A new “spider-man” for a new generation

Spider-Man Homecoming is not your dad’s Spider-ManIt’s not even your big brother’s Spider-Man.  But it is the one you’ve been waiting for.  It is the quintessential Spider-Man movie.

I’m a lifelong Spidey fan: when I was a kid, I read the books, watched the cartoon reruns and the cheesy live-action TV series, and sat through The Electric Company just for the Spider-Man segmentsBut you don’t have to be a hardcore Wall-Crawler follower to like S-M:H.  There’s so much to love about it, that I hardly know where to begin telling you. 

(Some minor spoilers ahead)

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Almost everything from the comics is in it, but it’s all completely new.  So, about Aunt May.  If you saw Captain America: Civil War (and, of course you did), you know that May is an attractive forty-something woman (“Aunt Hottie,” as Tony Stark called her in Civil War) instead of being the fragile old lady she was in the books and previous films. 

No longer a bullying athlete, Flash Thompson is now a smug rich-kid who would like to think he’s as smart as Peter Parker, but is often proven wrong.  Liz Allen, Betty Brant, Ned Leeds, “MJ,”: they’re all there, but they’re different in looks and personalities.  So, too, are the villains—but we’ll get to them in a bit.  True, J. Jonah Jameson is not there to bedevil our hero, but perhaps he will show up in the future (though I doubt anyone can top J.K. Simmons’ performance).

You don’t have to endure the origin story AGAIN.  I remember watching The Amazing Spider-Man, and shaking my head in disbelief that it was re-telling how Peter Parker became the Webhead, from the bite, to Uncle Ben getting shot, to making the costume, and learning that, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  

The smartest move that this movie’s writers did was acknowledge that you’ve most likely seen or read all this before.  But just in case you recently awoke from a 55-year nap, there are a few lines of dialogue between Peter and Ned about how a spider gave him its abilities (followed by many more lines where Ned asks specifics: “Do you lay eggs? Do you have a poison bite? Can you summon an army of spiders?”).  Peter also makes a reference to “all that” May’s “been through,” implying Ben’s death.

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The cast is superb. Give them high marks for trying, but Tobey Maguire never seemed like a kid, and Andrew Garfield came off as too self-confident, but Tom Holland is, well…amazing…as the conflicted Peter Parker and the new-at-this Spider-Man. Peter’s high-school pals are solid, there’s plenty of RDJ’s always-entertaining Tony Stark, Marisa Tomei does more than just bring Peter milk and cookies, and Michael Keaton…whoa.  He needs his own entry.      

The Vulture is a surprising badass—and is surprisingly sympathetic.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for its lack of memorable bad guys.  There are Tom Hiddleston’s scene-stealing Loki, and Josh Brolin’s sitting-on-the-sidelines Thanos, and then there’s been everyone else (the most disappointing of which was Ben Kingsley’s faux-Mandarin).

Thus, my hopes were not high, especially given that the main villain would be The Vulture, an old dude in a lame bird costume.  Just as they’ve done with other characters, Marvel updated Vulture’s gear (metal wings and talons reverse-engineered from alien tech recovered after The Battle of New York) so that he’s more than a match against Spider-Man. 

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But it’s Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Adrian Toomes, the man in the flight suit, that makes this bad guy special.  At the start of the film, Toomes is the owner of a small salvage company whose contract with the city to clean up The Avengers’ mess is canceled by the Feds, acting with Stark’s Damage Control to take over operations.  At the end of their financial rope, Toomes and his employees turn to crime, stealing more gear brought in after Avenger missions, using it to make weapons, and selling them to crooks.

Without giving away too much, the audience discovers that Toomes’ motivations are noble, even if his methods are unsavory.  He’s not out to rule the world or cause mayhem, and though he knows what he does is wrong, he believes it’s necessary.  Though he can be cruel and menacing, he does have a sense of honor and decency.      

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It ties into the MCU, but is its own thingIn the comics, Spider-Man has crossed paths with just about every other superhero, but his stories always worked best with him solo.  That’s reflected in the movie as well: though Iron Man appears, and there are many references to The Avengers, Peter is mostly on his own, pretty much by his own choice.    

It’s funny. C’mon: it’s a Marvel movie, so it’s much lighter in tone than, say, Batman v Superman or Logan.  There are lots of comedic bits, though surprisingly, Spidey—despite his history of slinging out one-liners as he fights bad guys—is not the funniest character (that honor would fall to his sidekick, Ned, followed closely by Captain America.  Yes, Cap.  Really).

It does throwbacks to famous bits from the comics and previous movies.  Long-time Spider-Man readers may notice the Shocker’s outfit, the trim of Toome’s jacket, even the shape of some of the weapons made by The Tinkerer.  There are callouts to specific scenes from the books (Spidey trapped under the rubble) and movies (Liz Allen asks for a kiss as her hero hangs upside down in front of her).  You don’t have to be a total Webhead-geek to appreciate the movie, but the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy it (look for Mac Gargan, because he’s sure to be in the next film).

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The “Parker luck” is still a thing.  Spider-Man is the closest that Marvel has to Charlie Brown: every time he thinks things are finally going his way, it never lasts.  His camera runs out of film while he’s taking pictures of himself fighting crime; his landlord harasses him to pay the rent; he gets caught in the rain and catches a cold; he bombs a school test because he was too busy battling a supervillain to study.  I can’t give examples from the movie without spoiling them, but they’re there, and the last one (involving Liz) is a doozy. 


Spider-Man: Homecoming is the movie I’ve wanted since before I was Peter’s age.  It truly does feel like the adventures of a fledgling superhero, with all the awkwardness and drama that adolescence brings.  My teenage daughter got a kick out of the Washington, DC scenes (she’s spent a lot of time there, lately).  I was surprised to find that the homecoming dance in the movie has the same theme as the one I mention in my WIP young adult novel This Wasted Land.  More about TWL some other time.

 

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Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, to be published in 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

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