#NotMySpiderMan or How I Learned About Film & Am Shocked This Wasn’t A Bomb

Praise is being heaped upon the new Spider-Man film, but while we want a Spider-Man who errs & sometimes makes the wrong choice, does being a modern teen mean Spider-Man has to be stupid?

This piece appears on website comicbookmovie.com.

Everyone is very excited about the new Spider-Man film, sub-titled Homecoming, which finally brings Spidey into the Marvel cinematic comics-verse to interact with characters like Iron Man and Hulk. There have been, shall we say, some problems with the Spider-Man superhero franchises of yore.

We had director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire team up in a series where many felt Peter Parker, the man beneath the Spider-Man mask, was too whiny. Raimi’s Spider-Man series also changed comic book party-girl MJ into a girl next door stereotype and struggling actor, and, for some reason, put villain Green Goblin into a Power Rangers-style fright helmet. And I’ve not even mentioned the muddled threequel that had too many villains, too much silliness, too many coincidences for even the most gracious audience member to buy, and added an alien to the otherwise earthly movie mythos (something that works just fine in the comics, where beings from outer space are commonplace).

After that series was forced to wrap up, director Marc Webb developed Amazing Spider-Man, Sony’s second Spidey movie franchise with a re-cast Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield — who played Parker as an angry outcast rather than a whiny nerd (not a bad concept, really). The first movie proved a lack of understanding for the mythos (James Bond intrigue not wanted here, thanks), of New York (which should not resemble London a la Disney’s 1967 Mary Poppins), and of what fans wanted from their Spider-Man (plots that make sense — seriously). This franchise got overblown fast, with the second movie giving us a Transformers 4-level spectacle and the total lack of plot, motivation, and context for nearly every moment to match.

Fans were elated, as was I, with the announcement that Spidey would next join the Marvel movie-verse, with Sony sharing their filmic ownership of the character with Marvel, the latter of which has a far superior record ushering in superhero franchises than the studio which actually gave us the modern superhero film with Bryan Singer’s X-Men. (Some give this nod to Tim Burton, but considering the total lack of good superhero movies in the 10 years subsequent to Burton’s terribly uneven Batman film, I’d say that credit is misplaced.) For every good X-Men film, there’s a bad one. For every good Fantastic Four effort…well, let’s not even go there.

The new Spider-Man appeared for the first time in Captain America 3 — actually titled Civil War. We met affable 15-year-old Peter Parker, a nervous, self-deprecating kid who can catch speeding cars, develop amazing webbing to use in his battle against evil and who, in costume as masked “menace” Spider-Man, can hold his own against several Avengers at once, including Captain America his own self.

And there’s the rub.

I love the look and feel of this Spider-Man film. I like Tom Holland as the first Spider-Man who truly feels like a modern-day teen. There are some terrific — and very comic book-like — plot twists and a few fun innovations with Spidey’s suit. Young Aunt May and most of Peter’s friends are incredibly refreshing, the movie absolutely has the best ending of any Marvel movie (and I mean the very last second — it’s genius), and this Spider-Man — the character himself — is essentially the Spidey we want in the MCU, but being a teen does not mean you’re a moron. Being irresponsible doesn’t mean you forget how to do the things a special spider bite gave you the ability to do against the Avengers. And being a kid doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten that a man, who was essentially your dad, died just eight or so months prior when you yourself could have stopped it.

Somehow, Spider-Man: Homecoming has forgotten all of those things. And it could have had them without re-treading what’s come before.

The Spider-Man from Civil War was nowhere to be seen in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The thankfully angst-less Peter Parker in this movie, as played quite spectacularly by Holland, is more than just a loser (a common theme in the Spidey comics), he’s a stupid loser who seems to have little ability for analytical thought or superheroism. By the time the character displays both of these abilities — more than halfway through in a scene taking place at the Washington Monument — Spidey has already proven himself an inept fool who cannot get it right…and I wanted him to stop trying.

Taking place after Civil War, the movie is so determined that Peter Parker is a fun-loving kid with the weight of potential Avengers membership on his shoulders, it forgets who Peter is. Sure, they show him in a school for smart kids, and, yes, we see a quick moment where he’s apparently improving his web fluid, but why is he so completely unable to stop a few ATM robbers, unable to figure out what to do with a bicycle thief, and absolutely uncertain how to stop alien weapons technology — that he faced earlier in the movie — before it tears apart a ferry? Why can’t Peter stop a simple van when he was able to stop Captain America, his pal The Falcon, and super-assassin-turned-hero Winter Soldier-slash-Bucky?

