Spidey comes home

For the Bulletin
Thursday, July 13, 2017

L.A. Williams:  I avoid most “summer blockbusters” for the same reasons I avoid most gossip: if I can’t learn anything beneficial from the story, or I don’t get a hearty laugh from it, or if I’m not personally invested in the main character, then why bother? 

But I feel personally invested in the main character of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” because he’s been my buddy since childhood.

Spider-Man’s real super power has always been his relatability. Batman was “the Dark Knight”; Peter Parker is called “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”  Despite his nom de guerre of Spider-MAN, Peter was a maturing kid like I was.  He’s so down, he even has nicknames (“Spidey,” “Pete,” “Webhead”) like a BFF should. 

So I saw his blockbuster flick.  

Should you? 

Andrew Lis: I loved the first Sam Raimi-directed “Spider-Man” film, starring Tobey Maguire, in 2002. Respectful to the source material, it belongs in a place similar to the classic Christopher Reeve “Superman” or even Tim Burton’s first “Batman”: timeless treatments of iconic characters.  

But in all three cases, the bloom faded from the rose as each subsequent release would follow a similar formula of too many villains, too much destruction, and not enough meaning.  The title characters became stale cutouts in their own films. 

Williams:  Decades ago, Marvel Comics made deals to let various studios produce and control films featuring Marvel characters.  Fox hit with the X-Men films and Sony with Spider-Man’s.  Eventually, Marvel created their own studio, which hit with “Avengers,” “Iron Man,” etc., but their Marvel Universe movies couldn’t feature (or reference) their characters that were still under contract with the other studios, until recently.

 Lis: “Spider-Man Homecoming” is the first time that Marvel Studios managed Spider-Man starring in a full-length feature.   

Williams: Now that Spider-Man’s come home to Marvel Studios, they’ve started anew, ignoring all previous (Sony) “Spider-Man” movies.  They presume most people seeing “Homecoming” have seen various Avengers and/or Iron Man films featuring billionaire inventor and super-hero Tony Stark and his supporting cast.  And they make a variety of other tweaks from the source comics, like the races of some characters and a few other twists. Comic purists will bemoan them, but there are always changes made with any adaptation and the changes in “Homecoming” enable a character and supporting cast from comics created in 1962 to work in a 2017 film.

Lis: They changed Peter’s Aunt May from an infirm, one-note character to … Marisa Tomei (!) and made Stark a mentor to Peter. Spider-Man, now played by Tom Holland, is a teenaged newbie again and an annoying wiseguy who never shuts up; he’s hyperactive, and he enjoys being a super-hero because… well, wouldn’t you enjoy it when the alternative is just being a broke, down-on -your-luck science nerd?  

Williams: His problems also make Spider-Man relatable.  Clark Kent pretended to be a nerd; Peter is one. Nobody’s perfect, so Spidey’s blunders in “Homecoming” are relatable. And we’ve all had to sacrifice a preference for a priority, so you’ll relate to the instances when Peter must do the same in “Homecoming.”

 Lis:  The origin of this film’s villain – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – is rooted in the “Avengers” storyline.  Keaton was fantastic in “Birdman,” and in “Homecoming,” he revisits the theme that won him Best Oscar in 2015: He hates superheroes! Here, Keaton builds a super-suit out of salvaged parts from past Avengers battles, using the rich palette of the Marvel Universe to provide color for their version of New York. 

My fear was that integrating Peter into the Marvel Universe, with Tony Stark and a villain dependent upon the Avengers, might leave Spidey little more than a side character in his own film, a problem that plagues every superhero movie franchise. Mock spoiler: That proved unfounded.

Williams:  I shared the concern and still have it for future films.  But in this one, the focus is on the new (or renewed) Peter, a teenager trying to figure out what to do in his school and in the world. “Homecoming” provides a satisfying blend of humor, sweetness, dilemmas, depth and surprises.

And did you notice we never mentioned Spidey’s abilities? One could suppose we didn’t because most people already know he “does whatever a spider can.” But we feel the connection to the main character is the key; otherwise, all the powers, fight scenes, and special effects are just an expensive waste of time on a beautiful summer day or evening. 

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is in area theaters.  Spider-Man comics and graphic novels are available at comic shops and bookstores throughout the Pioneer Valley.  

L.A. Williams is an Amherst Regional High and UMass Amherst alumnus and former comic book editor who runs AquaBabyBooks.com online comic bookstore.

Andrew Lis worked at Marvel editorial before becoming a professional environmentalist.