I was born into a world with no Spider-Man movies – where four monthly books, a pretty-shit-in-retrospect cartoon series and rumors of a James Cameron film were all we had. This is why I will never understand “nostalgia” or its associated branding. I would never voluntarily go back to that time, nor seek to recreate it in any way. I was miserable back then – we all were – it was the heart of the Clone Saga! Now, we’re on the sixth Spider-Man movie, and the second reboot in five years, which is also the sixteenth film in the Marvel cinematic Universe. Because after the Civil War, look out – here comes the Iron Spider.
After Amazing Spider-Man 2 proved to be significantly less than amazing, Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige managed to strike a deal. From now on, Sony gets to pay all the bills for, and keeps all the box office profits of, the next two solo Spider-Movies. Marvel gets to pick their casts and crews, keep all the money from Spider-Man’s merchandising (“Where the real money from the movie is made!”), and put Spidey in Captain America 3, Avengers 3, and Avengers 4. We’ll see what happens afterward. Sony could easily take “its” toy and go home, leaving Spidey in the middle of yet another incomplete trilogy. Of course, Marvel could also just walk away from the deal whenever they want, but why would they? They made every Spider-fan in the world happy in 2016 – even me. And then they did it again in 2017, with this.
That’s amazing in itself, because all signs pointed to me hating this movie. I almost called it from the fucking trailers. “Hmm…let’s see…new Spider-Man reboot…again. So – will Young Mr. Parker once again adopt some mad scientist as his surrogate father figure?” Yes, and since we’re on Earth 2 x 105 now (or close enough) that mad scientist will be Tony Stark. “And will the Villain be Yet Another Evil Tony Stark?” Amazingly…no. Instead, he’ll be the most Spider-Man villain since…pretty much ever. Not an Evil Tony so much as an Anti-Tony – a Jungian Shadow, containing all the things Tony denies about himself, both good or bad. It’s like what Iron Man 2 tried to do, and then gave up on in the second act. But with Spider-Man.
As much as I disagree with the perpetual need to de-age Peter Parker back to the sophomore year of high school, I can’t deny doing so allows him to fulfill an interesting roll: the kid-on-the-street who has (gods help him) grown up inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s ten years old at this point (in case you couldn’t tell from the company logo) and eight years have passed since the Chitari invaded New York with a little help from a pissed-off Norse god. If Pete’s fifteen “now,” then he was seven when that happened – the in-universe equivalent of being a kid from Queens who was seven on 9/11. I know y’all exist, and on behalf of my knee-jerk-nihilistic generation, I’m sorry. Things used to be…well, not “better”…I almost said “less stupid,” but that’s not right, either…actually, never mind – things were always this fucked-up, it’s just all the fucked-up shit used to be easier to ignore. Now, we’re all on the internet, where all the fucked-up shit goes to mingle.
Hence, Tony found Peter through low-quality YouTube videos and took him to Berlin for a big, pointless fight at an airport. Afterward, he dropped Peter back home and…life just kinda went on. This proves to be a big come-down for our new Spider-Man. Hard to go from fighting Captain America to the usual, penny-ante bullshit inside his friendly neighborhood. Like every young hero, he’s over-eager, so when he sees a trio of knuckleheads robbing ATMs with lasers and anti-gravity guns, he thinks “Finally, something good!” Guess his Academic Decathlon prep book didn’t have any questions about “hubris.”
Thus begins the Spider’s quest to track these weapons to their source while ducking his new surrogate parent, trying not to worry his actual surrogate parent, failing to meet the demands of more traditional extra-curricular activities, mooning over his Academic Decathlon team captain, Liz, and generally sucking at almost everything. Making this the most Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2. And they managed to get a Spider-Jesus pose in here, as well.
There are a lot of call-backs…as expected. They even tease us with another upside-down kiss. Thankfully, there have also been some improvements since 2002. For one thing, this Spider-Man’s voice-over never lies to us this being “all about a girl.” The fact he has a best friend who isn’t one vertex of a perpetual Love Triangle, eliminates the need for voice-overs all together. Ned discovers Peter’s identity because Pete sucks at keeping secrets, but he takes it well and immediately volunteers to be tech support, which every superhero apparently needs now, because if you’re not Iron Man, you’re not Iron Man-enough…
Iron Man seems to think so. He built Pete’s suit, complete with far, far too many options and an on-board AI assistant, giving Spider-Man someone to talk to other than himself. He eventually names her “Karen,” and she’s played by…sweet Kansan Jesus, Jennifer Connelly! At long last, she’s back! I didn’t even recognize her under all that distortion…and now I’m sad she isn’t playing Betty Ross all over again. Damnit.
