Reel Talk

Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Little Guy

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When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, it seemed like they were going to have to struggle to get people interested. Way back in 2008 it seemed like Marvel was going to have to work harder than most when creating their superhero films, because they has a much smaller toybox than you’d expect. Marvel’s most profitable characters, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four were all owned by disparate studios, and the only characters they had access to were some second-stringers, at least to public consciousness. And yet, they succeeded. They managed to build one of the biggest film series’ of all time from a stable of characters that the average person was largely unfamiliar with. It put all of the other series featuring their characters to shame, and became the gold standard. Which resulted in several studios giving up, and relinquishing the rights to the characters back to Marvel. That’s how we got the Daredevil show. But Marvel’s three biggest franchises were still kept from them, awkwardly existing outside of the MCU. Until Civil War. Sony and Disney decided to do an unprecedented deal, which allowed Spider-Man, one of the most famous superheroes of all time, to come into the MCU fold. And it was great. Though he’s barely in the film, and could easily be edited out with little consequence to the story, this version of Spider-Man almost instantly endeared everyone to this character who has certainly seen better days. The halcyon time of the first two Sam Raimi films has long since passed, and Spider-Man hadn’t had a decent portrayal on film since 2004. But this new Spider-Man proved that the character was back, and ready to be given a truly special story by people who actually care about the character, and know what to do with him. And folks? They knocked it out of the goddamn park.

Spider-Man Homecoming begins during the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion from the Avengers. We see a salvage crew, run by a man named Adrian Toomes, working on cleaning the destruction up. However, this is ruined when representatives of a new government organization, founded by Tony Stark, known as Damage Control arrive and put a stop to their salvaging. This infuriates Toomes and his crew, having a huge job taken away from them, and given to the people who caused the destruction themselves. But, they managed to get away with a cache of Chitauri artifacts, and decide to use them to make themselves some high-powered weapons. Once that’s out of the way though we cut ahead to the present, where Peter Parker is struggling to find his place in the world. He’s just had his adventure with Tony Stark from Civil War, but is desperate to leave behind his old life and become an Avenger. Tony Stark however has different ideas, and insists on keeping Peter at bay, telling him to spend time as a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” before joining the big leagues. So Peter just decides to keep his head down, and work as hard as he can at being a successful superhero. He goes out and patrols after school, and does what he can to help the people in Queens. He’s also trying to get by at his STEM high school, hanging out with his friend Ned, pining after his science decathlon leader Liz Allen, and avoiding the taunts of his rich bully Flash Thompson. Ned accidentally learns that Peter is Spider-Man, and ends up telling the school that Peter knows the mysterious superhero. This is enough to get the two of them invited to a party at Liz’s house, where Peter plans on donning his costume and impressing the other kids. But when Peter is getting his suit on at the party he notices a strange explosion, and goes to investigate. And he finds two of the men who work with Adrian Toomes, now working as dealers of powerful weapons derived from alien technology. It turns out that thanks to Toomes’ associate Phineas Mason they were able to use the Chitauri tech to outfit themselves with powerful technology, and have ever since become weapon’s dealers. They’ve also become a group of supervillains, the Vulture, the Shocker, and the Tinkerer. Spider-Man tries to ruin the weapon-deal, but is attacked by the Vulture, and left for dead in a lake.

Which is when Iron Man arrives to chide Peter. Peter tries to tell Iron Man about the weapons, but is basically blown off and told to stick to his smaller crimes. Which Peter is obviously not going to do. He managed to get a hold of one of the Chitauri power sources, and he and Ned begin to investigate. Which brings them back into contact with the Shocker, who was sent to find the device. Peter manages to get a tracker on Shocker, and finds that they’re hiding out in Maryland. And it just so happens that Peter’s scientific decathlon is going to Washington DC. So he and Ned go with the team to DC,  and at night Peter sneaks out to find the criminals. He locates them robbing a truck carrying wreckage from the Triskelion, and through his hubris ends up getting trapped in the truck and locked in a Damage Control facility, missing the decathlon. The next day when he finally gets free though he learns that the Chitauri power source that Ned has been dealing with is actually a bomb, and he races off to save his friends, who are unknowingly carrying the thing up into the Washington Monument. Peter manages to save them, and becomes obsessed with these villains. So obsessed that he tracks them down to another arms deal on the Staten Island Ferry. He gets ahead of himself and battles Shocker and Vulture, which ends with him accidentally causing the Ferry to begin sinking. Peter does his best, but in the end has to be saved by Iron Man, who strips him of his suit and tells him to stop being a hero, because he’s too reckless. Peter is destroyed, but agrees, and tries to live a normal life for a while. He stops being Spider-Man, does well in school again, and even asks Liz out to the homecoming dance. However, disaster strikes when he goes to pick Liz up and finds that her father is none other than Adrian Toomes. And as Toomes drives the kids to the dance, he recognizes Peter’s voice, and puts it all together. Toomes threatens Peter with death, but Peter knows he has no choice but to be a hero. So he ditches Liz at the dance, puts on his old costume, and heads out to stop the Vulture from stealing a cache of Avenger’s artifacts. Spider-Man takes down the Shocker, and ends up getting in a huge fight with the Vulture as he attempts to rob a jet that’s heading to the Avenger’s new base. They end up crashing the plane near Coney Island, and despite everything the Vulture has done to him, Peter goes out of his way to save Toomes, sending him to prison, but keeping him alive. So Spider-Man has saved the day, and convinced Iron Man that maybe he is ready to be an Avenger. But Peter realizes he isn’t ready for that, and decides to just keep on being himself, learning to be a better person.

