Box Office Democracy: Spider-Man: Homecoming
There needs to be a clear change in thesis statement when you reboot a film franchise. Something like “We need Batman to be more serious and less goofy” being the reason to bring Christopher Nolan in to restart the Caped Crusader, or “Star Trek doesn’t feel relatable to young people because we’ve been serving TNG fans and older exclusively for 20 years” for the Abrams Trek reboot. I think that’s why the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man series never caught on because there wasn’t a change in thesis, it was the same attempt at superhero melodrama with big CGI villains. The only thing that changed was people didn’t seem to like Tobey Maguire anymore and Sam Raimi wanted desperately to do anything else with his time.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a clear change in tone. Sony/Marvel (I don’t know who gets credit here) have decided that they want Spider-Man to be upbeat and not dragged down by being an overwrought angst-fest. This is a movie about the wonder of being a superhero and the problems are kid problems. The problems that don’t involve a man with giant wings at least.
It’s so refreshing to see a reboot without an origin story. There’s a throwaway reference to being bitten by a spider and that’s it. There’s no working as a wrestler, there’s no Uncle Ben, and the movie doesn’t suffer one iota for the absence. We’ve been told this origin story so many times including twice in the last 15 years on the big screen. It’s nice to be given credit for cultural literacy for once. I do wish someone had said “With great power comes great responsibility” just one time because that’s an important thematic shorthand that just gets run over here, but if I have to trade that for 40 minutes of not killing Uncle Ben I’ll take it. Hopefully whoever at Warner Brothers responsible for planning the next on-screen version of killing the Waynes saw Homecoming this weekend and is thinking twice.
There’s a prominent subplot about Peter’s suit. It’s a suit Tony Stark gave him and it has a very Iron-Man-y HUD. Midway through the film the “training wheels” get taken off and we get an awful lot of material on the crazy new features and Peter’s inability to manage them. It’s funny enough but I profoundly do not care about watching Spider-Man fiddle with technology. History probably proves I’m in the minority here, as both the Ben Reilly costume change and the Iron Spider era both saw bumps in sales, but it’s not the relatable content to me. I think it’s fun when Peter engages in relatable drama; not does a scene out of Despicable Me with a plethora of gadgets. This should be a small thing, but it’s so much of the second act it gets exhausting.
It feels like every few months we get another thing from Marvel that is supposed to finally show us the MCU from a human perspective and none of them ever succeed. Daredevil was supposed to be this, as were Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and seemingly everything else. None of those particularly worked for me on that level because while they would mention the bigger things happening in the movie they either felt too far removed (like they were only coincidentally in the same world) or too close (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is massive in scope). Spider-Man: Homecoming is, finally, a success at feeling small. The stakes feel important, but at no point is someone threatening me with the end of the world or the destruction of New York. This is a movie about personal triumph and the effect, and lack of effect, that has on the later world. Spider-Man fails if the Vulture succeeds, but the worst outcome of the events in this movie wouldn’t even be worth an aside in the next Avengers film. There’s growth here and as the rest of the MCU spins in to grander, more cosmic, conflict it’s nice to have a little story that feels big instead of a giant story that rings hollow.