'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Is A Nearly Perfect Movie For An Imperfect Hero

Jul 25, 2017
Originally published on July 25, 2017 10:20 am

So this is not going to be an objective review of the new Marvel Studios film Spider-Man: Homecoming. When it comes to both Marvel and Spider-Man, I am not objective. I'm a fanboy, full stop.

But being a fanboy or fangirl doesn't mean uncritical acceptance. No, being a fan means you've loved the material so much for so long that you take exception — serious exception — to someone screwing up your beloved characters and their beloved stories.

That's why I'm here to tell you that the new Spider-Man movie comes pretty close to perfection in honoring all that the Spidey comics meant to his many fans.

I started reading comic books when I was about 12. I was a science-obsessed kid who was far from the coolest dude in junior high school. There were a lot of characters available in the comic section of my corner store back in the 1970s. But it was Spider-Man and Marvel's approach to him that stood out.

Yeah, he was a brilliant science student who could make his own wristband webslingers. Yeah, he was bitten by a radioactive spider which, of course, gave him superpowers. That was all well and good by me. But what I and other fans loved about Spider-Man was that he wasn't a man.

He was a kid.

He was a teenager. He was in high school and, in spite of possessing superhuman strength, his life still kind of sucked. He was still crushing on girls. He was still dealing with bullies. Even worse, he couldn't use his superpowers to make any of that better. Instead, those powers just made his life more complicated. That part we all know from the previous movies ("With great power comes great responsibility"). But along with those real-world problems — which were the great innovation of Marvel comics back then — there was something more that totally changed the equation.

Even though he couldn't use his superpowers to impress girls, having those powers was still awesome. They were a blast in a way only a teenager could enjoy. Running up the side of a 70-story building, swinging at high speed across the concrete canyons of Manhattan. How could that not be fun? Whatever other problems Peter Parker had in his real life, he could always blow off steam Tarzan-ing 400-ft. above Madison Avenue. It was that pure adolescent joy that made Spiderman so recognizable to kids like me (I actually dreamed once that I was walking on the ceiling of my 8th grade biology class in a full Spideysuit).

This undiluted, unsophisticated and distinctly teenage enthusiasm is exactly what the new movie Spider-Man: Homecoming understands. The first Spider-Man movie (a Sony Pictures production) with Tobey Maguire did a great job of capturing the difficulties Peter Parker's new powers brought with them. The second movie (another Sony Pictures production) just seemed unnecessary. But the new movie brings Marvel Comics's favorite character back to Marvel Studios and, as I saw from my experience working on Dr. Strange, those folks are deep and serious fans. And that's why they knew that Spider-Man was always just as much about fun as it was about responsibility. When all is said and done, Spider-Man is a dorky, science-y, enthusiastic kid who just happens to be able to lift a bus.

There are other wonderful aspects of the new movie. It honors the real world diversity a kid at an NYC science high school would live in. It raises some real-world issues in American history you wouldn't expect in a superhero movie (the possible use of slaves to help build the Washington Monument, for example). And all these themes are bundled together in a screenplay that is remarkably well-paced and very, very funny (the scene with Donald Glover is priceless).

Marvel Studios began building its expansive "cinematic universe" with Iron Man back in 2008. Since then, they've come to dominate the box-office in ways that demonstrate how much the "nerd culture" of my earlier years now represents mainstream pop-culture. I've always been appreciative of how Marvel has used that success to present positive views of science and scientists. But with that success, there can also come a kind of exhaustion with the genre. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel Studios has given us a smaller-scale story that recovers everything that made Marvel Comics so great.

It was, for me, a near-perfect cinematic telling of a story that I — and mess of others — hold very dear to our hearts.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4

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