Let’s just make one thing clear. I have been a fan of Spider-Man for 20 years. My brother and I used to wake up early Saturday mornings to watch the television shows and read the comics. We flew to New York to see the problematic ‘Turn off The Dark’ Broadway show and saw the first five films together over a 12-year period. Spider-Man was one of our strongest bonds.
Much like any relationship, it gets difficult when a third party enters. After it was announced in 2015 that Marvel and Sony had reached a deal to incorporate Spidey into their expansive cinematic universe, it was met with conflicted feelings. Most, if not all, comic book fans rejoiced – and for good reason. One of Marvel’s most beloved characters was finally joining their family to meet heroes on the big screen alongside Captain America, Iron Man, and others. As Peter Parker was major player in the Civil War storyline, this was a huge success for producer Kevin Feige.
My hesitations were met with concerns about his standalone film and the appropriate justice for the character. His ability to meet the standards of such refined players while having to adopt to the safe and predictable storytelling model concerned me. These safe tactics have made Marvel Studios the multi-billion company it is today, and I didn’t want to see his journey be compromised by restrictions bigger than him. As I sat watching the third incarnation of my childhood hero battle the Vulture, my fears were only confirmed.
Marvel’s film model removes all emotional attachments and reduces the stakes of anything that ever happens. This is not news to Marvel critics who often feel this apathy towards the formulaic storytelling methods used by the studio. From now on, Parker is now a mere side-player among heroes who are bigger and greater than him. In Homecoming, which I saw on opening night as soon as I could, he was not elevated to the high prestige that the MCU offers, but instead was reduced to a childish and unwanted addition to the big-league actors. Peter Parker annoys Happy, he worries Tony Stark, he becomes the young kid that gets in the way of the others. It is frustrating and saddening.
This isn’t to say Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t a good film. It is, in the way that every Marvel film is ‘good’. The story hits every predictable beat, the usual stakes are put in place and ready to be met. The resolutions are as satisfying as they are in any other film. The irresistible smile appears on the audience’s face when we see other characters pop up. Herein lies the problem: do we want Spider-Man reduced to the same traps that are placed on his predecessors?
It’s true Tom Holland truly shines as Parker and Spider-Man. Michael Keaton shows us a compelling enough villain motivation. High school is high school. It’s all just absolutely fine. And that is what makes Homecoming so weak. After more than a decade of seeing Peter Parker being the strong, smart, inquisitive, polished hero we know and love, we now must endure his insignificance as a piece in a larger puzzle. He is no hero, merely a pawn in the Marvel chess board.
Many ‘marvellous’ moments exist to remind us exactly where we are. Spidey’s new suit includes Stark AI technology. The Vulture was born out of motivations created from the infamous Battle of New York seen in 2012’s The Avengers. Kids in high school are playing ‘Sex Marry Kill’ with their favourite superheroes. Spider-Man is nothing more than the new kid in the block, and offers us no unique look at this fascinating street-level character.
Perhaps we are spoiled in our pick of superhero films that increasingly pressure themselves to be part of universes. I still believe the strongest superhero films in recent years have been Fox’s ‘Logan’ and 'Deadpool’. If not for their R rating or general surprise they caused in critical reaction, but for their canon storytelling that focusses on the journey of individual characters. This is, for the foreseeable future, unobtainable for everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
For a hero who gained his ability from a radioactive bug, it is a shame that our own bug is making us so sick.