Fifteen years ago, a ten-year-old version of myself saw the trailer for Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and fell instantly in love. I demanded more information about this friendly neighborhood hero from my mother and immediately went for a compendium of his first comics the next time I was in a Borders bookstore.
That’s the origin story of my love for Spider-Man.
Many of the reviews of the newest rendition of Peter Parker, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” suggest that three versions of him in fifteen years is too many. They suggest that we need a spider-break despite a positive reception of the latest installment.
I was of that opinion when Tom Holland’s casting was announced and even after his first appearance in “Captain America: Civil War.” However, after seeing “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” I can safely say the world still needs Spider-Man. Specifically, the world needs this Spider-Man.
Each iteration of the wall-crawler has found the character closer to his comic book form, in both age and mannerism. Tom Holland’s performance is by far the closest to the Peter Parker of the comics. He isn’t angst-ridden like Tobey Maguire’s interpretation, nor is he vengeful like Andrew Garfield. He isn’t being crushed under the weight of great power or great responsibility.
This is finally a Spider-Man who just loves people. He doesn’t want to kill anyone. He doesn’t want to see anyone die. He just wants to help. And in a hoi polloi of superhero movies featuring heroes who only seem to care about themselves (“Dr. Strange”), each other (“Captain America: Civil War”), or their parentage (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”), that’s refreshing.
It’s not that I dislike or have anything against the content that Marvel and DC have been producing, but it does get exhausting. Despite their best efforts, the world of Captain America and Iron Man is not quite like ours. I can sympathize with the soldier who has been frozen for decades just trying to find his place in the present, or the man suffering from PTSD due to his near-death experience while attempting to save the world, but their problems are superhuman to a degree that the average audience can’t quite reach.
There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare. “Logan,” arguably the best superhero movie ever made (I’m editorializing, of course), asks us to empathize with a man who finally has to face his mortality. Sure, he has also been living for nearly two hundred years and has never had an injury that hasn’t healed unusually quickly, but who hasn’t faced the reality of the slow process of death we are all undergoing — even if we bleed for a little longer than Wolverine?
“Logan” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” are two sides of the same coin. “Logan” is the superhero movie of our time. The film rightly takes the pessimistic view of the world we live in. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” occupies the optimistic side of that spectrum, but it never confuses optimism with naivete despite the youth of Peter Parker (he is 15 in this iteration, and he acts and looks it).
In this film, Peter is overeager to join the Avengers. Occasionally, he makes rash decisions, but they are the result of a steadfast belief that he can accomplish things he maybe isn’t quite ready for. Ultimately, Peter is a teenager and a person; he deals with the problems teenagers and people do, and he does so in the most human way possible. He tries. He disappoints. He triumphs.
Peter’s belief in himself and optimism are aspirational, though they waver sometimes. His trials ground him distinctly in reality, as does his nemesis, Vulture (Michael Keaton, who can’t seem to escape being a bird-man). Vulture turns to crime after he loses his job, cleaning up after the Avengers, to the government and Tony Stark. He has a real problem with billionaires making a mess and then profiting from the cleanup. Sound familiar? My only complaint about the film is that Vulture was not scary enough in the first half of the movie.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the optimistic and relatable superhero movie we need right now. Not all of us can be Wonder Woman or Dr. Strange or an enhanced space raccoon, but we can all choose to be friendly, neighborly. Spider-Man is the hero in all of us. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” reminds us of that.
That alone justifies this movie’s existence. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is potentially the best Spider-Man movie made thus far and it is one of the best superhero movies I’ve, personally, ever seen. It shines in a genre that has overwhelmingly turned toward a dark tone. It brings the life of the comics back. This Spider-Man stokes hope, and that is something we desperately need.