Caution: Spider-Man: Homecoming spoilers in the article
My initial suspicion before I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming was that The Powers That Be at Marvel Studios simply copy-pasted a Miles Morales story with a Peter Parker overlay. After all, in Homecoming, Pete’s BFF is a rotund Asian kid named
Ganke Ned, so it didn’t take much to leap to the conclusion.
But after watching the movie and letting it set in, I realized that this was, in fact, a quintessential Peter Parker story. At the very heart of this story we see a fifteen year old kid trying (unsuccessfully) to find a father figure to mentor him. Notably, this is the first time I’ve seen this kind of story in the annals of Spider-Man.
Homecoming asks the question, “How does a young man exist in the world after his father passes away?” and that’s a Peter story, not a Miles story. Miles, after all, has a mom and dad (and abulela and uncle!) in the Marvel Universe.
Pete tries attaching himself to a variety of wholly inadequate father figures. Tony Stark and Happy Hogan play the detached yet authoritarian figures who manage to make him feel like crap but give him keys to a car (the Spidey suit), yet fail to give him a driving lesson. Furthermore, Tony Stark seemingly discards Peter after the events of Civil War, after Peter fulfills the Stark’s immediate need in those events. Not a great way to mentor, Tony.
In Adrian Toomes (AKA The Vulture) we see the flipside of the absentee father figure, the abusive dad. Though Toomes does seem to be a loving father and husband to his actual family, Toomes plays the role of yet another father figure to Peter, trying in a twisted way to educate the younger man from a similar background about the inequalities and inequities of the world. A deeply interesting villain, Toomes ultimately is a “bad dad” figure.You don’t get to try and murder a teenager and remain a working class figure of admiration, after all.
Lastly and probably best, we have Principal Morita, played by the excellent Kenneth Choi, who is something like a Tiger Dad: firm, but sympathetic, and seems to like Peter for who he is, not for what he can do for him. (Easter egg alert: look for the photo on his desk near the end of the movie).
In Peter’s greatest challenge, we see him helpless and buried under rubble. We realize, shockingly, that “Spider-Man” is really just a kid. His burial under the rubble created by a selfish, homicidal villain is a metaphor for the heroic responsibilities that are way too burdensome for a teenager – he needs help. Ultimately he finds strength in an entreaty to his “best self,” the Spider-Man. “C’mon Spider-Man, c’mon Spider-Man,” he says in an almost-prayer and through this affirmation of his alter ego he is able to lift an impossible weight off himself. In this moment we are seeing an identity crisis. Who is this young man? Peter Parker or Spider-Man? Maybe that’s why at the end of the film Peter rejects Tony’s offer of full Avenger’s membership. He still needs time to mature, to integrate his identity of Man and Spider-Man, and he very maturely walks away to gain some introspection and growth.
Marvel, I greatly prefer “smaller” movies like this. The conflicts were intimate, and I was immediately drawn in. Lately the big showy bombastic Avengers movies and the fights have left me cold. Unlike, say, Avengers: Rise of Ultron – Homecoming has one thing that the killer robot lacked: heart.