Source: San-Diego Comic-Con.
'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Web-Slings Diversity Into the Marvel Cinematic Universe [Review]
Source: Marvel Studios.
Longtime comic nerd Miles Marshall Lewis breaks down the multicultural impact within the Marvel Cinematic Universe's new film, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Is Marvel Comics’ flagship character of all time Spider-Man or Captain America? Cap has time on his side, punching Hitler in the face in the heat of World War II when Captain America Comics #1 hit way back in 1941. But does anyone doubt that the real mascot of Marvel is Spidey? The 1960s’ “Marvel Age of Comics” sprang forth from the heads of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (and others) with all the characters that make up Marvel Studios’ multibillion-dollar cinematic universe some 50 years later. And the guy to star with Superman in Marvel’s first crossover with rival company DC Comics, the dude mucking around with Morgan Freeman on The Electric Company, the one with at least 10 cartoon incarnations, two movie reboots and a Broadway play is Spider-Man.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Hollywood’s third iteration of the character, the webslinger swings into the cinematic universe where Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk and Ant-Man (and, soon, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange) interact in each other’s franchises. A quick word to the non-geeky: movie rights to Spider-Man are owned by Sony Pictures, and a new, unprecedented deal allows Marvel Studios-owned characters like The Avengers to appear alongside him for the first time. (Or technically the second, counting last year’s Captain America: Civil War.)
Another existential question: does Spider-Man work as a character if he’s not a teenager? Spider-Man: Homecoming—starring a wide-eyed, youthful Tom Holland—spotlights a more-than-likely virginal Peter Parker at 15 or thereabouts, juggling crushes, bullying and the high school academic decathlon team with his superheroics. The first Spidey trilogy (remember Tobey Maguire lo those many years ago?) ended with his graduation from Midtown High. But comic book source material has spun storylines for decades around Peter Parker post-adolescence. He attends Empire State University; he marries red-headed supermodel Mary Jane Watson; he founds his own Parker Industries like a mini Steve Jobs; he joins the Avengers; he becomes a dad.
Source: San-Diego Comic-Con.
Spider-Man: Homecoming sets us right back in a teenage dynamic as familiar as the Betty-Archie-Veronica triangle of Riverdale. Only 2017 is worlds away from the 1962 of the character’s Amazing Fantasy #15 debut, or even the first Tobey Maguire film of 2002. This mainly means smartphones, but the supporting cast is also multicultural than a mug. Love interest Liz Allan, a blonde since ’62, is a biracial black girl (Laura Harrier); the biracial Zendaya plays Michelle Jones (“M.J.,” in a nod to Mary Jane Watson); bully Flash Thompson is now Guatemalan (Tony Revolori); Peter Parker’s bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) is Filipino; even his Aunt May is an Italian-American MILF, Marisa Tomei. The white, waspy Happy Days/American Graffiti milieu of 1960s Spidey is gone, and good riddance.
Good riddance too to the Green Goblin, who for a change never rears his ugly head. Also gone is the Daily Bugle, because (sorry, J. Jonah) it never made any sense for a bookish, teenage science major to start freelancing as a newspaper photographer in the first place. (Woefully missing as well, for a movie set in a 2017 teenage world, is any hip-hop whatsoever.) Instead, actor Michael Keaton—formerly Batman, formerly Birdman—returns to the world of superhero flicks as Spidey nemesis the Vulture, with Bokeem Woodbine as the Shocker. Captain America shows up, though not like you’d expect, but the major link to that Marvel Cinematic Universe is Tony Stark/Iron Man.
And Iron Man’s action scenes are great, but it’s Tony Stark as the mentor Peter Parker never had in the comics who works best. Super snarky Robert Downey Jr. keeps making up for the end of his franchise by dominating the other films he takes flight in. The story here isn’t enough to overcome superhero-movie fatigue if that’s set in for you by now. What really makes the movie pop the most are Peter Parker’s youth and the Stark-designed uniform (because it does techie stuff, and anyway, what teenage nerd sews that well?), shades of the comics’ Iron Spider storyline.
Speaking of cinematic universes though, one final question deserves posing: how might the Spidey Cinematic Universe stack up against the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Because in October 2018, actor Tom Hardy stars in Venom, that anti-hero offshoot of Marvel’s Secret Wars miniseries from forever ago. And Sony Pictures recently enlisted Thor: Ragnarok screenwriter Chris Yost to start work on a script starring Black Cat—a sexy Catwoman to Spidey’s Batman who’s been part of his mythos since 1979.
Incidentally, Fox Studios is thinking along the same lines, with production in progress on X-Men: The New Mutants, a horror flick starring the next class of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Given the success of Marvel Studios intertwining its films using the same guest-appearance technique that served the comics so well for so long, the formula is about to be duplicated, and the Spidey of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the hub for all the spokes to come. Whether blockbusters or flops come out of the experiment, rest assured that the new Spider-Man is a winner. At least till Spider-Man: Graduation Day.
Miles Marshall Lewis is a popular cultural critic and author. Follow him (and us!) on social media @MMLunlimited.