Comedy, Diversity Make ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ the Best Comic Book Movie of the Year

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This was a journey. Not the journey that takes place in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but our journey as movie goers and fans who have watched the evolution in the backdrop of our lives: Spider-Man and how his story is told. Spider-Man the property. Fans of the character, both new and old, are at a groundswell of excitement for this, the sixth Spider-Man movie in recent history and third reboot of the franchise, and that, regardless the fame of a character, is sort of a miraculous feat. I am excited to write this. Spider-Man has had a hero’s journey, off the screen as much as on, so amazing that the answer to the question is one of triumph itself: How did we get here?

When the third Spider-Man recast was announced back in 2015, it was met with the understandable skepticism of fans who had seen it all before. Hollywood had already given five recent Spidey films and two Peter Parkers, and the promise of another superhero origin story and the third death of Uncle Ben brought even the biggest fans a twinge of cynicism at the reboot. Remember that feeling, when it was announced Peter Parker would be played by then 15-year old Tom Holland? I wrote about the news and subsequent grumbling from fans – in what I called the Ja Rule problem – and who could blame them? Spider-Man had, after all, been featured in 5 solo films since 2002, so a return to Marvel studios could not possibly replace the spark of emotion we had lost in our gained comfort with seeing web-slinging on the big screen. Could it?

Of course, you know the answer, and maybe you were a true believer all along: it made its spark, starting with Spider-Man’s cheer-worthy arriving scene in Marvel’s Civil War. Then a flame was kindled in the post-credits, a teen Parker endowed with Stark tech. And here, in the aptly-titled nod to his fans, Spider-Man: Homecoming is less a movie than an event – a prodigal son returning and being welcomed back with open arms, an opportunity for fans to forget the past and start anew, and Marvel – with its most recognizable figure – regained the excitement of our first time even though we had lost count. They didn’t just replace the spark, Marvel Studios built a fire. And so, the important question now: how good is Spider-Man: Homecoming? The short answer: the most fun superhero film you have seen in a long time.

Where Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds is taking a simple twist on origin story films of the past. Take Spider-Man, add super-powers, subtract Uncle Ben, and voilà. The equation does not begin with mere Peter because Peter is already Spider-Man from the very beginning; no radioactive spider, no first-time-webbing exposition, no mention of Uncle Ben. That last one is worth saying, because for most fans it was what we grew most tired of, watching Uncle Ben die a potentially third time, and so I say again: Spider-Man: Homecoming hardly even alludes to Uncle Ben, let alone does it use his death as an emotional staple of the film. Yet Homecoming keeps all the fun of an origin in an innovative way, courtesy of Stark Tech innovation. Instead of learning to use his powers the first time, mastering the suit itself is the power he learns after Tony Stark upgrades him from his homemade cut-off hoodie. Spider-Man’s suit has literally hundreds of features, and thanks to a little hacking from his best friend Ned, Peter goes from “training wheels protocol” mode to having full access to all the bells and whistles to help him save the day.

Of course, it’s not that easy, as Peter goes through a series of successes and failures that intertwine with one of the secondary themes of the film: his own uncle-nephew type of relationship with Tony Stark. While Spider-Man wants nothing more than to exercise his great power and responsibility by joining the Avengers, Stark has a legitimate fear of willingly and irresponsibly placing a 15-year old kid in harm’s way. Stark hides his concern with trademark wit and snarkiness, but it rings sincere that if something were to happen to Peter in the big league, he would feel at fault.

Meanwhile, Peter himself wants nothing more than what any teenager would want if given superpowers, and that’s to use them. The whole comedic premise of the movie, as described by Kevin Feige, is playing with the idea of what a teenager would do if they gained superpowers, and Spider-Man: Homecoming plays on that theme time and again with the funny, nerdy, young Peter Parker who hits the ground when he casts his web too long, and is stuck on foot when there are no skyscrapers around, and runs through backyards like Ferris Bueller, and cracks wise despite being in way over his head. Where Tobey McGuire was more serious Spidey and Andrew Garfield was the lighter nerd, Tom Holland is the one who hits all the dimensions of Peter Parker, humor first. Because more than anything, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a big, fun comedy.

On the other end of Spider-Man is Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, as the villain who cuts the comedy with seriousness. What stands out in his writing, as well as Keaton’s portrayal, is Vulture as an intentionally straightforward, relatable, and unfortunately topical villain. He is not crazed, nor does he want to take over the world – he wants to thrive in this new world of aliens and supervillains who destroyed their city in The Avengers, who then took their jobs to profiteer off cleaning up the mess. It is a thoughtful tie-in to other Marvel films – The Avengers and Civil War, specifically – that connects Spider-Man: Homecoming into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, and catapults Spider-Man into higher prominence like Captain America or Iron Man as the connective tissues of the MCU. It is certainly heavy-handed at times, but Homecoming ties into the larger universe early and often.

Fantastic portrayals by one of the most diverse casts you will find in a comic book movie will contribute to a fun trip to the theater. There is a lot of racebending that takes a firm stance on the debate of adapting original characters to fix industry mistakes of the past, from Zendaya’s brusque, funny Michelle, to Laura Harrier’s nerdy Liz, to Tony Revolori’s Flash. There are easily more speaking parts with non-white characters than white, so from the bodega owner to the cast extra cheering on the ferry, the cast truly reflects the diversity of its Queens, New York setting. Add to that, the high school characters redefine what it means to be a nerd to be better based in present day than 1990. Flash is still the bully, but a brown-skinned one who uses his clout more than his physicality to abuse; Liz is the heartthrob senior, but on the academic decathlon team along with the rest. They are heroes and bullies, popular and unpopular, and everything in between, all while being nerds. To be smart was not to be sentenced to being monolithic.

See Spider-Man: Homecoming for its celebration of the character, his return and integration into the MCU, the wide diversity of its cast representing the beauty of New York, and its comedy. It might be the most fun you will have in theaters all year. Spider-Man: Homecoming premieres in theaters Friday, July 7th.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer and pop culture savant in New York City. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Twitter @jordanmcalhoun

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