(Here are two shots that aren’t in the new movie, despite trailers/reviews that imply otherwise.)
As a kid, I’m sure one reason I loved Spider-Man was that like myself, he was 100% geek and a regular target of bullies. The fantasy of being Spider-Man sustained me for years before I learned about what adults called fantasies. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, it’s odd how the brain clings to imaginary notions. I remember taking long walks from suburban school to suburban home – back when ten-year-olds were permitted to do such things – and pretending that I was web-slinging between telephone poles.
Well, there’s a new Spider-Man movie, and they’ve got pre-teen-fantasy-Spidey down pat, right down to the telephone poles. (And then he has to run across a golf course: I could relate!) Sam Adams called it a great Peter Parker movie and a so-so Spider-Man movie, and he’s not way off.
Kids, you’re not going to believe this, but almost all English-speakers who died during the 20th century died without ever reading the word “reboot” (or saying the word “delete”). The movie reboot is basically a 21st-century phenomenon, and with two major reboots inside of five years, Spider-Man stands to be (and perhaps already is) the poster child of reboot-ism. That ought to give any fan of movies pause; we ought to prefer originality to recycling.
And to show you evidence of such a pause, a confession: unlike all the other reviewers you read, I haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) or The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Other than trailers, I’ve never seen one frame of Andrew Garfield playing Parker/Spidey. I didn’t feel I needed to go. Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire had said all there was to say; frankly, in Spider-Man 3 (2007), they may have said a lot more than that. Why bother watching Spidey’s origin story again? Uncle Ben, radioactive spider, with great power comes great responsibility, blah blah blah, yeah I got it. As my friend Tim said, ten years since the original film is too soon.
Yet I ran out to Spider-Man: Homecoming on Opening Day. What’s the difference? I hate to admit it in print, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is almost to the 2010s what Pixar was to the 2000s. The quality level has really been better than anyone had a right to expect. I will be happy to acknowlege a few misfires, like The Incredible Hulk (2008) and movies I couldn’t even be bothered with, like Thor: The Dark World (2013). Not a single MCU film has been as strong as The Incredibles (2004) or The Dark Knight (2008), but hey, most MCU films are mostly excellent.
I guess I must be part of the demographic that Sony sought when it decided to share custody of the character with Marvel/Disney. Like someone who voted for Obama and Trump, people move things around to cater to me. The very title was cannily chosen for canny film fans who understand that Spidey was “coming home” to Marvel Studios. (Along with the marketing that said, in big bold letters, FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE.) I even wonder if the film’s abbreviation is trying to invoke SMH, as in Shake My Head. Anyone watched the commercials on BET?
I knew I wouldn’t be getting the tired Ben-burglar story. (Pro tip to DC/WB: next time you reboot Superman, skip Krypton’s immolation.) No, instead I’d be getting a neophyte Spidey ret-conned (speaking [of] 21st-century words) as f*** to play to the MCU’s strengths: in a phrase, Downey as Tony Stark. David Poland, a popular film reviewer, complained that Downey earned some astronomical sum for three days of work on Spider-Man: Homecoming. I found myself in the theater counting the days: yeah, could be three. Bilge Ebiri, who reviews for The Village Voice, complained that a 2017 Peter Parker is full of love for a crass billionaire. I tweeted back: can you find me a 2017 teenager who wouldn’t treat a Steve Jobs/Sergey Brin figure with Parker’s level of affection for Stark? Ebiri’s answer: “That’s a fair point. Still, zzzzzzzz.”
But back to Poland, who complained that the film reduced Spider-Man to a minor character in the larger MCU. I figured Poland hadn’t read the source material, so I pointed out to him that in comics, the Avengers are regularly saving the world while Spidey fights street goons. Poland’s reply to me showed…yeah, he hasn’t read the material. He probably pronounces Spiderman to rhyme with Biderman, as Jon Stewart does (“I thought he was a Jewish fella”; by the way, Jon was joking and I love him). The movie confirms Spider-Man’s underdog nature by making sure that even when suited, he’s played by a skinny (if well-toned) stunt double who’s no more than 5-foot-7. He’s right to be represented as a little guy who somewhat symbolizes the little guy.
At this point, it almost feels as though the Marvel Cinematic Universe has over-corrected for the seemingly indiscriminate carnage visited upon New York City in The Avengers (2012). It’s almost as though Joss Whedon finished editing The Avengers the day before Occupy Wall Street began (could be true), and ever since that clarion call of the 99% against the 1%, the MCU has been looking out for the way the rest of the city was affected. Michael Keaton’s re-purposing of leftover alien tech, as well as his speech to Spider-Man about people like them, is more of the same. But it works.
“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the bad guy.” Did Michael Keaton, once a big bat and now a big vulture, do both? Anyway, I never thought that Spider-Man’s B-list villains, like the Vulture, could really make A-list movie antagonists, but SMH does the trick, and almost extends the trick to the C-list Shocker. The credits tease about a possible expansion of this sort of magic, maybe even the Sinister Six…?
I’m enough of a comics purist to be mildly annoyed by some of the film-world changes, like the way the film presents the suit, and maybe even the web-fluid, as Tony Stark creations. But let’s not go down the (Staten Island Ferry-sized) online rabbit-hole of geek nitpicking. The racially diverse casting was spot-on (even if the guy who played Flash was a drip; they could have used one of the jocks from “Master of None”). What matters is that the movie got the spirit right and generally kept it aloft. With Sony, Marvel, Disney, Stan Lee breathlessly watching and judging the work of an unremarkable director and near-rookie lead actor, one can imagine many ways SMH could have gone wrong. It didn’t. With their great power they took great…RESPONSIBILITY.