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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Spider-Man: Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

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No character more embodies the state of Marvel Studios at this moment in time like Spider-Man does.  On the one hand, he’s a multi-billion dollar franchise and ranks among the likes of Batman and Superman as some of the most influential and well-known heroes on the planet.  I mean, lest we forget, Spider-Man has had 5 mega-budget solo movies, a ton of TV shows, and even appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade- he’s one of the few characters that acts as an ambassador of the entire genre of superheroes.

On the opposite hand, he hasn’t had a good solo movie since 2004 and his past 2 bombs were so explosive they threatened to drag the entire franchise down to the bottom of the sea.  What I’m saying is that Spider-Man occupies the unique space of being essentially a sure thing but with enough franchise dead weight to seem like a risky venture, which is the exact Venn diagram center point Marvel Studios thrives in.  And, with our first look at the new Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, thriving looks be exactly what Marvel’s up to. 

Even as someone who isn't exactly a big Peter Parker fan (Superior Spider-Man for life,) I have to admit this trailer is exciting.  What I like most is that it doesn’t FEEL like a traditional Marvel movie.  Though really, the fact I’m able to say “traditional Marvel movie” feels like a failure on their part while simultaneously an oversimplification on mine.  What I mean to say is that nothing about this trailer seems naturally fitted into the build-a-blockbuster sheet that’s become familiar cinematic parlance in the wake of Avengers. 

By now, we’ve all developed a relatively basic idea of what “blockbuster genre flick” is supposed to look like, especially regarding the third act finale.  There’s always a ticking clock, a chatterbox villain, a disposable CGI army, a beam into the sky, some swirling rubble, and virtually no character development as that was all taken care of at the end of Act 2.  Spider-Man: Homecoming looks to be eschewing those islands of safety so well worn in the Marvel archipelago for more uncharted waters.  

So, our story finds Peter Parker attending a charter school in Queens some time after the events of Captain America: Civil War.  If you’re looking for deep insight into his collection of classmates, we won’t be doing that.  Suffice it to say they all look somewhat fun and are drawn from an array of sources including both classic Spider-Man comics and the ranks of Miles Morales’ supporting cast. 

I do like that this is the most racially accurate depiction of a New York classroom we’ve seen in a big budget movie in nearly forever and that nobody seems to be fitting too comfortably into a stereotype.  At most, Pete and his friend look to fit more neatly into the classification of “geeks” than previous iterations like Andrew Garfield’s shampoo model cipher or Toby McGuire’s ‘60s nerd pantomime. 

What sets our story in motion is that the collection of NYC thugs and crooks have somehow come into possession of cool techno gadgets, throwing a much deadlier threat into Spider-Man’s path than the standard group of evil-doers that aren’t being handled by the NYPD or the Defenders.  Side note, I do thoroughly wonder what the ground level vision of New York City is meant to BE within the MCU. 

I mean, over the course of Daredevil to Luke Cage the NYPD has been completely taken over by criminals on three separate occasions, and the city itself is full up with Hammer Tech and evil Ninja clans, though I doubt we’ll see any of that in the film itself.  These new threats prompt Peter to strike out on his own, leaving the sheltering wing of Tony Stark, to try and take on the city’s latest menace- the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. 

Adding Tony Stark as a supporting character in the Spider-Man mythos is a genius move for a lot of reasons.  The primary thinking here is, of course, to bond Peter and Spider-Man: Homecoming to the MCU both through Tony’s presence and by avoiding the use of characters from his recent outings.  Tony can act as Pete’s father figure and science guru, so they don’t have to bring in the likes of Captain Stacy, Oscorp, Doc Ock, or the Lizard. 

What’s more, Tony as Pete’s father figure is a clever way to keep the role from becoming a wet blanket to the fun of the series while still giving us someone to impose rules and boundaries and such.  Finally, it helps answer the big “why doesn’t Iron Man help out?” question that would’ve been looming over the film otherwise.

Speaking of, the very nature of the threat in Spider-Man: Homecoming is a clever way to wrong-foot the question of where the rest of the MCU is for this movie.  Our villains are just thieves, dudes with tech that’s impressive and dangerous but not “end of the world” bad.  As such, it’s fine if they aren’t calling out the Vision or Dr. Strange to deal with the likes of Shocker or the Vulture. 

They’re still a threat to Peter, just not enough of a threat to warrant the weight of the world is thrust upon them.  I suspect/hope this is how things go in the future for the MCU, with more finales along the lines of Civil War, Ant-Man, and Dr. Strange.  There’s also the fringe benefit of less public or powerful bad guys being unable to resort to the army, ticking clock, sky beam trio that’s become so horribly overused in the Marvel pantheon. 

There are still a few mysteries circling around our trailer like where are these high tech weapons coming from, who is Donald Glover playing, and what was Spider-Man doing on the Washington Monument.  Some people have suggested the high-tech gadgets are going to come from Oscorp, but that seems a bit unlikely to me, mainly because I don’t think Marvel is going to be touching anything from Amazing Spider-Man with a 10-foot pole.

That’s the same reason I doubt Glover is playing one of the Osborns, as people have speculated.  It’s more likely the weapons are the work of the Tinkerer, one of the three confirmed bad guys, though I could easily believe Glover is playing another science bad guy waiting in the wings for part 2 like Doctor Octopus or Alistair Smythe. 

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming looks to be performing the same weird alchemy that’s managed to cement Marvel so firmly as the cinematic overlords of the 2010s.  Much the same way Spider-Man is a sure thing that feels risky; Spider-Man: Homecoming is a big movie that feels small.  I mean, the climax involves an entire cruise ship split in half and the team-up of Spider-Man and Iron Man, that’s a huge moment as the upstart new face of superheroes (Iron Man) joins with the older character that basically paved the way for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in the midst of all of that the whole thing can’t help but feel grounded.  The emphasis on Pete’s school and friends as the definitions of his world, his weaknesses, his sense of self- it all speaks to a film that may be promising large-scale action but will deliver on small-scale drama. 

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