CINEMA: Growing Up Spider-Man



SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017, Directed by Jon Watts, 133 minutes, USA)

the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT I bought my first my first Spider-Man comic book last century. I watched the Spider-Man cartoons every saturday as a kid. I own three Spider-Man T-Shirts, five Funko Pop collectibles, and wrote at least three poems (one of which made my creative writing thesis) focused on the character. However, I was not excited about Spider-Man: Homecoming. Sure, Tom Holland’s Spidey was amazing in Captain America: Civil War (2016) but I didn’t care. He was every bit the adorable nerdy smartass that Peter Parker is in the comics but I didn’t care. I didn’t think the movie would be bad, I don’t hate director Jon Watts and I applaud Sony and Marvel coming together to share their toys and make billions of dollars for both companies. But Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man (2002) was the first superhero movie I saw in theatre. The sequel (2004) was considered the best superhero movie of all time (for a while, anyway). The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) saw Andrew Garfield embrace Peter’s nerd. This is the 6th Spider-Man film in 15 years and the 3rd reboot. Basically, I was tired of Peter Parker. I was advocating for Miles Morales (a new Spider-Man from an alternate universe) to head the new film. Hell, I would have been happy with Ben Reilly or Kaine (two clones of Peter Parker from one of the most hated Spider-Man comic books of all time). I just didn’t see how Homecoming could add something new to Peter. The only benefit I saw is more money for Sony and Disney.  (Plus Robert Downey Jr. gets another film to be Iron Man in, which is never a bad thing.)

Thankfully, I was wrong. Homecoming isn’t a regurgitation of the same old Parker story that keeps getting retold in reboot after reboot. It updates that story. Peter Parker is now a Millennial. He keeps a video blog, texts Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan and goes to an elite private school on scholarship where even his bully is a nerd. Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson is no longer a high school quarterback who stuffs Peter in his locker like every cliché jock. Instead, he is a Big Man On Campus jealous that Parker is out performing him in class and on the Academic Decathlon team. And because this is 2017, a New York school is no longer going to be all white and it is nice to see that reflected in film.  The off-white casting of Flash, as well as Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) rep the newfound diversity of Parker’s classmates.  Likewise, Marisa Tomei plays an Aunt May who doesn’t look more like Grandmom May for a change.

Homecoming’s biggest addition to Spider-Man is joy. Both Maguire’s and Garfield’s Peter Parkers were depressing as hell. Uncle Ben died, Peter’s best friend fathers died after trying to kill him, and his first love died. There is even a meme of Toby/Peter crying that is still used. Yes, the source material has all these events but they are spread out over 50 years. Holland’s Peter Parker had fun. He begins the film geeking out about meeting Iron Man and Captain America. He even makes a reaction video. He flood’s Tony Stark’s voice mail and text box everyday for more Avenger missions. During patrol he does backflips to impress people. This Peter Parker is what happens when you give a 15-year-old superpowers. It also looks believable. Tom Holland was able to do his own flips and other stunts due to his theater background. He is also the youngest to play the traditionally teenage hero. Yet this Peter Parker still has a sense of responsibility. He stumbles onto the film’s plot as some ATM robbers who had enough firepower to blow up a corner deli does so. Peter tracks the weapons back to the people selling the super weapons. Even after Iron Man tells Spidey Vulture’s high tech  is too dangerous for the kid to investigate he feels obligated to continue. As the film’s title will suggest, Peter also has to deal with High School obligations such as visiting Washington DC with the Decathlon team and attending the upcoming Homecoming dance.

The final reason Homecoming works so well is the villain. Michael Keaton’s Vulture has no right to be awesome as he is. Vulture is maybe a C-List villain. No Spider-Man fan ever asked for a solo film featuring the old bald guy with a wingsuit. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe has terrible villains (outside of Loki). Yet Vulture/Adrian Toomes is now up there with the god of trickery. Toomes is something the Marvel movies been lacking. He isn’t an evil god, elf, Nazi, wizard, or alien attempting genocide. He is a former construction worker turned black market arms dealer. He literally sells the arms of Ultron’s robot army that were converted into guns and other items salvaged from superhero fights. Toomes was in charge of the construction company contracted to clean up the city after The Avengers but Tony Stark and the US government created a new company that stole the job away from him.  His Vulture costume is alien technology he stole from the site after he was fired. He is not motivated by revenge or hatred. He is motivated by money. Toomes does this to feed his family. But he is not a good man to be idolized. He has no qualms about killing if necessary. Michael Keaton performs the role perfectly (while also giving people easy Batman or Birdman jokes). I both feared for Peter Parker and empathized with  Keaton’s Vulture. Toomes is also not a villain too dumb to realize a secret identity. While driving his daughter Liz and her date Peter Parker to prom, he discovers that Peter has an internship with Stark, was in Washington DC when Spider-Man was and skipped out on his daughter’s party the same night Spidey first fought the Vulture. Yes, he put it together and ended up threatening his daughter’s date for a completely different reason than usual. My first words after seeing Homecoming were “Michael fucking Keaton.”