Column by: Max Mallet
Spider-Man: Homecoming has been in theaters for nearly two months. After seeing it a second time, I can confidently state that it’s by far the best Spider-Man film of all time. Let’s dive into five reasons why.
1. Marvel delivered the Peter Parker/Spider-Man fans deserve.
This third Spider-Man adaptation on the silver screen is ultimately more comic-book accurate than the previous two. In many of the most beloved Spider-Man comics, such as Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter is depicted as a kid in high-school. This is the prevailing Spider-Man image in the comic-geek zeitgeist: a young, athletic kid who makes a lot of mistakes on his way to becoming a super-hero. Before Captain America: Civil War introduced us to our new Spider-Man, this persona had never been fully realized on the silver screen. Both Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were in their late 20s during their first Spider-Man films, while Holland was still a teenager in Civil War.
Holland is great as both Peter and Spider-Man, a scale which neither Maguire nor Garfield never truly balance. As Peter Parker, Holland builds on his fan-service portrayal of the awkward, affable teenager from Civil War. A high school sophomore in Homecoming, this Peter Parker is the protagonists Marvel fans have deserved since they saw Spider-Man on the silver screen for the first time in 2002. Holland, a British actor, actor passes for an American high-school teenager with ease.
As Spider-Man, Holland makes the character as relatable as he’s ever been, even while performing acrobatics in a Tony Stark-engineered costume. Holland’s Spider-Man performs exactly how a real-life teenage super-hero would: with athleticism, enthusiasm and astonishing naïveté. Previous Spider-Man iterations depicted a young man who mastered his abilities quickly, while this new adaptation shows a Spider-Man who can be bested in combat and with wits. This is a Spider-Man who makes mistakes, and lots of them. Holland’s performance fully realizes that Spider-Man is a kid in a universe of deities, monsters and men playing god.
2. Michael Keaton’s Vulture is at once relatable, yet menacing.
Spider-Man has a very robust rogues’ gallery. However, many of these villains are complete cornballs. Enter exhibit A, the Vulture: an aging criminal in a bird-suit who’s barely a super-hero-level threat, and most famous for trying to harness Spider-Man’s youth to reverse the effects of aging. This sounds like a character who’s ripe to ruin a film.
But then, enter an actor who’s familiar with portraying winged personas: Michael Keaton. Most often associated with Beetlejuice and 1989’s Batman, Keaton took a corny villain with an outdated costume and injected new life into him. Keaton’s Vulture is relatable at the beginning of Homecoming, granting him some buffer against the crimes he commits as the movie unfolds. You immediately understand why he holds disdain for Tony Stark, and frankly, he might be more likable.
Villains have been the achilles heel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There hasn’t been a rogue that’s both likable and menacing before the Vulture. Frankly, given the character’s comic book history, the amount of menace that Keaton was able to genuinely accrue is impressive.
3. New York City, but specifically Queens, is fully realized.
By comparison, the other five Spider-Man films of this century are whitewashed versions of New York City that don’t accurately portray its all-roads-lead-here diversity. Homecoming organically remedies this problem. Throughout the film, viewers get to know a cast of Peter’s classmates in an incredibly diverse school. Peter exchanging Spanish banter with a deli owner and eating Thai food isn’t some hollow virtue signaling. It reflects the ethnic tapestry of the most diverse borough of the most diverse city in the U.S. Marvel’s diversity efforts doesn’t fall into the trap of ‘tokenism’ either. For example, there are two prominent black females on the high school debate team, and both display their agency throughout the film. While Homecoming doesn’t avoid every racial pitfall, it does a commendable job of creating a city that’s realistically diverse.
4. Easter Eggs
MCU films have a penchant for dropping easter eggs for the geekiest of geeks. Even still, Homecoming threw disproportionately big slabs of red meat to the Spider-Man super-fans.
First, consider Donald Glover’s character, Aaron Davis. During the hilarious interrogation scene in the parking garage, Davis drops a poignant line: “I have a nephew around here.” A seemingly mundane statement, but in Marvel’s Ultimates comic book universe, Davis has a pretty famous nephew: Miles Morales, the young black and latino Spider-Man. Marvel leaving the door open to add Miles into the MCU is a genius move.
The other major easter egg recalls one of the great Marvel comic book events in recent memory: Civil War. Two things are unique about Spider-Man in this storyline:
- Tony Stark creates an ‘Iron Spider’ suit for him that’s a techier version of his traditional costume.
- Peter Parker reveals his secret identity to the public in dramatic fashion.
While Spidey’s standard suit in Homecoming is more technologically advanced than the blue-and-red threads in the comics, this in itself wasn’t the easter egg. The writers brilliantly saved the reveal for a scene at the end of the film where Tony Stark wants to introduce Spider-Man as the newest Avenger to a room full of reporters.
The crowd reaction to the suit reveal during the opening weekend was absolutely electric. This suit, or a similar one, will likely make an appearance in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. The film will have an epic space-opera feel to it, and if we know anything about Tony Stark, it’s that each new invention is an improvement on the last. One struggles to imagine exactly how many bells and whistles the Iron Spider suit will come standard with. Who knows… maybe it’ll come in black, too.
In addition to the fan service aspect of the Iron Spider scene at the end of the film, Marvel Studios left the door open for this scene at a later date:
Granted, Peter Parker is 15 in Homecoming, and the next two Spider-Man films will take place during his junior and senior years of high school. If this scene ever does come to fruition, it wouldn’t be identical, but it would be Marvel’s attempt to hit the emotional notes of “Luke, I am your father.”
5. Connectivity to the larger Marvel universe raises the stakes.
What’s so great about reading super-hero comics is having your favorite characters interact with each other. For example, Spider-Man is liable to bump into Daredevil because both of them beat up bad guys in New York City. It’s a treat to see how characters play off of one another, both emotionally and in action sequences. Having Spider-Man interact with the Avengers fully realizes the MCU as comic book panels playing on the silver screen. This Spider-Man harnesses the playful nature and emotional range to compliment this ever-expanding cinematic universe.
In particular, Tony Stark serving as Peter’s mentor makes perfect sense for a Spider-Man in 2017. He’s a futurist who lives, eats and breaths technology. Their partnership also helps avoid the eye-roll-worthy gimmick deployed by past films (and frankly, comics) of ‘Peter happens to be a brilliant costume designer on top of everything else.’
All in all, Homecoming perfectly balances modernizing Marvel’s flagship super-hero with retaining the qualities that brought him to public prominence decades ago.