things that make Spider-Man … Spider-Man — were lost.
It’s not that Homecoming isn’t a good film; it’s well-produced and fun. However, it doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man movie, at least not consistently. Yes, Spider-Man is the star, but who we see on screen isn’t the hero we’ve come to love over the past 55 years. Some of the character’s the key elements were lost in the translation, undermining an otherwise-enjoyable movie.
Spider-Man’s personality seems the best to start with, as that’s where Homecoming did a lot of good. Peter Parker is awkward and humble; Spider-Man fast-talking, funny and confident. The former affects the latter: A not-so-confident Peter makes for an overcompensating wall-crawler. That’s where the film shines, mostly due to Tom Holland’s performance.
However, Peter’s personality falls short on two fronts, the first in the depiction of Spider-Man as an Avengers fanboy. It’s a great idea, and one that makes sense; he’s the small-time hero who admires those in the big leagues. The issue is that it’s taken too far, and it affects his motivation (more on this later). Second, his funny personality is used to prop up the entire film. We’re treated to the dream Spider-Man personality, which is great, but that’s only one, albeit important, aspect of the character, and it cannot distract from a lack of, or change in, other important aspects.
Background and Family
When Peter initially gained his powers, he did what any kid would do: He used them for personal gain. It’s an immature but relatable course of action. It’s a human desire that comes with being young and unsure, and Spider-Man represents us all when he does it. However, Peter is forced to grow up when his actions have a direct consequence on his life through the death of his Uncle Ben.
Aunt May is Peter’s rock, and he’s hers. They are there for each other following the loss of Ben, which helps to explain why it’s so difficult for Peter to lie to her about his secret life. Without that backstory explained, we don’t really know why Peter doesn’t tell May — beyond, perhaps, her worried reaction to Spider-Man on the news.
Because we’ve seen this origin twice now in film, it’s understandable that Homecoming wanted to avoid another retelling. However, what the filmed lacks is any implication that this origin happened. There’s some indication in Peter’s introduction in Captain America: Civil War, but nothing in the solo film. Again, there’s no need for a word-for-word reiteration of “with great power, comes great responsibility,” but it’s important that we not only see the ripple effect this hard-learned lesson has on Peter’s life, but also that he follows this advice every day.
Motivation and Relatability
Spider-Man’s strongest trait is that he doesn’t simply look the other way. He’s determined that no one else will ever suffer because of his inaction. As a result, Peter often takes on enemies bigger and stronger than him, and those confrontations often escalate out of control. Homecoming did well in exploring that aspect, with Peter stopping a bank robbery, which leads to the discovery of dangerous weapons on the street, which in turns leads to a black market for weaponry and a dangerous man who runs it. That all checks out, and it would be perfect were it not for the motivation behind Peter’s actions.
Perhaps the weakest part of Spider-Man: Homecoming is Peter’s relationship with Iron Man. There are certainly legitimate reasons for the inclusion of Tony Stark: Maybe it was to help bolster the audience with a beloved character, or maybe it was to strengthen the connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But whatever the reason, he ended up weighing down the story because Iron Man muddies Spider-Man’s motivations. Throughout Homecoming, Spider-Man is driven by a need to impress Iron Man, to “earn” his new suit and to become an Avenger. Whether that’s a worthy aspiration is immaterial, as it shouldn’t be Spider-Man’s primary motivation.
Peter eventually decides he wants to be a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” and look out for the little guy. So there’s hope that he’s learned the lesson that he doesn’t need the approval of others. And yet … this lesson learned is ruined immediately by Peter asking Tony, “This was a test, right?”, implying that at least part of his reason for turning down a spot on the Avengers is because he he thinks Iron Man would approve of the decision.
The most important element of Spider-Man’s character is his relatability. He represents the human struggle. He’s a kid who made mistakes and is trying to atone for them. He’s also an outsider at school, a bit nerdy, and isn’t in control of his body — be it because of powers or puberty. Some of those elements are in Homecoming, thanks in no small part to Holland’s performance, but his altered motivation get in the way. Most of us can relate to wanting validation from someone we admire, but for the approval of Tony Stark — the billionaire playboy-superhero — to be the driving force behind Peter Parker’s actions is muddled and confusing.
Powers (and Action)
Spider-Man’s powers are somewhat limited: enhanced strength, speed and agility, the ability to cling to most surfaces, and his signature Spider-Sense (add to that his spider-webs, a product of his own intelligence and ingenuity); he’s not in the same league as, say, Thor or the Hulk. Yet, because of his inability to ignore trouble, Peter still dives head first into a fight with the likes of the Rhino, knowing that on a sheer physical level, he stands little chance. But what gets him through those tough battles is his intelligence: His quick thinking and creativity are why he comes out on top.
His new cinematic suit is frustrating to think about. In Civil War, Tony Stark gave Peter the new costume, saying he needed an upgrade. From what we saw of the suit in the 2016 film, it was made of more durable material than the one Peter had created, and maybe boasted more efficient web-shooters. And yet, we learned from trailers for Homecoming that this new suit was filled with gadgets — which feel like toy advertisements to a degree — and an AI that tells Spider-Man how to fight. Normally, Peter’s compensation for his (comparably) weaker powers is his intelligence, but Homecoming replaces his smarts with an AI. It eliminates the need for Peter’s creativity and wits.
There’s also the matter of his Spider-Sense, as Peter isn’t depicted utilizing it in Homecoming, presumably because the AI serves that same purpose, thus making him Iron Man Jr. It’s also inconsistent, as the Spider-Man shown in Civil War demonstrated some degree of precognition, and description of footage of Avengers: Infinity War screened at Disney’s D23 Expo points to a display of Spider-Sense.
New York City
It goes without saying that Spider-Man is a New York City superhero. If Spider-Man: Homecoming took place in, say, Chicago, fans might be mad, but it would still be a city with community and heart. Luckily, Homecoming still takes place in New York … sort of.
There are about 10 to 20 minutes of New York action. Yes, Peter goes to school in the city, but beyond those moments, Spider-Man barely spends any time there. The first big action sequence takes place in Washington, D.C., on a nameless road in a generic truck. The second big sequence also takes place at the Washington Monument. Then the weapons deal on the ferry again takes us out of the city for a boring action sequence that continues the trend in Spider-Man movies where the hero literally has to hold something together.
Ask any hardcore Spider-Man fan, New York is such a key part of the character, partly because he doesn’t work in other settings. There’s even gag that plays with this notion, starting when Spidey swings through backyards, clearly out of his element, and then has nothing to swing from when he comes across a golf course full of trees. So he has to run as fast as he can.
Spider-Man is a city hero; that’s where he’s at his best. Yet, there is so little city action in Homecoming. Granted, what city scenes we are treated to are brilliant, and set up hope for the rest of the film: Spider-Man buys a sandwich, goes on patrol and has a bit of a rough go of it, and then takes a break to eat the sandwich. Then later, the sandwich shop gets destroyed as a result of an attack and Spider-Man goes in to save the owner and his cat. It’s doesn’t get more perfect New York Spider-Man. But later we lose a sense of community and small-scale super-heroics.
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t a bad film, not in the least. It has its difficulties, but keeps strong and steady as a summer superhero movie. It has a lot of funny and exciting moments that keep the entire film light, fast and enjoyable. The biggest issue it faces is that it isn’t a Spider-Man movie. If there’s one thing to pin that on, it’s the the changes to Spider-lore appear to have been made simply to differentiate this Spider-Man film from the ones that came before.
Simply put, Homecoming tried so hard not to be Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or Marc Webb’s Spider-Man that it ends up not being a Spider-Man movie at all.
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