As you may have heard, Marvel and Sony have dropped a new trailer for the upcoming film ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ this week. As only the second full length trailer to date, this represents one of the most inclusive previews we’ve seen of Spider-Man’s proper introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his scene-stealing appearance in ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
Before we get to the trailer itself and my reactions, I’d like to take a moment to establish my “Spider-Cred”, if you will. Spider-Man, is my favorite superhero. Period. I’ve been reading Spider-Man comics for twenty years, first picking it up in the summer of 1995, smack in the middle of the now-infamous ‘Clone Saga’. Since then, I’ve read as much Spider-Man as I can get my hands on. But even before that fateful summer, I was a faithful viewer of the 1994 ‘Spider-Man’ animated series. That show, along with ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ was one of my most important gateways to comics. At the risk of sounding dramatic, were it not for that cartoon, I might not be writing for ScienceFiction.com today.
But as a lifelong Spidey fan, I find myself surprised that I’m more worried than excited for ‘Homecoming’, particularly given the largely excellent job Marvel has done adapting their characters to the screen thus far.
Take a moment to watch the trailer if you haven’t already, and then join me below for my thoughts.
Probably the first thing that leaps out of the trailer at me is Spider-Man’s tech-infused costume. While I like the look of the suit, I’m less enamored with all of the tech that’s apparently been incorporated into it. In particular, this trailer reveals that the spider emblem on the chest can act as some sort of autonomous drone and showcases the suit’s ability to perform a ‘Back to the Future Part II’-style shrink fit. This is Spider-Man, for God’s sake. Did he get this thing from Tony Stark or Doc Brown? With the notable exception of his web shooters and spider tracers, gadgets have never been a big part of Spider-Man.
One of the more persistently troubling elements of the trailers has been Spider-Man’s supporting cast – or lack thereof. While we do know there is a reasonably sized cast inhabiting Peter’s high school life, we’ve seen next to nothing of them so far, and what little we had seen of familiar deviates so far from their ostensible comic book counterparts as to effectively be an in-name-only representation. I’m talking, of course, about “Ned Leeds”. What’s with the quotation marks, you ask? Well based on everything we’ve seen of the character, that kid has nothing in common with any version of Ned Leeds I’ve ever read or seen in prior adaptations. To the extent he’s recognizable at all, it’s as a fairly straight representation of Ganke Lee. Ganke, for those who might not recognize the name, is a character inreoduced in the Miles Morales era of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’. In that series, Ganke acts as Miles’ best friend and confidant, and “Ned” is by all appearances filling that exact role here. So why not just bring Ganke into the movie? If you want to introduce a Miles Morales character into Peter Parker’s social circle, go for it. But don’t just drop him into the movie and slap the name of an utterly unrelated character on him. This would be less of an issue for me if it didn’t seem that Peter Parker’s supporting cast – arguably one of the best in comics – had been utterly eviscerated in this version of the story. There’s more to it than that, but we’ll get back to this later. Trust me.
Let’s move on to the ferry set piece. That looks great! From the quips right on down to the iconography of the Web Head straining to hold the ship together with his webbing, that looks like some rock solid Spidey action… and then Iron Man shows up. This rather nicely encapsulates one of my biggest worries about ‘Homecoming’. Spider-Man is a loner. Always has been. It’s not just that he was “Midtown High’s only professional wallflower.” He was also frequently the odd man out among the Marvel heroes, who (especially in the early days, which this film is meant to present) didn’t trust or even necessarily like him. And Peter would react in kind, often being the first to tell off his fellow heroes if they got on his nerves. This renders him one of the most fiercely (some would say stubbornly) independent superheroes there is.
Not that I don’t get the studio’s rationale for including Iron Man, mind you. It’s basically a way of reassuring audiences that ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ is a “real” Marvel movie – for real! And , for one, am always thrilled to see Robert Downey Jr. return to the role of Tony Stark. I’m just not crazy about the way they’re handling his relationship with Spider-Man. Indeed, the whole idea of Iron Man serving as some sort of role model/mentor/surrogate daddy for Spider-Man just rubs me the wrong way. The closest thing there is to any sort of precedent for this is ten years ago in the ‘Civil War’ storyline. And not to put too fine a point on it, but it was forced then and it feels forced now.
Going back to the idea of Peter’s social isolation, these concerns cut to the core of how that has long defined what kind of person Peter Parker is and what being Spider-Man means to him. You see, as much as anything else, being Spider-Man has often served as a release valve, allowing Peter to don the tights and blow off steam. And while he eventually developed a rich social circle, even that progression from pariah to social butterfly happened as a more or less direct result of the increased confidence he gained through his exploits as Spider-Man. This isn’t some obscure, psychoanalytic take on the character, either. It’s one of the most explicit ongoing themes in the initial Stan Lee/Steve Ditkno run of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’. By contrast, ‘Homecoming’ presents us with a Spider-Man whose relationship with Iron Man suggests a premature degree of acceptance into the superhero community, even as the mere presence of Ned/Ganke as a confidante in his civilian life undermines the alienation that was such a crucial part of the character’s psyche in high school.
Perhaps the worst offense of the trailer, though, comes in what appears to be the aftermath of the ferry incident, as Iron Man dresses Spidey down and the only response he has to offer is “I was just trying to be like you.” What the hell is that?! I don’t care if he’s fifteen or fifty, Spider-Man doesn’t try to thwart a crime and rescue a ferry full of people because he’s Mr. Hero Worship. He does it because he has the power, and therefore the responsibility to help! Drop a massive guilt complex on top of that and you have literally the entire core of the character right there. But apparently that’s also the core of what the writers of ‘Homecoming’ don’t get about what makes their lead character tick, which is troubling to say the least.
But hey, how about that Michael Keaton? I am loving what we’ve seen of the Vulture so far. Let’s be honest. Despite his prominence in the wall crawler’s rogue’s gallery, the Vulture has always been kind of a lame villain. But as lame as he can be, he’s long been a character with a lot of untapped potential. And with no less an actor than Michael Keaton in the role, ‘Homecoming’ is poised to at last tap some of that.
Regardless of the reservations I have about ‘Homecoming’, I still quite like what I’ve seen of Tom Holland as Spider-Man. But as a lifelong Spidey fan, I can’t help but worry about the caliber of the material he’s being given to work with. The Marvel stamp of approval is supposed to mean something. It’s why we were all so excited when Marvel and Sony announced the deal that would bring Spider-Man into the MCU, after all. But this is shaping up to be the loosest, most missing-the-point adaptation that Marvel Studios has offered up to date. And that is a deeply disappointing thing to see for my favorite superhero, especially given that Sam Raimi’s first two ‘Spider-Man’ movies were (along with Bryan Singer’s initial outings with the X-Men) basically the gold standard of superhero flicks in the early 2000s.
And so I find myself asking the same of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ that I do of DC every time they drop a fresh dumpster fire into theaters: “Please don’t screw this up!”
Directed by Jon Watts, ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ sees the web slinger return to the big screen following a well-received cameo in ‘Captain America: Civil War’. The film – which is set to swing into theaters on July 7, 2017 – stars Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, and Robert Downey Jr.