What happens when a Spider-fan, of almost three decades, walks into the most eagerly anticipated Spider-Man film since Spider-Man films were a thing? Well, they do so with a lot of expectation! They carry with them memories of the best bits of five previous Spider-films, a fantastic cameo in Civil War, the 90s Spider-Man cartoon (and its AWESOME theme tune) and a shed load of comic book knowledge. Any fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is aware that you can’t get too precious about any of that – there will be changes and you should expect things to be different.
But not like this.
The last time I was disappointed and exasperated in a Spider-Man film was that rotten apple, Spider-Man 3. Watching half a movie through the gap between your fingers after you’ve violently facepalmed is never good, and that’s where the angry dance off scene took most of us. In the case of Homecoming, I also experienced a healthy dose of frustration. Why? Because it’s a good film. The villain is awesome, Tom Holland is a complete gem and the supporting cast (with the exception of Flash “Oh, I’m supposed to be a bully, so I’d better say ‘penis’ a few hundred times” Thompson) are cracking as well. I could even look past the fact that Aunt May is apparently now a yummy mummy – a cringeworthy development if ever there was one. The jokes are funny, the cinematography is great, and there are so many cool little nods to comic, TV and film references, even outside of the Marvel Universe that it’s impossible not to feel a little bit like you’re in nerd heaven!
So what was my problem? I genuinely had to stop for a second and ask myself that question as I sat before the cinema screen.
A couple of years back, for you comic fans out there who have been paying attention, it was half announced/implied/generally vibed to the community that Spider-Man, Marvel’s flagship character of half a century, would be ceding the role to Iron Man, its new poster boy. This was no real surprise, what with movie rights and just how well Robert Downey Jr. has defined the role on the silver screen, but it was a bit saddening nonetheless. Spidey had done nothing wrong other than, effectively, getting sold to Sony. So here I was, watching a film where this exact thing was happening on the big screen. Spider-Man was in a position where he was literally nothing without having had his break from Iron Man. He wears a suit where the only thing he invented was the webshooters. Iron Man has remote control of the suit, into the bargain. He effectively has to have Happy Hogan’s permission to do anything in the beginning. I was relieved when he “took back control” part way through the flick, but at that point it was like he became reliant on “Ned” (Ganke if you read Brian Michael Bendis’s Spidey). I was OK with the “man with the screens” moment, but when Spider-Man can’t beat the Shocker and relies on a friend with no fight experience who somehow nails his shot? No.
Let’s add into that a wasted opportunity with the Vulture. You have Michael Keaton, a reimagined character (both visually and in terms of back-story and intention), and it’s a huge recipe for success. So how do you poop on that? Give him little to no camera time. “I have to feed my kids”. Yeah, so do we all – we get jobs. I’m pretty sure there would have been time to really get to the foot of what his real motivation was – a grudge against the system was what it looked like to start with, which was great! It’s that little hook that allows you to have some empathy with the villain, which is often what can make or break them. We then end up with a surprise reveal that effectively just gives him the Green Goblin’s storyline (from comics, films, you choose), including a ‘glider’ scene. Why do we need that? Come on! We had something new and interesting going on! And was there anything at all to be gained from Toomes finding out Spider-Man’s identity? Maybe we’ll find out in a future film, because all other signs point to no.
Oh, and while we’re here – bye bye Spider Sense. I guess that was axed so they could shoot some footage of Spider-Man being knocked around like a rag doll in almost every fight he’s in, including against the goons robbing the ATM…
I could rant about this for a long time, but what we effectively have here is a film where Spider-Man’s potential to be an incredibly strong character in the MCU for however long they want him has been completely wasted. He’s been firmly and strongly established as a piece of Stark Tech, with the potential to go away and fiddle with inconsequential things on his own. And the Vulture? Well, turns out that if you want to beat him you just need to lose all of your gadgets and punch him a few times. Spider-Man has been almost completely neutered in a movie that got so many things, like the cinematography, characterisation, humour and casting, completely right. What a huge shame.
Many thanks to our guest blogger for this week – Share your thoughts and opinions about the potential this film had in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit. Do you agree with Ed’s views here?