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I really adored this movie. I’ve always been a huge fan of Spider-Man, and it’s surprising how hard it seems to be for people to adapt the character in a satisfying way. Sam Raimi certainly accomplished this with his first two Spider-Man films, even though I certainly have some issues with some of the characterizations in his series. And the less said about the Amazing Spider-Man series and their fixation on being “cool” the better. But then Civil War came about, and I was incredibly excited. This version of Spider-Man, as portrayed by Tom Holland looked like everything I was wanting from Spider-Man. He was funny, smart, and heroic. And though he was barely in that movie, it was enough for me to be sold on this adaptation. And this film hammered in that idea. They nail Spider-Man in this movie, and create one of the most fun superhero movies I’ve seen in a while. This film is so utterly steeped in a love for Spider-Man, and tosses out dozens of references and hints about where the franchise will go from here. I never would have imagined that we’d actually get a Spider-Man movie that focused on the high-school years of Spider-Man, let a lone one that reveled in the Archie-level drama that came along with the classic Spider-Man stories. Everyone in this film is perfect, from Tom Holland’s amazing Peter Parker portrayal to the villains to the supporting cast. All of the teachers and kids at Peter’s school are great, and I look forward to more films exploring all of their weird relationships and personalities. And those villains sure are amazing. I will admit that I’m not used to seeing this competent a version of the Shocker, but it’s still great to see the guy on the big screen. And the things they did with Michael Keaton are terrific. He’s always been an actor I’ve loved, and his insane eyes and unhinged performance really added to the menace of the Vulture. Typically I’ve never been a fan of the Vulture as a character, since he’s just a crazy old man who robs banks, but they took a rather bland villain and breathed some fantastic life and menace into him, creating one of the most interesting and affecting villains the MCU has had.

That menace isn’t the only thing going for the Vulture though. There’s another aspect to his character that really intrigued me, and ended up being one of the defining aspects of the film. Adrian Toomes isn’t a good man, but everything he does is for his family. At the beginning of the film he’s just an honest guy, trying to do right by his family and his employees. But these hopes are dashed by Tony Stark, the billionaire superhero who destroyed New York and now is going to profit by cleaning it up. Toomes was just an average guy, who did things the right way, and was punished for it. So now he’s going to do things different, he’s going to take what he can get, and live his life how he wants to. He finds a sweet spot where he can fly under the radar of the big superheroes, running an operation that lets him benefit from the fact that he’s just some guy that no one cares about. He’s the little guy, and no one cares about the little guy. Just like Peter. Peter Parker is one of my favorite superheroes of all time because he’s the little guy. Peter is a poor student, who is usually struggling to make ends meet. He’s no millionaire super-scientist who is saving the world on a lark. He’s just a kid, being a hero because it’s the right thing to do. He isn’t good enough for the Avengers, but that isn’t going to stop him. Both Toomes and Peter aren’t good enough for Tony Stark. They’re too small, too irrelevant. But what they do with that anger couldn’t be more different. Toomes tries to convince Peter that they have a lot in common, and that the little guys have to stick together in order to get one up on the people in the penthouses. But Peter doesn’t see things that way. He doesn’t think he needs to get revenge on people for discounting him, he knows he doesn’t need to prove to anyone that he’s just as good as them. He just does the right thing because he can. This film managed to reference one of the most important and famous moments in Spider-Man history, Peter being trapped under rubble, and showed us everything we ever need to know about Spider-Man. He’s never going to give up, his life may always be terrible, but he has the ability to the do the right thing, so he therefore has the responsibility to. It’s what makes Spider-Man a great character, and it’s what made this film a great story.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming was written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher FOrd, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers, directed by Jon Watts, and released by Sony Pictures Releasing, 2017.

 

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