Spider-Man: Homecoming Poster

Spider-Man: Homecoming Poster [Marvel Comics]

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a heartwarming tale of a boy, bitten by a radioactive spider who befriended by an eccentric billionaire, engages in the life of a burgeoning superhero. It sounds like an elevator pitch and it deserves more. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the return of the prodigal son; a character so beloved by fans that his absence from the Marvel Cinematic Universe left it less than perfect. Marvel is eighteen or nineteen movies into their cinematic universe and Todd Holland as Spider-Man helps bring the enthusiasm to a character which defined the Marvel Universe in print. Spider-Man gets a real debut where we see writers face the challenges of a modern retelling with the unwitting help of Brian Michael Bendis.

How do I love thee?

The original Peter Parker support cast in the seventies, including Flash, Ned, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Robbie Robinson, and J. Jonah Jameson  [Marvel Comics]

There is so much to like about this movie, it’s hard to know where to start. I love the diverse and multi-ethnic cast. For the first time in a long time, it was possible to see just how diverse comics and movies could be if someone cared to remove them from their very not-diverse origins in the 1960’s.

Okay, before you get all offended, let’s talk about this for a second. Peter Parker’s origin was during a period in American history where comics were created by white writers and for white audiences.

This shouldn’t news to anyone. It was simply the reality of the times. It’s a pity some of the fan-base hasn’t grown more tolerant over the decades. The Internet was lit up with speculation as to whether, Zendaya would indeed be recast as Mary Jane Watson, one of the great loves of Peter Parker’s life.

Here’s the thing: when movies move beyond the psychological casting for characters which were primarily white in print, it frees viewers to consider the movies to be more inclusive, more approachable and removing the centering on whiteness most movies promote with their white protagonists and all-white casts. This is just dollar signs. If movie execs are serious about making money, they have to consider what diversity in characters has meant to movies in the last five to ten years. As much as I love the Avengers, for example, greater effort should have been made to cast those movies to be more inclusive. Real talk. I know it’s not popular but it needs to be said.

A nice closeup of the Vulture’s rig complete with turbine, articulated wings capable of slicing through reinforced concrete. I just loved it. [Concept Art: Marvel Studios]

What else did I love? Adrian Toomes as the Vulture. Played to absolute perfection by Micheal Keaton, this was a major retooling of the character, incorporating a bevy of ideas.

Toomes works as a small contractor who was hired by the city to clean up after the battle in New York when the Avengers defeated the Chitauri. When his contract is taken over by the government (Damage Control, first created by Dwayne McDuffie) in association with Tony Stark, Toomes is given the boot. He’s callously told he wouldn’t be getting any more of those contracts.

Toomes, having already salvaged some of the materials realized superheroes would make more, he and his team become freelance scavengers of superhero battle sites, essentially becoming his namesake, the Vulture. With the help of his brainy associate he incorporates these materials into super weapons and sells them on the black market. Using Toomes as a central pivot point we see an entire criminal enterprise spring into being in the underground of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A criminal underground which makes perfectly good sense if the villains ever hope to challenge the heroes effectively.

The original versions of the Vulture, the Shocker and the Tinkerer.  [Marvel Comics]

In the comics, Toomes was a loner, unwilling to work with anyone for very long. With just a bit of tweaking, he becomes an employer and facilitator for the street-level villainy.

We get to see the early prototype for the Shocker’s weaponry and get a hint for future members of the most famous Spider-Man rogue’s gallery, the Sinister Six. We also get to see the Tinkerer, though he is unnamed, who was also a famed supplier of super-villain tech.

The Vulture design was amazing. When I first heard he was going to be the primary villain, my stomach clenched. I wasn’t sure how they would portray the technology of his wings, or whether I would like it when they were done. The design was a magnificent fusion of human and alien design, visually satisfying, absolutely terrifying and designed so well, after seeing it in action, I had no complaints about how it appeared in the movie. It seemed as reasonable to me as the Iron Man armor. Clearly not the same degree of tech, but not so different I couldn’t accept its existence. The scenes between Spider-Man and the Vulture are excellent.

Keaton’s acting makes Toomes one of the more successful villains in the MCU; one with reasonable motivations, the appropriate amount of ruthlessness and with the charisma to appear more than once. Only Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (played by Kurt Russell) hammed it up better. I’d enjoy seeing the Vulture again, even though Keaton hasn’t been contracted to reprise the role.

But wait, there’s more:

Donald Glover’s appearance as a Aaron Davis, but getting a screen codename of the Prowler in Karen’s police report was a nice touch. The Prowler was a seventies-era hero whose story was similar to Peter Parker’s. Except he created his technology in order to facilitate his career in breaking and entering. After a run in with Spider-Man, the Prowler goes straight and fights on the sides of superheroes after enhancing his gear. I don’t know if we will ever get to see the Prowler on the big screen but if he cameos in a Spider-Man movie I won’t complain…

The original Scarlet Spider design worn by Ben Reilly. [Marvel Comics]

The original Scarlet Spider design worn by Ben Reilly. [Marvel Comics]

Lastly, the Spider-Man suits were the best. Unlike Spider-Man’s other incarnations in those other parallel universes, this Spider-Man’s first suit looks like something he’s cobbled together out of scraps.

