Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest, and best, Spider-Man movie. It is also provides a case study in crony capitalism that illustrates why so many Americans are rejecting the big government status quo.
Homecoming is not just a reference to the high school dance that serves as the setting for the films climactic battle, but to the fan this movie represents Spider-Man’s homecoming to Marvel Studios.
In the nineties, Marvel comics licensed film rights to some of its most popular characters—including Spider-Man— to other film studios. Because of this agreement, Marvel was unable to use Spider-Man in any of its own films until 2015 when Sony negotiated a deal where Marvel would make the movies while Sony would distribute it. Ironically, the reason Sony rebooted Spider-Man in 2012 was to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel. Sony’s second film with the new Spider-Man underperformed at the box offices, so in order to save their franchise Sony made a deal with Marvel.
The film is also a Homecoming in that it returns Spider-Man to his comic book roots as a shy, bullied high school student. Instead of retelling his origin story, the film kicks off during the events of Civil War, last year's Marvel blockbuster where the Avengers split into two sides over the government’s attempts to register and control them. In Civil War Tony Stark (Iron Man) requires Peter Parker to fight on the pro-government side.
Homecoming begins with Peter Parker getting ready for Civil War's slug-fest and setting up his camera to put Spider-Mans exploits on YouTube (in the comics Peter Parker set a camera to photograph Spidey, now he YouTubes him). Parker is then taken back to New York by Tony Stark and told to not call the Avengers, they'll call him.
The film is a combination of “coming of age” teen comedy and super hero action flick. Peter has to deal with all the challenges of the science-focused high school he goes to—like trying to get the girl he has a crush on to notice him—with the challenges of mastering his super powers. Some of the films funnest moments involve his early missteps, like when he tries to stop a guy from breaking into his own car.
What makes Homecoming is the performances. Tom Holland is the perfect Spider-Man and could serve as the foundation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe if, as rumored, many of the top stars are soon leaving. Other stellar performances are given by Jacob Batalon as Peter's best friend Ned, Zendaya as Michelle, Peter and Ned’s fellow mathlete whose aloof exterior and mocking tone hide true affection for Peter (and who may be a reinvention of an iconic Spider Man character) and Marisa Tomei as a younger, hipper version of Peters beloved Aunt May. John Favreau also gives a great performance as Tony Stark’s assistant Happy Hogan. Happy is tasked with dealing with Peter's endless phone calls asking if Stark has any assignments for him and giving updates on his activities.
Two performances that deserve special mention are Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Keaton as the movie's big bad Vulture. Downey is only in a few scenes but he shines in every one showing why he is Marvel's MVP. With a few words and facial expressions Downey conveys both true affection for his new protégé and exasperation that Peter will not follow his instructions to keep his exploits to the "small stuff."
Keaton makes us sympathize with the Vulture. At the beginning of the movie Adrian Toomes is a small business man who thinks his salvage company is going to strike it big cleaning up the debris from the battle of New York from 2012’s Avengers. But he is forced out by the government who has been given exclusive rights to the clean up by Stark industries. So Toomes turns to dealing in alien arms (and assumes the identity of the Vulture) not because he wants to conquer the world but because he wants to feed his family and keep his business afloat. Keaton manages to move from besieged small business owner to managing super villain to concerned Dad in a blink of an eye.
More than one critic has noticed how Vulture is a reflection of the times in which we live. This is a monster created by crony capitalism. Keaton’s Vulture is someone you might meet at a Donald Trump rally or (if he understands the real cause and solutions to his problems) a Ron Paul event. Vulture/Toomes even chides Spider-Man/Peter for siding with rich guys like Stark who rig the system to hurt people like them.
It would be interesting to see the theme of Tony Stark as crony capitalist developed over the next few Marvel movies and maybe even have that as a source of conflict between Stark and Peter. Speaking of Stark’s relationship with the government, the one flaw I saw was that the Sokovia accords that formed the basis for Civil War were never mentioned. Isn’t Spider-Man required to sign the accords? And since Iron Man was the leading champion of them shouldn’t he be pushing him to do so? It is possible that Stark has Peter sign them in a manner protecting his identity or used his influence to keep Spidey off the government's radar. This may be why he was so adamant that Spidey stay small.
That criticism aside, Homecoming is an excellent and entertaining film that illustrates how our mixed economy allows the politically connected to gain extra market advantages over small businesses.
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