Spider-Man: Homecoming

A soulless superhero franchise film and an inept high school comedy try to make it work for the sake of the kids; the forced smiles and underlying tension permeate every moment.

As a super-hero movie, Homecoming is exactly the glop you’d expect from two movie studios executing two competing business plans. I knew that this movie would ultimately devolve into a blur of CGI—they all do—so I could hardly be surprised or disappointed by that. My hopes and fears were with the coming-of-age material—with Peter Parker, not Spider-Man—and on that front I was very much disappointed. This is a high school movie seemingly written by 50-year olds, a cringe-worthy “How do you do, fellow Avengers” skit complete with multiple John Hughes homages. The actors are all great with the material they’re given, but so were Garfield and Stone in their movies, and look what that got us.

I’ve always cared as much or more about Peter Parker’s (and, later, Miles Morales’s) school, home and social life than about Spider-Man per se. Spider-Man was my favorite superhero / power fantasy growing up: a smart kid with a modest upbringing and variably-effective social skills whose best chance to better himself wasn’t his innate or acquired talents, but rather his participation in a large and vibrant community. He wasn’t just a nerd, he was a New Yorker. This Spider-Man, like the overly earnest and nebbishy Maguire version, is more of a Noo Yawker, and that really rubs me the wrong way.

Despite having a notably more diverse cast and paying more lip service to working-class concerns than your average Marvel Studios project, a lot of the non-white people we see in Homecoming are either model minorities or criminals. (I’d be less likely to side-eye the use of an “urban” cue during Donald Glover’s big scene if the movie did more to acknowledge that your average 15-year-old high school sophomore from Queens probably isn’t listening to the Ramones on repeat in twenty-fucking-seventeen.)

Michael Keaton’s villain is an equal-opportunity employer, both as a tax-paying citizen and a criminal, which, considering his superpower is basically “white enclave working/middle-class resentment,” strains credulity more than the kid with the proportional strength of a spider. The first season of the Netflix Daredevil show pulled this nonsense too, leaning into stereotypes that were outdated when Stan Lee was just getting started. But that show actually used the same basic conceit—the corruption stemming from the massive clean-up effort after the “Battle of New York”—to critique gentrification, the concentration of wealth, and the celebrity-driven nature of modern politics. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a far simpler morality tale about the perils of trying to take shortcuts to the American Dream, which will naturally come to those who are both patient and deserving. This is a movie for people who want to be told that we can have Archie Bunker’s America without any of the minor pesky problems of Archie Bunker’s mentality, and I’m just not in the target audience for that particular fable anymore.

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