Spider-Man’s spider-sense was completely excised, as was his memory of the uncle he had in the comics and previous two films. A subtle mention of “everything Aunt May’s been through lately” being the only potential reference to the death that, in previous incarnations, spurred Peter to be a hero in the first place. While that’s OK, there’s a major set piece where Peter is desperate to summon strength, and it’s in that moment — a nod to one of the most famous moments in the comics — that a 60-second recap of his origin would have fit perfectly, answering questions the film posed earlier on.

But that does not happen.

In the realm of plot uncertainties, Peter’s best friend from school hacks his Spider-suit, which was supplied by Iron Man, removing what the iron-clad hero called “training wheels protocols.”  However, without detailing what said protocols are, removing them actually offered Peter more protection from danger and more opportunities to stay out of trouble, rendering this minor sub-plot senseless (and let’s not even start on the fact that it looks like it took his pal Ned a few hours at most to hack Iron Man-level technology — they’re geniuses, sure, but someone like Iron Man inventor Tony Stark should be giving them a run for their money).

Later in the movie, after it’s made clear Peter Parker has the strength to hold several tons of steam ship together (as seen in the trailer), Peter Parker is confronted by the villain, who fans know as The Vulture. During the entire battle, Spider-Man gets his butt handed to him again and again, never landing a blow or showing his much-vaunted strength, a showing that would have been an amazing moment of humility for The Vulture character who felt the world owed him everything and that he was perched (ahem) above it all, in a deserving position of power. That is to say, Peter should have burst the villain’s bubble and proven he was not just a better man, which he predictably does of course, but a stronger one too — ‘cause, you know, he’s a frickin’ superhero who fought side-by-side, and against, The Avengers.

Another issue is that every superhero, in his civilian I.D., needs a foil. In the early comics, this was Flash Thompson — BMOC, super-jock. The screenwriters gave Flash a big revamp, feeling there was no sense of concern for Pete battling a jock since we all know he can beat up Flash-the-bully if he really wants. What we get instead is a (well-played by actor Tony Revolori) douche-baggy nerd who never seems to be able to get Peter’s goat in any way that resonates. This purported bully always seems to get the short end of the stick. There’s a party scene where he attempts to pick on Peter, but with Peter absent, and the attempt so goofy, I felt sorry for Flash, not Peter. Going with the big jock archetype and, rather than making him dumb, making him a genius, could have given Peter an honest to goodness challenge — sure, Pete’s physically strong in spite of looks, but what if modern-day Flash was actually smarter and funnier? That would have even made Flash an outcast in this school of smart, skinny nerdy dudes and dudettes. How’s that for a bully we feel sorry for!

But Flash wasn’t much of anything.

And, finally, speaking of plot contrivances that don’t work: The Vulture’s plot don’t work (er…my English am good).

Michael Keaton’s Vulture has been selling weapons, culled from previous superhero battles, via an underground for, apparently, eight years according to this movie (although, based on fans looking at the movie timelines, some argue Marvel erred, and it should be less in the MCU timeline). This is odd since, while there have been references to other battles and the like that our Marvel movie superheroes have had off-camera, there has been nary a reference to something like this, not even in the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, save for an episode which may have had this plot (or am I confusing it with Daredevil on Netflix — so many shows, so little room left in my brain). And I am more than baffled at why, when The Vulture’s scheme is revealed, we the audience later learn that Tony Stark called the FBI to deal with it. Not some version of S.H.I.E.L.D., not The Avengers, not a B-team of superheroes, but the FBI. It just seems like the kind of thing you might want a superhero to jump on.

The movie is exciting with a couple of gigantic — even epic — set pieces while keeping the stakes fairly small and personal to Peter, something much-needed in the Marvel universe right now. It’s Peter’s personal story, where, unlike the earlier Raimi movies, Iron Man — not the villain of the week — is Pete’s surrogate dad. These things, and the costume, are wonderful changes to the Spidey franchise (although, I do find it ironic that, with the lack of metallic webs, mirror eyes, or coolly patterned costume, this is actually the first Spider-Man suit that looks like Peter could have made it…and yet he didn’t). I love that this Spider-Man is, apparently, going to lead us into a new era of Marvel heroes and that the behind-the-scenes team has big plans for our web-headed hero.

Yes, I want a Spider-Man who errs, who sometimes makes the wrong choice, isn’t perfect, and is still learning the superheroic ropes. But, between a plot with many holes, and a “hero” who the filmmakers have established is brilliant yet acts like an unintelligent fool, I had trouble caring about this particular Peter Parker. I hope with the next installment we see more Civil War Spidey and less Homecoming Spidey. I look forward to your thoughts and debates below!


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