Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up where Spider-Man’s work as a fill in with the Avengers took place, from his perspective, and continues with Peter Parker back in Queens trying to find his place as a super hero, high school student, kid and part of the neighborhood, all the while supposedly under the mentorship of Tony Stark / Iron Man, and his assistant Happy.
Right off the bat you’ll see this movie is a refreshing break from previous Spider-Man movies that never really captured Peter Parker as the kid he is, and never got Queens exactly right. While some superheroes like Iron Man, Batman and Superman tend to be larger than life, capable of nearly anything, and anything but self deprecating, that’s not Peter Parker, or even Spider-Man.
Tony Stark is presented as being a self indulgent, fast living, hard partying fool, an identity not really made to distract people from his superhero identity, and Iron Man is rarely portrayed as anything less than a tremendous force.
Superman’s alter identity Clark Kent is typically made to be the weak, awkward, fearful geek, though that has looked very different in recent movies, but Superman is his complete opposite – his disguise is more his personality than a mask or costume.
And Batman broods and obsesses, playing the part of a billionaire playboy, but really being a super equipped and driven man beyond the law.
Meanwhile, Peter Parker pretty much is Spider-Man. The mask Spider-Man wears is equivalent to the mask of weakness Peter Parker portrays, occasionally betrayed when he’s not focusing, such as when he’s doing sit ups in gym with his friend, he gets distracted, and he shows his physical power. But Peter and Spider-Man are the same young man. They are curious and funny, deeply desiring to help, and not wanting anyone to get hurt, even when someone is trying to kill them. You really see this in Homecoming. The personality and the development of the character of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is the story of Homecoming. It’s a coming of age story disguised as a comic book action movie.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Queens, too. I lived in Queens for 10 years. It’s the most populous borough of New York City, and the most diverse community in the world. Someone I met from Italy who liked Queens the most of the areas of NYC she visited told me she found it to be “popolare.” That would translate to popular, but that’s not really what it means in this context. It’s common, it’s folk, it’s quotidienne.
Queens in previous Spider-Man movies was sanitized, beautified and looked like it was from an idealized plan of what Queens was or could be. The Queens of Homecoming is much closer to the real Queens. It’s busy, and messy, loud and crowded. Stores are crowded together with signs that have way too much copy under too much dirt. Queens feels like a real life Epcot, with a ridiculous number of different nationalities, cultures and races overlapping. Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Russians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Africans, Pakistanis, Chinese, Koreans and everything else you can imagine are everywhere all at once. When I once mentioned a Henna place I lived near a coworker pityingly whispered to me that Henna wasn’t stylish anymore. I wasn’t talking about the latest culture du jour adopted to seem hip and global on the Lower East Side. In Queens that was a real Henna place, where Indian women would go to get hands and feet painted. There was nothing faddish about it. In Super-Man: Homecoming we see the real Queens, like it or not.
To go further I’m going to discuss some things that could be plot spoilers, though I’ll try to avoid giving everything away so you can still read, if you haven’t seen the movie.
While the movie is a study in character development of Peter Parker / Spider-Man, it does this through a view of contrasts and similarities.
Tony Stark takes on the role of mentor to Peter Parker, hoping to keep him local and out of serious harm while he learns and grows. Tony makes comparisons between the relationship he has with Peter and the relationship he had with his own father. Despite the knowledge that his relationship with his father, Howard Stark, was not a very good one, Tony is not able to break that cycle and be the father figure he didn’t have. In fact, if anything, we see this relationship being more of a setting for a study in contrasts.
Tony is a celebrity by his own efforts. Peter strives to have an image as weak, he feels he is essentially invisible to girls, and he basically has one friend. Tony literally phones it in, sending remote control versions of his superhero alter identity to interact with Peter, while Peter pains to have first hand interactions with those in his life and those he might help. Tony is rich, Peter is poor. Tony depends entirely on his suit for powers. Peter, at the encouragement of Tony in a moment of actual guidance, does not exist as a superhero only when within his costume. Tony is moving the Avengers headquarters out of NYC to a more remote setting in New York State. Spider-Man is an urban superhero. In a scene where he’s in the suburbs he’s frustrated by the lack of buildings to affix his webs to so he can swing at great speeds, and he ends up running and crashing through golf courses and backyards in an homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
But to take the comparison and contrast further we see Spider-Man set alongside the villain of the movie, who points out that he and Peter are from the same socio economic class, they are the laborers and servants, while Stark is the privileged class in his ivory tower. Stark’s family got rich through weapons sales, and not always to people you’d want to have those weapons. The villain paints himself as being at that point in his climb from being a common man. Spider-Man has more in common with his foe than his mentor. His foe trusts Peter Parker with more than Tony Stark did. His foe seemed more like a father figure than Tony does.
In the end we see Peter and Spider-Man be exactly who they are. They aren’t trying to climb their way out of where they are, or be someone they aren’t. They are exactly who they seem to be and claim to be, and they are able to do so humbly, without press conferences, popularity or even comfort. In the end Peter Parker is just a kid from Queens, and so is Spider-Man.
This is an exciting example of what comic book movies can be. At almost 2 hours and 15 minutes, it’s insanely long compared to so many movies that seem to have been trending to under the 90 minute mark. And it’s not pure action. So despite the objectionable material being relatively light, I wouldn’t suggest taking kids to see it. Two of our party, who were exhausted from a week of Vacation Bible School, feel asleep during it. You don’t need to understand everything that’s going on with the character comparisons and contrasts in the movie, which go even beyond what I described, to enjoy it, so don’t feel like you need to bring a pad of paper and several #2 pencils with you, either. But if you get the chance, go see it. It’s one of the better superhero movies that have come out in a while.