Though, to be fair, nobody’s gonna get to play Betty Ross for awhile. Per the Hulk himself, Mark Ruffalo, last July – “Universal has the rights to the standalone Hulk movie and for some reason they don’t know how to play well with Marvel and they don’t want to make money.” The reason, Dr. Banner, is they want to make ALL the money. Not just all the box office money – that’s chicken feed, and they know it. They want all that sweet toy, T-shirt, thong, and blanket money, too. You think they made a Pacific Rim sequel because they love giant robot/monster fights? Hell, maybe they do…but past a certain level in the corporate hierarchy, they look at all the jeagers and all the kaiju and see nothing but the action figure isle in every Wal-Mart and Target the world over…
Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah – good ol’ Spider-Man, and the women’s voices in his head. Liz…Toomes-nee-Allen…is more of an ideal for our hero than she is an actual person and this…is not the best, from a storytelling or general ethics standpoint…but fuck me if it isn’t 100% accurate to the American High School experience. Be honest and you’ll remember a time when everyone around you seemed obsessed with the trivialities of the day – which were, of course, all The Most Important Things That Had Ever Happened, Ever…until the next day. Meanwhile, you had this rich interior life that you would’ve loved to, but did not dare to, share…
The good thing about having a secret identity is, you get to show off in public, where people who don’t know you from Adam’s housecat can give you props – and since they don’t know you, you know their exterior validation is entirely “objective.” If you’re lucky, maybe in a few years you’ll realize that the need for exterior validation is, itself, the problem, and that you need to figure out who the fuck you are before you can ever begin to evaluate it with the proper weight. But every time you look at that person of your preferred gender whom you like – who’s obviously so nice and smart and kind and artistic – all thoughts cease and time kinda slows down…and blinded by your own hormones, you don’t even think to do the bare-minimum amount of research into your love-object. Which is one of the many ways you can wind up – oh, say, for example – in a car, on your way to Homecoming, with your date and her dad…who just so happens to be the supervillain you’ve been playing tag with for the last week-or-so.
So this Spider-Man reboot clears its first hurtle by giving us a protagonist who is, indisputably, Peter Parker. It cleared it’s next hurtle by creating an antagonist who – glory be – actually follows what used to be called “the Marvel method.” Heroes are defined by their villains, and it’s generally much more interesting if your villain has a sympathetic back story and understandable (even altruistic) motivations for their villainy.
Like I said, The Vulture is a Jungian Shadow of Tony Stark. So while Tony’s the fail-son of the Walt Disney of WMDs who inherited more money than god and used it to stay drunk until he was forty-something (George W. Bush style, baby!) Toomes is a working class hero with a city-contracted salvage business…that quickly got pushed out of salvaging Chitari wreckage by (who else?) Tony Motherfucking Stark. The perpetual teenager, too obsessed with “work” to maintain relationships with the human beings who constantly orbit around him (except when he’s not). Meanwhile, Toomes is a loyal husband and dedicated provider with an entirely normal, nuclear family in the ‘burbs. He’s a “job creator” who seems to genuinely care about providing a livelihood for his crew, and only kills them by accident and/or after they threaten the security of his operation with flagrant dumbassery.
Because he didn’t just meekly hand over all the Chitari tech he salvaged, oh no – he used it to create all sorts of wonderful toys. He is The Vulture, after all – and his reconstruction here is a rare instance of modern Literalism doing something right, for once. Real vultures can swallow cholera, no problem, but (as of 2016) nine of the twenty-two known species are endangered and the rest aren’t even close to prospering. The world is changing, as our Vulture says, and his attempts to change with it only push him toward becoming the thing he hates – the thing that took his last job. Going underground is not the best way to raise a nice, middle-class family, and being right about the social-economic state of the world is no justification for flooding the streets with flippin’ lasers.
The Vulture’s right by the way. The rich and the powerful, they do whatever they want. Guys like us – like you and me – they don’t care about us. We build their roads and we fight in their wars and everything, but they don’t care about us. We pick up their trash and eat their table scraps and we’re supposed to be grateful for the privilege…You know what I’m talking about. And it’s nice to see a Marvel movie finally turn around and deal with its own subtext.
Speaking of – after our Spider-Man almost sinks the Staten Island Ferry by breaking up a weapon’s deal between the Vulture’s crew and someone named Matt Gargan (who has a scorpion tattoo on his neck – Fanservice, eh? Eh? Eh?!), Iron Man tells him The Message: “If you’re nothing without this suit, you shouldn’t have it.” A Message repeated via voice-over during a dramatic moment in the third act, just to make sure we get it. It took Tony’s trifling ass four movies to learn this lesson…and he still occasionally backslides. With any luck, Spider-Man will only need one.
And we do seem to have lucked out here. Our director and the phalanx of screenwriters at his back knew what they wanted, and fucking did it. They even managed to innovate within the confines of doing a reboot: the John Hughes is stronger with this one than any movie I’ve seen since Kevin Smith was still admired – hence the Ferris Bueller and the Flock of Seagulls song at Homecoming. Also, every action scene in this movie takes Spidey to a place where his usual mode of transportation is almost completely neutralized: the ‘burbs, the National Mall, the middle of New York harbor and the airspace above it. This brings Spidey’s creativity and quick thinking – two superpowers money can’t buy – to the forefront. Which is one of the reasons why people like him in the first place and oh, my god…has someone finally figured this out?
Even if they haven’t, we’ve got one good Spider-Man movie out of it, and that’s all I really wanted. And if you’re me, you can see them laying the groundwork for more good Spider-Man movies in the future, once everyone’s done with the Infinity…War…
…wait…wait a second…Pepper’s back? When the fuck did that happen? Wasn’t her leaving the secret ingredient that made Tony go so crazy in Civil War? Don’t even try telling me his putting half the Avengers in Super-Guantanamo convinced her to come back…and you took away her fire powers, didn’t you? And you still haven’t given her her own damn suit. Well, fuck you very much, Tony. The Vulture was right. In fact, fuck Earth in general – let’s get this sorry shit-show into space!
Evil Me: My sentiments exactly.