By Andrew Jenck
I understand why you may like Spider-Man: Homecoming; it’s entertaining, has a great cast, and is one of the better films this summer. As a longtime Spider-Man fan, though, it just seemed to fall flat. My original draft for the review was longer than the maximum word count, forcing me to cut my opinion of its characterization of Peter Parker. They got a great actor, a believable teenager, who was likable to root for. However, I never could invest in this Spidey as the film itself never seemed to fully development him.
As I’ve stated previously, it feels like the filmmakers understood Peter Parker…but not really. He lives in an unappealing apartment, but doesn’t have any money troubles. He’s socially awkward, but not really an outcast with a stable social group. His aunt is alone because of him, but there isn’t really any sense of mourning from either of them. He needs to balance his superhero and school life but doesn’t struggle to maintain his grades. He has responsibilities to fulfill, but none of them really affect him substantially. My point is that Peter’s life is a bit too easy. What makes the character strike a chord with so many reader and viewers is his being burdened with the responsibilities of his heroic and superhero life.
Spider-Man almost always affects Peter’s social life where he can’t catch a break. The opportunity arises at multiple occasions in the story, but it’s never taken. For example, Peter misses his academic competition because he needs to stop the Vulture. However, his team ends up winning without him and isn’t even slapped on the wrist by his teammates. There’s another time where Peter underestimates some robbers, putting a storeowner’s life at risk, or when Spidey nearly fails to keep the ship together before Iron Man intervenes. Neither of these instances causes a public backlash, which is a core concept of the character. Even when the public hates him, he will still take the high road and save them willingly.
The themes of guilt and responsibility aren’t fully explored to give the character depth. This is in large part because the film refuses to even hint at Uncle Ben. I’m not saying we need to see Ben die a third time, but his absence really hinders Peter’s motivation. His uncle gave him wisdom that he should be the better man and use his abilities to help others, even if they don’t deserve it. That’s why he won’t beat up his high school bullies, why he saves the journalists who write propaganda about him, and why he saves his enemies (the latter of which is shown). There has always been an underlying theme of sadness to the character but also optimism and perseverance that prevents the material from being moody. That’s what always drew me to Peter Parker at a young age: someone who was trying to make the most of his life, even at his lowest points.
When you remove that, you lose a big part of what makes the character so endearing — to the point where he’s just any other teenage superhero. The film tries to replace that with Iron Man and have Peter realize that being a hero is less about being an Avenger and more about being responsible to his section of New York, but again, it’s not fully realized. Tony Stark recruited this kid in Captain America: Civil War because he didn’t want to deal with the guilt of saving people; whereas Spidey chooses to embrace that guilt as a driving force. Judging by his speech in his introductory scene, he would agree more with Captain America’s opinions on the Accords. Tony is both helping this kid but also using him for his own selfish needs. Unfortunately, the film never addresses these subtleties whatsoever; it’s just Peter trying to get promoted.
The biggest problem I had with The Amazing Spider-Man film series was that Peter was never burdened by being Spider-Man. Almost every positive review mentions how Homecoming improves upon that series, but the problem is still present to some extent. I understand not many people analyze the character of a movie in such depth which is perfectly fine. However, when I was introduced to this Peter in Civil War, which encapsulated everything I’ve said in this review, I thought I was only getting a taste of a great Spider-Man movie. Turns out, that was as good as it gets.