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Edited by Robert Beach
After weeks of actor announcements, we finally have a new casting announcement for 2017’s hotly anticipated Spider-Man: Homecoming. So far the film has assembled a murder’s row of talented actors, and that’s on top of the goodwill it’s built up from Spider-Man’s extended cameo in this year’s Captain America: Civil War. What’s more, Homecoming has consistently made headlines with their emphasis on color-blind casting and trying to make-up for Marvel’s stifling lack of diversity so far.
For the first time, we’ve got a Marvel movie set in New York that tries to reflect the diverse make-up of that city rather than just a bunch of white people and their one black friend. Given that this casting news involves race bending a popular character, there’s been no small amount of Internet ire over it. Given this column is about speculation and analysis rather than character’s hair or skin color, I’ll just say everyone should just relax. Now let’s dive in.
MICHAEL CHARNUS – THE TINKERER
What, you didn’t think I was going to put the big announcement at the top, did you? Don’t worry, I’ve already said most of what I want to say about the Tinkerer’s presence, so this won’t take long. If you don’t know him, the Tinkerer is a more second-string Spider-Man foe, though he’s more of a general Marvel bad guy than anything else. His gimmick is that he’s an inventor, providing high-tech gadgets and weaponry to various super villains while rarely getting involved in things himself.
He makes sense to have on hand for the movie as a stand-in for Doctor Octopus, someone to act as the scientific brains of the villain clique without drawing attention to the excellent Raimi films or the abysmal Webb films. Also, the villains of Homecoming are going to need some high tech since Spider-Man is now an Avenger and is outfitted with weapons and gadgets devised by Iron Man himself, who Spidey can always call in for help.
The big thing that Tinkerer’s presence confirms is how much the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, will be a different character. In the comics, Vulture has always been more on the level of Captain Boomerang or the like, a thief and inventor who’s scraping by on the villainy circuit.
For the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was more in line with the corporate raider version we saw sporadically in the Spider-Man animated series. That’s one of the unique things about Spidey’s rogue’s gallery: corporate crime is key to a lot of his foes. Without Oscorp on hand (I doubt we’ll see Green Goblin on screen for a while), making Vulture fill the evil CEO role makes a lot of sense.
BOKEEM WOODBINE – SHOCKER
Bokeem Woodbine is one of those great supporting character actors that consistently almost has a career. The guy has been around and done a ton of work. For most casual viewers, it’d be difficult to pin him down. He’s got a face you recognize, but you don’t know where you match the person and role. That’s why I’m super glad he’s taking on the role of Shocker. He’s more than paid his dues and deserves an iconic role to define him as a character for audiences. I mean, everyone in Homecoming looks to be great. It’ll just be nice that from now on whenever Woodbine shows up, and you wonder who he is, there’ll be a role on hand.
His character, Shocker, is very much the muscle of the villain trio that’s emerged from Homecoming. Vulture is obviously the leader while Tinkerer is the brains; thus making this villain set-up one of the smartest approaches to comic book villains onscreen I’ve ever seen. Seriously, since the days of Batman Returns, superhero films have tried to give their multiple villains equal screen time, and it always ends up shortchanging someone, usually the hero. Scrapping that approach and formatting the villains like a standard criminal organization is a sharp move.
Much like Tinkerer, I had previously speculated on who would play Shocker and ended up wrong, which means actors Logan Marshall-Green and Martin Starr are still unaccounted for in the cast. There are a ton of actors still playing mystery roles, and I wouldn't be surprised if a big chunk of them went to new characters or simple supporting folks. I still wouldn’t be surprised if these two ended up bad guys at some point. They’re both talented and good villain fits overall, so I could see them being slotted into villain civilian identities to pay off in future films.
ZENDAYA – MARY JANE WATSON
And now for the role that I totally saw coming, and I’m shocked everyone is so surprised about. Obviously, I don’t blame people for not guessing this, but with Zendaya’s current position as a rising star and the basic demands of Spider-Man movies, there wasn’t anyone else she COULD be.
Spider-Man MUST have a love interest to balance melodrama with superhero heroics since it's a cornerstone of his character. Mary Jane is pretty much the only possible love interest Homecoming could use. Betty Brant is too limited; Gwen Stacey is still tainted by the Webb films; Liz Allan, though in the film, isn’t an interesting love interest if her stepbrother the Molten Man isn’t on hand. It had to be Mary Jane.
As to whether or not I think Zendaya will do well in the part, I honestly couldn’t say. I’ve heard from a lot of critics I trust that Zendaya’s the real deal, a legit star in the making and not just a Disney-manufactured starlet. And yet, I haven’t seen her in anything and don’t really care for her music. I will say that she’s both the proper age to pass for a fellow high schooler with Peter and is stunningly gorgeous, so she passes all the physical requirements I could think of for Mary Jane. I do wonder if, being a pop star outside the movies, we might get an MJ that’s an aspiring singer rather than a model. (I mean, The Flash and Supergirl are already planning a musical crossover, so it’s hardly far-fetched.)
The only really interesting thing about Zendaya as a black Mary Jane is how it highlights the idea that Peter is the one white kid in his group of friends. I actually really like that idea as it highlights his outsider status and could translate the outdated idea of geek awkwardness to white geekiness, which would be a smart shift. At the very least, it grounds Spider-Man and his mythos in a seldom-explored corner of the Marvel universe.
It could be a really interesting exploration of how people of color in-universe feel about the superhero presence in their daily lives. After all, Civil War hinged almost entirely on the impact superhero battles had on people of color and how that led to real change, so it’d be great if that was still on the MCU’s mind going forward.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is scheduled to premiere July 17, 2016
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