The Wheel and Axle

Spider-Man is no sidekick.

by on Jul.22, 2017, under Film & TV, Geeky

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I watched Spiderman: Homecoming two weeks ago, the day before I flew off to my Indonesia vacation. Due to my travel, I’ve only been able to really gather my thoughts now, which in a way is a good thing as I managed to revisit my views of the movie. I initially rated it very good, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized its flaws.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is most definitely a huge improvement over the last Spider-Man movie, which if we’re going to be honest was such a disaster that they had to reboot the franchise yet again in less than a couple of years. The new movie, of course, is a fairly good movie in and of itself, regardless if its predecessor set a low bar or not.

Homecoming does the smart move of not rehashing the origin yet again – after all, aside from having been told twice in prior series, it’s one of the most famous origin stories, and the casual mention of having bitten by a (radioactive) spider was enough so that we can move forward with something different.

Of course, the million dollar question is – is Homecoming right up there with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 2, regarded as one of the best films of the genre? The answer is no, not by a long shot. There have been so many excellent movies in that league: The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman, X2: X-Men United, Logan, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Watchmen. (I’d personally throw in Batman v Superman in there, but it was a very divisive movie.) Of these films, The Dark Knight, Logan, and Wonder Woman were in my opinion game-changers.

Homecoming? Not so much.

The trouble with Homecoming is that it tries to be so different from its predecessors and busy reminding us that he now exists in the MCU that it forgets the roots of Spider-Man. Spidey has always been an everyman. It’s what makes him different and is what makes him Marvel’s premiere (and probably only truly iconic) super-hero. He is self-made, a scientific genius who made a name for himself without the help of any other hero.

And yet, here in this movie he becomes a mere protégé of Iron Man, who in my opinion should never have been shoehorned into Spidey’s origins. For more than half the movie, the shadow of Iron Man lingers in every thing that Peter Parker does, and the Tony Stark hero worship was just out of place and, frankly, annoying. This is especially when you remember that, in Civil War, Tony recruited a fifteen-year old boy to go into battle in a different country.

Moreover, for a good part of the movie, Spidey actually goes around fighting in what is basically a spider-themed Iron Man suit, complete with an AI assistant. Gone is the self-made hero, replaced by Iron Man’s sidekick. It is not a coincidence that the best part of the movie is when he finally loses the suit and fights as Spider-Man. Perhaps this is part of the moral – that it’s the man and not the suit that matters – but there is no need to put Iron Man into the narrative because Spider-Man, in many iterations, has learned this lesson.

I understand part of the reason for Iron Man’s presence is to remind us that Spidey is now part of the MCU. There are many ways to do this without making Spider-Man simply an extension of another (and in my opinion lesser) super-hero.

The other main issue of the movie is an extension of the above issue. As a friend put it, the movie feels weightless – that there are no true stakes. Because of Deus Ex Iron Man, for the most part we never really feel that Spidey is in any sort of danger. The only time you feel true tension is in the car scene with Toomes aka The Vulture. Yes, as the protagonist, Spidey is expected to win in the end, but as with any similar movie, we still want to feel that such a victory is earned – that the hero encountered true hardships, difficulties, and challenges that make the ultimate success that much sweeter.

Is the movie bad? Most definitely not. It’s fairly fun and well-made, and despite a forgettable supporting cast other than Marisa Tomei, it’s able to delineate a solid character arc for Peter Parker. I’m still not a fan of Tom Holland, but he did well in the role. Regardless, Maguire still makes for a better Peter, and Garfield still makes for a better Spider-Man.

The true star, of course, is Michael Keaton’s Vulture – finally, the MCU has an actually compelling and well-rounded villain after Loki. Who would have thought that the Vulture, of all villains, would be that character? Michael gives the role a level of gravitas that the rest of the film doesn’t really have.

I feel Homecoming is still below The Amazing Spider-Man 1 (though better than its sequel) and at par with Maguire’s Spider-Man 3. I also personally preferred it over Guardians of the Galaxy 2, making it my third favorite 2017 superhero movie so far after Wonder Woman and Logan (we’ll see how Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok affects these rankings later this year).

Now that Spidey has been established in the MCU, I do hope they start making him Spider-Man instead of Iron Man’s Robin – because in many ways, this does feel like a sidekick movie where the sidekick is trying to prove himself and getting out of the hero’s shadow.

And the truth is, Spidey should never have been in Iron Man’s shadow in the first place.

My Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars (two weeks ago I would’ve rated this an 8.5)

Directed By: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. (ugh), Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, with Gwyneth Paltrow (ugh) and Tyne Daly.

 

 

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