In fact, it is a variant costume used by an cloned version of Peter Parker called the Scarlet Spider. No, you don’t want me to explain this story known as the Clone Saga. Just say it to comic fans and watch their reaction. Those who love it will sing its praises. Those who loathe it will begin clubbing you into submission with their derision. It’s that controversial.

We get to see the Scarlet Spider suit become the first Spider-Man suit (which makes so much more sense). I love the first generation ‘Karen’ operating system suit which seems like the kind of thing Tony Stark would design with too much time on his hands and no real idea of what would be needed if he was Spider-Man. As usual, Tony over-designs and under-protects the suit allowing Ned to hack and bypass the “Training Wheels Protocol.”

As a side note, the A.I. Karen is played by Jennifer Connelly, the wife of the voice actor who was Jarvis in Tony’s suits before becoming the Vision. This Spider-Suit version 1.0 was a great compromise to what Tony designed in the comics for Peter, a suit called the Iron Spider which completely hijacks Peter’s theme making him an Iron Man with a spider fixation.

What missed the mark:

Miles Morales, Spider-Man II, Earth-1610 [Marvel Comics]

Miles Morales, Spider-Man II, Earth-1610 [Marvel Comics]

The appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU could have been an opportunity to debut the afro-latino, Miles Morales. Morales was an alternate Universe Spider-Man who debuted in the Marvel Comics Ultimates comics line (Earth-1610) which was summarily destroyed in a comics series called Incursion.

In his Universe, he was the second Spider-Man who gained his powers some years after Peter Parker. Later in that Universe, Parker dies, and Morales takes on the legacy of Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Homecoming subtly fuses Peter Parker into the modern life of Miles Morales. I am not going to dwell on this because so many people will, suffice it to say it was one of the more unfortunate aspects of the movie.

They included the Asian sidekick, Ned (whom I though was wonderfully played by Jacob Batalon) and the dusky version of MJ performed by Zendaya. Peter’s love interest was played by Laura Harrier. Flash Thompson was played by Tony Revolori.

Unlike Ned Leeds from the Spider-Man of comic legend, this version of Ned does not seem to be headed along the path of super-villainy and instead will become the ‘Man in the Chair.’

Cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming [San Diego, Comic Con]

Cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming [San Diego, Comic Con]

Ned seems poised to become part of Team Spider-Man, the heroes behind the hero, providing moral support, brainpower, or technological help. Ned relishes the idea. In the comics, tragedy has managed to infiltrate Peter’s friends turning Harry Osborne into the Green Goblin and later Ned becomes the Hobgoblin.

I wasn’t a fan of Iron Man being in this movie even while accepting his necessity. Since they used Spider-Man’s previous appearance in the MCU as the springboard for his Homecoming appearance, it didn’t seem like a stretch. Having Spider-Man being so young and having an idol in Tony Stark seems appropriate given Peter’s natural talents. Peter did create his own web fluid and web shooters with stuff he cobbled together at home and in shop class.

Fortunately Robert Downey doesn’t hog the spotlight and we get Spider-Man, not Iron Man 4. Tony’s appearances made sense, and his conversations with Peter were quite valid. Iron Man talking about responsibility did seem a little strange, given his history. He was right, though. Peter did need more time to evolve from a friendly, neighborhood, Spider-Man to an Avenger.

But did you like it?

The Amazing Spider-Man #33, 1966 [Marvel Comics]

The Amazing Spider-Man #33, 1966 [Marvel Comics]

Hell yes! Why? Because we get to see a Spider-Man who seems like he could be from right down the street. We see a wonderful diverse cast, long overdue in superhero movies. The story didn’t feel overdeveloped, the motivations of everyone involved seemed reasonable and made sense. The action scenes were excellent, kinetic and frantic as Spider-Man battles tend to be, with Spider-Man cracking wise while beating his foes. As it stands this is a wonderful product, thoughtfully made, despite my personal criticisms on the Miles Morales “substitution jutsu.”

Was it the best Marvel movie ever? No. But it was a great ride with a plethora of outstanding scenes, with one or two lifted right out of the pages of comics. That collapsed building scene was one such event.

What they did do right was surround Peter with a variety of characters who made high school the challenging place we all remember it to be. “When I say Penis, you say Parker.” Flash Thompson, no matter who plays him, no matter whether he’s a jock or a sub on the debate team, Flash Thompson is always a first-class jerk! Being Peter Parker was as difficult as being Spider-Man. And that was just the way it should be.

I endorse this movie. It has heart. It has fun. It has adventure. It has Spider-Man, just the way I remember him. An awkward bookish boy trying to fit into high school with awesome power, and no way of using it to his advantage.

Welcome home, Spider-Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t the same without you. Hope you get to stay for a bit.

Sorry, Miles. Maybe next time, brother.

Miles Morales [Marvel Comics]

Miles Morales [Marvel Comics]

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