Road to Infinity War – Spider-Man: Homecoming, or, Marvel’s Joe the Plumber

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.

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PSA: When it comes to grammar, don’t lie down on the job! Remember kids, it’s “Spider-Man” with a hyphen.

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:

July 25, 2017: That Parker Luck (Again (Again)), or, Spider-Man: Homecoming

That Parker Luck (Again (Again)), or, Spider-Man: Homecoming

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I’m not actually going to come up with a Beats by Dre/Spider pun, but I’ll sure as hell let you know that’s theoretically what goes here.

When I started putting together some notes for my inevitably groundbreaking Spider-Man: Homecoming blog post a huge part of my thinking about the film involved the perceived tug-of-war between providing a fresh take on the character for fans who have seen Spidey in six previous films and providing a traditional take on the character for younger audience members who may not be familiar with Spider-Man because they were six when Tobey Maguire (did you know that’s how that’s spelled cause it was a shock to me) danced himself clean in Spider-Man 3.

Then I remembered there had been a whole other Spider-Man between then and now, one that came out in a post-Avengers world no less.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s greatest weaknesses are arguably not its own. In a bubble its blemishes would perhaps go entirely unnoticed, but it can be hard to escape the fact that it is the second reboot of a franchise in five years.

Though one always has to keep in mind that every superhero film is somebody’s first, Homecoming doesn’t go out of its way at all to do anything particularly revolutionary with the character. While it spares audiences the drudgery of watching Batman’s parents be gunned down for the 27th time, in comparison to its IP forerunners Homecoming feels more like the transition between Dalton and Brosnan than Connery to Moore. Even thrust into the expanse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, RDJ in tow, it doesn’t manage to make the exploits of a charming young man perpetually disappointing his love interest and alienating his Aunt in the name of responsibility feel any fresher than they did in 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man. Watching Peter Parker, this time played by Tom Holland who is quite likely the best Spidery yet, get himself into one secret-identity-SNAFU after another really drove home just how much I appreciate the unspoken heroism that is the MCU’s usual dismissal of secret identities.

Tired tropes aside, Homecoming does spare its audience the insufferable “she can’t know my secret identity because somehow that equates to protecting her” shtick. Contained to the film itself, Peter Parker’s secrecy is totally sound, but lined up with 15 years of cinematic Spider-Man storytelling, the frustrating social predicaments Peter finds himself in prove just as frustrating for a viewer who’s seen any other Spider-Man movie before.

Thus, the first two-thirds of Homecoming, while fun and charming, are not a revolution in cinematic Spider-Man, which may or may not be a problem, depending on the viewer.

The final act of Spider-Man: Homecoming, however, has the rare distinction of being a superhero film finale that is better than the rest of the movie preceding it, a feather even The Dark Knight can’t put into its cap.

In defiance of prevailing superhero wisdom, or lack thereof, rather than devolving into a mush of CGI and sky lasers so vast in scope as to be entirely devoid of relatability, Homecoming turns up the tension and emotional stakes and offers a third act with the sort of boiling intensity only Michael Keaton’s eyebrows and incessant gum chewing can truly communicate. It offers the kind of conflicts that are claustrophobic and thrilling, and the kinds of seemingly insurmountable challenges (brought to life by a brilliant and vulnerable performance on Tom Holland’s part) that make the promise of triumph all the sweeter.

Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t fix what wasn’t absolutely shattered. It isn’t a new kind of Spider-Man movie and for many it likely won’t even be the best Spider-Man movie. But the revolutionary thinking that wasn’t necessarily applied to its protagonist isn’t just THWIPed into the empty sky. It might not go down as the best Spider-Man movie ever made (I don’t know, people really like Spider-Man 2), woven into Peter Parker’s larger narrative within the MCU it has abundant potential to be a chapter in the best Spider-Man story put to film.

Swap Thing, or, Dan Slott and the Very Idea of Spider-Man

SPIDER ATTACK

SPIDER ATTACK

Spoilers ahead for the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700, as well as the general idea of Superior Spider-Man

I’d wager a guess that Peter Parker is one of the most famous, recognizable alter-egos in comic books, right up there with the likes of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. Parker’s youth and wit define the Wall Crawler, who’s just as likely to swing from webs as he is to be a wise ass in the face of impending death. It’s safe to say that there couldn’t really be a Spider-Man without Peter Parker behind the mask.

Or could there be?

It’s a question writer Dan Slott has been pondering for over a year in the pages of The Superior Spider-Man, something of an interlude between the end of Amazing Spider-Man with issue #700 and the rebooting of Amazing Spider-Man with next week’s issue #1.

Comic books, am I right?

The Superior Spider-Man sees a dying Doc Ock, in a stroke of villainous genius, switch bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker to die in the body of a gross old man while the consciousness of that same gross old man gallivants about in Peter Parker’s nubile young body, assuming both his personal and super-heroic identities and dedicating himself to becoming The Superior Spider-Man.

Hey, that’s the name of the book.

I won’t lie, when I first learned of the aforementioned setup to Superior Spider-Man I immediately wrote it off, because I’m open-minded. Freaky Friday Spider-Man sounded like all of the wrong kinds of silly and ridiculous, the makings of many a retrospective eye-roll.

But I wanted something new to read over the holidays and damned if I didn’t really miss Spider-Man. I gave the first volume of Superior a shot and immediately after I burned a hole in my pocket collecting back issues.

A body swap story could have been the most derivative drivel this side of Top 40 radio, but in Superior Spider-Man Dan Slott took a tired trope and used it as an existential springboard to ask not only what defines both what defines an individual and what defines an iconic superhero whose status in popular culture has far surpassed his comic book origins?

DA END

The end..?

Is Peter Parker a warm body? Is he a mind? Is he a soul? Or is he perhaps a collection of memories and experiences somewhere between all three?

And if the definition of Peter Parker is up in the air, what of Spider-Man? Is the hero defined by his alter-ego? Or perhaps his superpowers? Or is Spider-Man an elemental avatar for personal responsibility?

Classic superheroes go through something of a swap every month.

In any given week Batman could be the concoction of Scott Snyder, or Pete Tomasi, or Grant Morrison. Multiply that by 75 years and hundreds of creators and you have a wealth of different iterations of Batman. And yet whether you’re reading The Dark Knight Returns or The Court of Owls there’s never a question as to whether Batman is Batman because the character is built upon fundamental truths and represents a specific facet of the human experience.

The same can be said for Spider-Man or any other classic superhero worth their legions of fans. Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, much like Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, is a definitive examination of both the fluidity and resilience of superheroes not as characters, but as ideas.

In the midst of reboot madness, Marvel could have simply ended Amazing Spider-Man #700 one month and turned out Amazing Spider-Man #1 the next. Instead, Dan Slott took Spider-Man on a winding existential journey that tasked readers with defining not only what Spider-Man fundamentally is, but what Spider-Man fundamentally isn’t. And after the events of Superior Spider-Man I’d say the brand has earned a fresh start and a new #1.

...or the beginning, AMIRIGHT?

…or the beginning, AMIRIGHT?

One day The Superior Spider-Man is going to be released in its entirety in some monster hardcover collection of all 31 issues for like $60. It will be totally worth it.

 

 

For weekly comic book coverage check out the Pony Tricks Comic Cast, available on Pony Tricks, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 10, or, Double Digits

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It’s double digits y’all! Practically been doing this thang a decade, but I ain’t slowed down one bit. Let’s talk about the erotic overtones of Aquaman. Let’s talk about Elephant Man, but not that Elephant Man. Let’s talk about Groot!

This week: Aquaman, Batman and Robin, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumanity, Saga, Superior Spider-Man