“The world is changing,” states Michael Keaton’s character The Vulture at the beginning of Spider-Man: Homecoming. He couldn’t be more right, as over the last ten years the franchise has seen two reboots. But what has this done to our beloved Spider-Man and is he really coming home?
I can honestly say Sam Raimi’s trilogy is one of the things that introduced me to the movies. And I believe that in those long-gone days when cell phones still had buttons, cinema was the trend. In the early 2000s, what directors and studios aimed for was making comic book material into a cinematic experience loaded with drama, complex scenarios and superheroes, who looked like something that can actually exist. I believe that is why we got three films in which Tobey Maguire played a complex character, with inner conflicts and a level of drama which is not to be found in the later versions. There was as much emphasis on the exploration of family, friendship and love in Spider-Man 1,2 and 3 as there was on action scenes. Back then it was all about Peter recalling the iconic “With great power comes great responsibility” quote as he gives up being the hero… in the middle of a thunderstorm no less (Spider-Man 2, 2004). Ah, and that awesome soundtrack! Ok, I shouldn’t be too emotional, but such was the time and that is what we felt Spider-Man should look like on the big screen: deeply conflicted and torn between duty and personal happiness.
I believe this trend peaked with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2008. After that it seemed people were a bit fed up with the films not following the comic book material 100% and what happened over the next four years was that superhero movies got colourful, with many more characters, and began to sound like the script was copied directly from a dialogue bubble. It was a time when cinematic universes were being created for Marvel and DC. Combine that with the fact that Spider-Man 3 was slammed by critics and Andrew Garfield stepped into the spotlight as Peter Parker. This time round Spidey was more playful, with less tears and for the first time we saw a hip, younger side of him. The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was actually a pretty good pair of films. I remember upon watching the first one, while being all snobby and missing my Maguire, I eventually had to admit the film presented a captivating and somewhat more adventurous story. We saw Peter develop his costume and web shooters – an element absent in the original trilogy – and Gwen Stacy was the first love interest. She had a wonderful chemistry with Peter, courtesy of the magnificent Emma Stone. What I liked about the two films was that they were more faithful to the comics but also managed to make a good movie. And just as people were getting used to the new films, this reboot died along with Gwen Stacy.
Soon we were hit with the news of yet another reboot. I know the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been largely successful, and that Homecoming according to critics is pretty good. But for me Sony ignored the concerns of many of Spider-Man’s cinematic fans, the people who want to see a good movie. That is when they lost me as well. Homecoming feels like a comic book, aimed at a young audience (12-15 years of age). Its characters are very shallow, one-dimensional, with the plot (except for the action scenes) being extremely reliant on clichés. What Sony/Marvel did was they sacrificed the cinematic motifs in order to create yet another piece which will fit in their corporate puzzle known as the MCU. Because of the number of reboots, Homecoming couldn’t do another origin story, so effectively the studio cropped out one of the central elements to Spider-Man’s character: the Uncle Ben subplot. This time round Peter Parker’s aim of being accepted by Tony Stark is central, but somehow it didn’t feel as personal or intimate as the Uncle Ben storyline.
The third act was the only thing which felt interesting because of the final battle with the Vulture and a clever twist, which I won’t spoil here, but the rest was a predicable teen film. Overall it no longer feels like this film is about Spider-Man himself, but rather about fitting him in the context of the other Avengers, which seems to be a bigger priority for Sony/Marvel than good storytelling.
In conclusion, Spider-Man has definitely found a comfortable spot for comic book fans with Homecoming, however personally I view it as inferior to the script and complex characterisation of previous versions. Maybe times have changed, and I just can’t keep up?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source: Ign.com