25 July 2017 1120 Views

Spider Man : Homecoming is a Solid and Fun Comic Book Adventure, offering Lessons in Growing Up via a Third Way Political Optimism at Heart

by James Murphy

SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING is a fun and endearing, engaging adventure/coming of age comedy, with comic book credentials and political relevance..

We’ve taken a look at the good, the bad and yes, the hidden political subtexts in this latest cinematic version of Spidey..

 

OVERVIEW:

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING  has heart, wit, warmth, charm and soul . This is the Spidey film fans wanted for years. The film has performed well, despite a (logical) drop in numbers during its second week, with respectably solid hold now as it approaches the month mark.

The Good:

  • Tom Holland and his young co-stars all charming. Peter and Ned possibly one of the most endearing and funny double acts in recent Cinema history.
  • Michael Keaton a complex and funny antagonist. The tech stuff works in the context of explaining how both heroes and villains work: verisimilitude. Most satisfying of all the Spider-Man iterations.
  • Tony Stark! And a cameo at the end that made me cry (it’s a thing..she turns up on screen..i cry..will get help). And Aunt May Tomei is lovely.
  • Two of the funniest lines in the history of Cinema. You’ll know them when you see them. Because you will be in a paroxysm of laughter.

Above ALL:

There are lessons here about adolescence. The fact is that we are ALL awkward at that age; none of us is truly a super-hero in terms of confidence and competence.   I have rarely, if ever, seen a better cinematic depiction of that life lesson.

The Bad:

  • SLOW! OVERLONG! Lacks punch in its editing or innovation in its visual scheme. .
  • HOW CAN YOU MAKE A MOVIE that features Keaton AND Downey Jr and NOT have them share at least ONE scene? A criminally missed opportunity.
  • Capture the essence of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by all means. But calling that out, explicitly, with an actual moment of that film playing in the background in a Spider-Man action moment? It simply exposes how nobody writes quite like John Hughes did back in the 80s (though to be fair, Marvel movies are better than Hughes’ lazy later remakes of Disney movies and baby adventure capers etc).
  • Some surprises spoiled by an overcooked viral /trailer marketing campaign.

In General?

The Good outweighs the bad! Warm. Witty. Wondrous. Entertaining. This film should be COMPULSORY viewing for teenagers, parents and teachers as part of mutual developmental discussions. Great thing is that it is so charming that all demographics could embrace and enjoy the fun and moral motifs in tandem. Tom Holland is a star and gives the best iteration of the character so far onscreen. Homecoming is the best of the Spider-Man films to date, jointly perhaps with Sam Raimi’s Spider Man 2 (2004: check it out).

(l to r) Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in Columbia Pictures’ SPIDER-MAN™: HOMECOMING.

Political Post-Script: Spidey is a Third Way Kinda Guy..

On one hand: Peter sees a destiny as one of the Avengers, located in a luxury penthouse apartment and with state of the art tech and media attention to match. On the other? That very obsession blinds him to the need for such privilege to be earned through mentoring by one’s elders. And even with the power to shoot webs and climb walls etc, one must always first address the smaller problems in life and local communities, before one can take on the bigger fish. The hero’s quest here is to find a balance between two worlds.

Or: Spidey needs a third way! And so, enter, the mentor: Tony Stark, a man whose billion dollar fortune was built initially on weapons design /sales, before a road to Damascus style conversion in an Afghan prison cave changed his thinking and he became a super-hero (Iron Man). The villain, ‘Vulture’ wants to simply emulate the path taken by Stark. And his argument is compelling.

What if one is a blue collar worker, building a business, only to lose that, whilst one’s billionaire masters look down from their skyscraper fortresses? Michael Keaton’s Vulture is that demographic, personified.

Think: sympathetic grievance and ambition but a dire and destructive consequence to executing their worldview in reality. This might be a comic book villain that Keaton is playing. But the line of thought his character embodies is all too real and relevant. It arguably brought a certain Donald Trump to power in the White House.

Think of those ‘SILENT MAJORITY’ /’Make America Great again’ types, with arguably legitimate lack of love for the Clinton/Obama era insulation of media approval and associated liberal causes. Yet they voted in a man who governs, still, largely from..you got it..an ivory skyscraper? Ironic. Tragic. The world order has remained much the same. It just became even nastier, if anything. Gone is even the pretence of third way approaches to issues ranging from climate change through to healthcare.

And then notice that, back in Spidey’s comic book universe, Tony Stark, for all the good he does, is by no means eschewing his capitalist decadence. He still rules, from above, with a kind of disdain, albeit presented in a carapace of comedy and charisma. And many of his so called world saving schemes in fact generated more dangers than they prevented (from Extremis to Ultron and arguably, from the moment he designed that suit..).

 

 

Stark’s redemption is therefore not so much his super-heroics as his own personal pain and romantic ideals. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the love of his life but sometimes leaves when Tony’s eccentricities takeover; one sympathises. 😉

And Stark has a retrospective reverence for his departed Dad, as though desperately trying to win  a kind of posthumous paternal pride. Notice that -spoiler alert – Tony’s parents were assassinated when he was a student: cf CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR).

 

Extending the metaphor? Well, you can hate the Trumps of this world all you like. But they seem to love their families and genuinely seek approbation, both parental and political. ‘I’m gonna make you so proud’. ‘This is gonna be the best thing ever’: compellingly childlike immaturity.  

Whilst I might therefore hate the current POTUS’ constitutional illiteracy and destructive policy plans in certain areas, I maintain that even he is not an outright ‘villain’ in his own moral narrative. 

And yes, dammit. I think that both Ivanka and Melania Trump are unfairly maligned. And sometimes in the nastiest of terms, by those who claim to hate Donald for his lack of compassion. You MUST be bigger and better than that.

Model the antidote to those behavio(u)rs you profess a devotion to opposing. If you truly seek to hono(u)r the legacy of Obama? Then perhaps start by emulating his diplomacy, panache, polish and charm. You cannot bring him back (well, you could but..constitutional mine field..). You can do the man proud in HOW you conduct your moral mission.

BE BETTER! THEN you will have a total sheen of objectivity and superiority, winning both moral AND legal /political victories. But ONLY then. THAT is the kind of discipline and development lesson we learn as we watch Spider-Man.

Good is not good enough. You must strive for a super-heroic standard of perfection in personal conduct before you enter the arena of political debate on the moral high ground. Climbing walls and spinning webs? That’s easy. Optional. But winning a political debate? That’s truly super-heroic.

To help that quest? A reminder: Even the most feared of predators (spiders! vultures! billionaires!) or comic book villains might have a redeeming moment in their natural habitat? The baddie in HOMECOMING genuinely loves and protects those who have inspired his journey to crime, as surely as Stark loves Pepper /his lost parents and so on.

These things are NEVER quite as black and white as they seem. And NO that does NOT mean I think Donald Trump is like Tony Stark. Although…no. Stop it. Now. 😉

Conclusion?

Prima facie: Spider-Man: Homecoming is simply a fun, charming comic book romp. But look just a little closer, between lines. The pervasive themes of left vs right and trying to find some decent middle moral ground are there. And never more relevant in today’s uncertain world, especially for the teenage viewer, seeking to define the correct path, learning from others whilst embracing and asserting the first breaths of a truly adult autonomy.

It is no accident that a defining snapshot from the film features our web-slinging hero, in action, atop the Washington Monument. It’s potently pertinent symbolism. One suspects it is that political /philosophical thread, beneath the action, which will be noted and analysed as the film ages up and revisionist cinema historians view it afresh.

Roll on the sequels.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Recommended viewing. Go see. Twice! 

 



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