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With around a month left to go, Spider-Man: Homecoming is revving up to be a superhero film this year. I’m not trying to denigrate the movie, in fact as we go through this breakdown I hope it shows I’m somewhat excited for the film, I’m just being honest about where it stands. In many ways, 2017 has been kind of a hard year on Marvel Studios overall. There are certainly successes, I don’t think anybody thought Agents of SHIELD would pull off a fourth season as well as it has and Thor: Ragnarok has smash hit written all over it. But during a year when Marvel is facing down Wonder Woman, Logan, and Justice League none of their adaptations really seem to matter as much, and Homecoming is a pretty solid example of this.
The film will be the second reboot of Spider-Man this decade and the fourth Spider-Man over the past 10 years. There’s something in that to the fatigue of franchise management and repetition, especially with a character like Spider-Man who tends to revert to the same role of “teen hero” every time his film series reverts back to square one. However, credit where it’s due that Homecoming looks very good, it just looks a bit like there might’ve been a more important movie lurking in the original script. What am I talking about, let’s dive into this latest trailer, and I’ll tell you.
So, over the past month, we’ve had about 3 or so Homecoming trailers, depending on how you count the International recuts, and a picture of the film is starting to emerge. Set after the events of Civil War, Homecoming follows Peter Parker as he works under the tutelage of Tony Stark as a superhero in training in NYC while also going to school. This comfortable status quo gets up-ended when Peter runs afoul (pun intended) of the Vulture, a local weapons smuggler who has been scraping up the run off from superhero battles to turn into tech for the past 8 years. These latest trailers have given us a deeper look at the Vulture and Peter’s time prior to breaking up his operation.
This doesn’t tie into my point yet but I will say that Michael Keaton’s Vulture looks like an impressive part of the film. Keaton’s a great actor, and he manages to make a lot of his standard bad guy dialogue land a lot more through his screen presence. Keaton’s always been under-estimated after his role as Batman so I’m glad he’s getting his late career revival now and people are realizing what a solid character actor he can be.
I also like the set-up of nabbing super tech after the heroes have fought and moved on, it’s a common part of the comics but has been mostly absent from the MCU since Agents of SHIELD decided to go its own way. It’s been said Vulture and his crew will be part of Damage Control, a Marvel comics corporation that specializes in rebuilding after superhero fights. They were originally supposed to be getting an ABC sitcom, but that got scrapped, presumably because Marvel saw what NBC was doing with Powerless and wanted to distance themselves from that disaster.
I suspect the revised origin for Damage Control here will be as a Stark subsidy, that way Vulture can tie directly back to Tony and create a dark parallel to his mentorship of Peter. Tony’s presence is probably the riskiest part of the film but one of the strongest parts of the trailers. He instantly makes the movie different from every other Spider-Man film but giving Peter a father figure on the superhero side of things, but he also threatens to swallow everything up through his presence.
I don’t think that will happen, primarily because he only seems to have a handful of scenes and looks to serve more as a thematic lynchpin between Peter and the Vulture. Peter is someone Stark has given everything to and fostered where Vulture has had to scrape by on Stark’s leavings, but that’s made him more self-sufficient where Peter comes to rely very much on the Stark tech in his suit.
Speaking of Peter, easily the best of these new trailers are the stuff that’s just him hanging out in New York as Spider-Man. It’s the most definably new aspect of the franchise, giving us a glimpse into a Spider-Man just having fun as Spider-Man like a kid. There might’ve been similar sequences in the Raimi and Webb Spider-Man movies, but those always had Peter heavily weighed down by the guilt of Ben’s death or on a quest answers/vengeance, this looks a lot more like it wants to revel in the fun of being Spider-Man.
These are also the parts of the trailer where I’d argue the precise nature of the film shines through the clearest, though it’s buried throughout a lot of the detail. Homecoming looks to be a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie just with Peter Parker in place of Miles.
Aside from making the whole Spider-Man identity something beyond an outlet for teen guilt and angst, the entire supporting universe of Homecoming is cribbed from Miles Morales’ playbook. Peter’s best friend looks to be a version of Ganke, Miles Morales’ best friend, and Donald Glover is rumored to be playing Aaron Davis, Miles’ uncle and the Ultimate universe Prowler.
Peter even seems to go to Miles’ school now. I’ll certainly concede there are similarities between Peter and Miles Morales, Spider-Man has a central character core after all, but there’s a lot more that divides them than unites them, and this Spider-Man is borrowing a lot heavier from Morales’ history and status quo than Peter’s.
As for the why of this, well that’s the big question that can’t be answered if you weren’t in the room while the thing was being made but I certainly have an idea. Obviously, you can’t discount general prejudice and even amid the success of Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Luke Cage, Empire, and Get Out there are those in Hollywood who think movies with black leads don’t sell.
In that respect ripping off all of Miles’ streamlined modern elements and slopping them onto safe, white Peter Parker would certainly make sense. However, I actually think there’s a little more to it, in particular, I think Homecoming was legitimately written as a Miles Morales film, but that plan fell through due to rights issues.
As has been well publicized at this point Spider-Man: Homecoming is a joint venture between Sony and Marvel as Sony still owns the film rights to Spider-Man. The thing is that Sony didn’t really want to do this deal, they were pretty much forced into by a disastrous 2014 when Amazing Spider-Man 2 crashed at the box office, and North Korea hacked their emails, prompting their Japanese parent company to step in and broker the Marvel deal. Because of this, Sony is still very hungry for a solo superhero franchise where they don’t have to share their money with Marvel.
This is why Sony is STILL nudging along its Venom movie and has been working to launch a Silver Sable/Black Cat film for the better part of forever. The thinking is that they can produce Spider-Man adjacent content and ride the wave of goodwill and assumption that their films are part of the MCU.
They’re also producing an animated Spider-Man movie that will star Miles Morales as Spider-Man. As such, it’s my suspicion Marvel plotted out Homecoming with Miles Morales in mind but swapped it to Peter Parker when Sony wouldn’t give up the rights, Sony calculating that after the damage Amazing Spider-Man did to the brand, Peter would be a harder character to rehabilitate.
Now obviously this is all conjecture, and I’m not trying to accuse Sony of a conspiracy any more sinister than being incompetent. I just think it’s pretty clear Homecoming is working to incorporate the best parts of the Miles Morales Spider-Man and blend them up with the most recognizable elements of the Peter Parker Spider-Man mythos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing regarding making a good movie, Homecoming looks genuinely very good, but I do think that just going with the Spider-Man everyone knows is a bit of a disappointment on the front of making an honestly game-changing movie.
As I said at the start, 2017 is a big year for superheroes with a lot of bold and boundary pushing entries in the genre. We’re seeing our first big budget woman superhero film of the modern cycle with Wonder Woman, the first Justice League movie ever, and the ambitiously dark and brutal Logan. Amid all that quality, experimentation, and risk another Spider-Man movie doesn’t really have a lot of weight to it anymore.
Obviously there’s no point in pining for a film that may very well never have existed and there’s always the chance Miles Morales will be part of this movie in some way. But after Amazing Spider-Man showed us how underwhelming and un-impactful a Spider-Man film could be, I just wonder if “a good Peter Parker movie” is enough to stick around anymore.
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