We’re in the home stretch! I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
Just shy of a decade after Tony Stark declared “I am Iron Man” Spider-Man: Homecoming takes a moment to explore, for the first time, the effects living amongst gods and monsters has on the everyday folk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man gave us a smaller scale through the lens of thieves and scientific industrialists, but Homecoming shows us the MCU as seen by a high-schooler and a construction worker.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is unlike any previous cinematic iteration of the character in that he’s grown up and lives in a world of superheroes before becoming one himself. He lives in a world with a template for superheroics. His is a Spider-Man with preconceived notions of what Spider-Man should be, which proves to be just as stressful for a young dork as being the lone superhero in a regular-ass, pre-shared-universe Spider-Man movie. When he bemoans “I just feel like I should be doing more,” for instance, it’s hard not to see echoes of the same sort of sentiment that got Tony Stark into trouble in Age of Ultron.
Through Peter’s expectations of what he should be as a superhero we get some insight into what the Avengers mean to the Joe the Plumbers of the MCU who haven’t had a city dropped on them or otherwise been made into collateral damage. And it turns out, at least to Peter and his youthful ilk, that the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are just kind of grown-ups. They’re weird authority figures that are at once less than and more than human, who espouse hackneyed wisdom, who don’t really understand. After all, the youth of the MCU don’t get to watch the MCU, and so its heroes to them are more unattainable ideals than nuanced characters.
Unless of course you’re Michael Keaton’s Adrianne Toomes, in which case they’re deplorable demons of the highest order.
In Toomes we get a taste of a less enthusiastic, though not at all apathetic, perception of the Avengers. They are above the law. They are above reproach. They are above everyday struggle, above the sting of sweat in the eye, above working for an honest living.
Though they never share screentime, Toomes’ vilification of Tony Stark proves particularly potent. If Tony is reformed Big Pharma, Toomes is an opioid dealer, hocking a variation of the same product on a smaller scale to less affluent clientele. Though Stark has continuously attempted to salve the sins of his past as a weapons dealer, so far as we know Stark Industries hasn’t exactly thrown away all the money it made off of those nifty Jericho missiles. I mean, dude drives an Audi.
Inversely, we’re given a glimpse of Toomes’ more relatable wealth, nothing to thumb one’s nose at but a drop in the bucket compared to Tony Stark’s toys, just as the deeds that earned him his meager riches are infinitesimal compared to the global scale on which Stark hocked his wares. But Toomes is a villain. When he is an arms dealer he is a bad guy despite being motivated by the call to support his family, a far nobler pursuit than any that ever fueled Stark Industries’ profit margins.
Through Michael “Bird ‘Batman’ Man” Keaton’s Adrienne “The Vulture” Toomes we see that just as the Avengers can serves as symbols to aspire to, they can serve as something to hate.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gave us kids in detention and bodega owners and school gym teachers. It gave us a real, sustained look at the world outside our window within the MCU and I can only imagine that bonkers spectacle and stakes the franchise has to offer in Infinity War will be all the more affecting and nuanced for having taken this humble detour.
Did you know there were other Spider-Mans BEFORE this Spider-Man? For more: