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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Spider-Man: Homecoming Casting Breakdown

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Edited by Robert Beach

For the past month and a half, we’ve been inundated with Spider-Man: Homecoming casting announcements. The film has turned into a massive who’s who of rising talent, and the amount of women and actors of color featured in the casting has been a major smart step for Marvel working to address growing concerns about their lack of diversity. The only off-putting thing about all these announcements is that they’ve been listing actors without characters. 

Now, we’ve got our first information about what heroes, villains, and supporting characters will be featured in Spider-Man: Homecoming. While not everyone is known (like Donald Glover or Hannibal Buress), we do have enough announcements to start forming a fairly accurate picture of the film to come. 

Yes, this announcement has been more or less confirmed before Comic Con 2016, but I still want to talk about it. I’m looking to give a comprehensive view of this film. The Vulture is the first of three bad guys to be featured in the film and most likely the main one based on his fellow villains. The casting is one of the most interesting tidbits from the movie and almost feels like a direct middle finger to some of Marvel’s biggest critiques and rivals. 

Firstly, Michael Keaton going from Batman to Vulture feels like a very pointed jab at the folks at DC/WB.  That might seem petty, but remember, Marvel chose to name their first Spider-Man moving “Homecoming,” tact and subtlety aren’t going to be found here. What’s more, it’s a pretty nifty jab at Alejandro Inarritu, the director of Keaton’s 2014 comeback film Birdman and a vocal critic of the superhero genre for no discernable reason. Seriously, taking the star of Inarritu’s big, anti-superhero critique movie and making him a bird-themed villain is a pretty great move that you can’t help but respect.

As for Vulture as a figure in the movie, he’s a solid character to bring in to the proceedings.  It’s pretty clear that Marvel feels unwilling to retread the bad guys of previous Spider-Man movies, so going with Vulture, a rich villain with flight powers and a company, makes sense as a lateral move if you feel the Green Goblin is an unusable bad guy. Vulture’s money and influence would make him a solid counter to Tony Stark’s assets if the movie needs a way to keep Iron Man from intervening in the plot. 

Okay, this is technically speculation, but Starr is confirmed in the movie, and Tinkerer is confirmed as a bad guy. If it turns out they’re one and the same, it’d honestly make a lot of sense. Much like Vulture, Tinkerer works as both a stand-in for villains Marvel while also negating the question of “why doesn’t Spider-Man just call in the Avengers?”  

If you’ve never heard of him, Tinkerer is pretty much all there in the name. He’s a gadget maker and tech-based villain who usually specializes in making tech for other bad guys. My guess is that his role in this film will be in outfitting Vulture and the film’s third confirmed villain Shocker with their gear. He strikes me as a pretty clear stand-in for Doctor Octopus, who had this same role in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series that proved super successful for Marvel.

Additionally, Tinkerer’s skill with technology makes him a great threat to the Avengers, who are all technologically based at this point. If you needed someone who could shut down Vision, Iron Man, and War Machine and force Spider-Man into a solo scenario, Tinkerer is the right guy for the job.  

I also just think Martin Starr makes sense for this position, given his history and baggage. The dude’s made a major splash on Silicon Valley, and while it’s a little unfair to let that define him, it does color how he’s viewed. His manicured image screams tech head and using him to emphasize ideas like weird tech start-ups as part of Spider-Man’s long history fighting evil corporations makes sense.

Shocker is the third villain of the three on hand, and his presence is a great example of how much Marvel has come to ‘get’ how to do multiple villains. See, there’s this weird misconception among comic fans that multiple villains instantly makes a movie bad, especially if the number of bad guys goes above 2.  

Comic geeks are obsessed with villains, usually because bad guys are the ones who spend life getting stepped on and also because they get all the hero’s cool powers and skills without any of the moral obligation. At the same time, the problem is also that previous comic book movies tried to give both villains equal screen space, essentially splitting their focus between three different characters. 

Marvel is taking a much more traditional approach to the multiple villains with one big-name bad guy as the leader of the pack and the others acting as henchmen or one-off enemies to appear in opening sequences.  Folks like Crossbones in Civil War or Baron Strucker in Age of Ultron are good opening action samples while Shocker is getting set-up as the hands-on bad guy in Vulture’s entourage.  

He’s clearly meant to be the “muscle” of the team in addition to Tinkerer as the tech guy, which is pretty much your standard set-up for a group of movie criminals. Shocker’s main gimmick is shooting bolts of concussive force from his wrist gauntlets, which pretty much makes him perfect as the hired muscle of the team. 

So far, this is the only confirmed Spider-Man love interest to be in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Liz Allen gets forgotten nowadays, but she was one of the handful of women Spider-Man was involved with prior to the introduction of Mary Jane Watson. The first was Betty Brant, but she proved uninteresting. Liz Allen at least had some complications to her character when it turned out her step-brother was C-list Spider-Man foe, the Molten Man. 

Marvel has already said they’re working towards a Harry Potter-type structure for their Spider-Man films, taking it slow and watching the actors grow through high school, college, and into a career, which seems smart.  If that is the long-term plan, starting with Liz Allen is a smart move. There’s enough lore to her character that she’s a solid love interest. She’s yet another lateral move for Marvel. 

Lateral moves have become a pretty central theme of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s casting and characters, Marvel trying to work around the idea that certain villains and characters are now “tainted” by association to Sony’s various Spider-Man movies. They feel they can’t use people like Green Goblin, the Lizard, Doc Ock, and most especially Gwen Stacey.  

While I’m not sure that level of restrained is required, it is a smart move for Marvel. Marvel Studios found their feet by adapting second-string heroes no one cared about because the lack of star power pushed them to work even harder to make the films quality.  Bringing that same attitude to Spider-Man, after nearly a decade of the character running into the ground, is a great way to try and make him relevant again.

Weirdly enough, aside from Aunt May and Vulture, Flash Thompson is probably the most mainstream Spider-Man supporting character to be featured in this casting breakdown. Flash has been a part of the Spider-Man mythos since the very beginning, and, much like Peter, he’s evolved as a character throughout the decades.  

When he premiered, Flash was a jock and a bully, one of the folks Peter had to deal with at high school. As things progressed, Flash went from persistent jerk to a close friend of Peter’s. Most recently, Flash became a full-on hero in his own right when he took stewardship of the Venom symbiote. As Venom, Flash worked as a black ops agent for the government before later joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and learning the symbiote was more like armor, at which point he became Venom Space Knight. 

Obviously, I doubt ALL of that is going to happen, but part of me wonders if Marvel is planning for something like it. Like I said, the two themes of this casting breakdown are lateral moves to avoid “tainted” characters and long-form planning for characters to be important later. Tony Revolori’s casting feels a lot like the latter: setting up Flash for an arc from bully to friend before maybe having him go hero himself.  While Marvel apparently can’t use the Venom character, I’m sure they could find some other superhero for Flash to take up the mantel of, even a space-based one. 

Here’s the one that’s getting the most speculation. We have no real details about the character of “Michelle” beyond her name. Most folks have speculated that she’s Michelle Gonzalez, a pretty obscure Spider-Man supporting love interest from Mark Waid’s run on the character. Personally, I don’t buy it.  

I get that this film is looking to draw on Spider-Man’s lower tier supporting characters and villains, but Michelle Gonzalez just seems too limited a character to fit that particular bill. Unless we’re dealing with a thoroughly re-imagined version of the character, there’s just not as much to Michelle Gonzalez as there is to Flash Thompson or Liz Allen. 

No, I think Zendaya will be playing M.J. Watson, and the Michelle name switch is just a cover to throw people off till later in the movie. If that’s the case, it’d be a pretty major shake-up, especially given we’d be dealing with a woman of color as Mary Jane.  

However, while I get Marvel wanting to avoid controversy over that casting in the build up to the film, I could also definitely see them wanting the credit and using the race change as a way to break ties with Kirsten Dunst’s version of Mary Jane. At the same time, when Spider-Man: Homecoming comes out, it’ll have been ten years since Mary Jane Watson was onscreen. I could see Marvel writing themselves license to revisit her character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is scheduled for release on July 7, 2017

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