Guest Post with Steve Lambert
Today I am *very* excited to share a guest post from one of my best friends and brothers in Christ, Pastor Steve Lambert. Steve is a gentleman I’ve had the pleasure of knowing as a friend for around 10 years, and aside from common friends and our faith one of the things that we bonded over was a mutual love of comic books and comic book movies – and particularly in Steve’s case, Spider-man. We don’t always agree on what the best Spidey stories or films are, but I always love the discussions with him and the perspective he brings. So when Steve asked me if I’d do a guest post with his thoughts on Spider-man Homecoming, I (with giddy excitement) jumped at the chance. And with that bro-love introduction in mind, I am thrilled to share Steve’s post. Hope y’all enjoy.
I know I’m about a month late on this, but I wanted to throw in my two cents on Spider-Man: Homecoming. I saw it opening night and then again a week later, and I’ve been processing my thoughts about it ever since. Yeah, I’m a slow thinker.
In short, I really liked it. It’s a tightly written, well cast, movie that doesn’t waste any moments or do anything without a lot of intention behind it. It’s fun. Michael Keaton is a great villain. Tom Holland is a really good Peter Parker/Spider-Man. And most of all, Spider-Man is in the MCU!!
If you’re a casual fan of Spider-Man, or just superhero movies, that’s about as far as the review need to go, right? What more is there to say? But if you’re a huge comic book nerd whose favourite superhero has been Spider-Man since he came to Toronto and teamed up with Ghost Rider to teach you about bike safety (Amazing Spider-Man: Hit and Run! check it out!), then there’s always more to talk about.
The first question everyone always asks is, “Where would you rank it compared with the previous Spider-Man movies?” I’ve thought and thought about that, and I can’t come up with an answer. I can’t. And I’ll tell you why, each franchise so far has been so completely different. They each have merits and faults.
All modern comic book movies stand on the shoulders of the original Spider-Man trilogy (and the original X-Men trilogy (both of which in turn stand on the shoulders of the Batman and Superman quadrilogies and Adam West and a whole bunch of tv shows, but I digress)). Thankfully, the superhero genre has definitely matured since the early 2000s. We get better actors than Toby McGuire now and they are just generally taken more seriously and are better. So Raimi’s original trilogy hasn’t aged that well (nor, I would argue, has the X-Men trilogy). And yet, the first two of these feel the most like classic Spider-Man from the comics. So I really appreciate them for that. They also have a good balance of Peter’s relationships and interesting villains with cool action scenes. Oh yeah, and number 3 is terrible, with a couple of cool action sequences.
The Amazing Spider-Man films are generally disliked, and I understand why. The first one tread a lot of familiar ground, the villain’s story was cliché and 2D, and weird editing left a lot of dangling plot threads, and that dumb scene with the cranes.… And the second one was bloated, rushed, and again had terrible villains (Amazing Spider-Man 2 is by far my least favourite, if you’re wondering.) And yet, these movies capture the heart and soul of what Spider-Man is all about: Peter Parker and his relationships. Andrew Garfield plays the best Peter Parker BY FAR (yes, including Tom Holland). He nails it. His relationship with Aunt May and especially with Gwen is perfect (Emma Stone did an amazing job too). It carries the first movie, and is the best part of the second movie (no wait, the part where he rescues the kid from the bullies, fixes his science fair project, and walks him home is the best part of that movie, and actually maybe the best moment of all six movies – see why this is so hard?) It sucks that there is so much heart and character chemistry in movies that are so flimsy in just about every other aspect.
What was this about again? Oh yeah, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Homecoming is definitely the least flawed of the six Spider-Man movies so far. It holds together really well as a movie without being cheesy or bloated or rushed. It definitely has the best villain. But here’s the thing, it’s a weird Spider-Man movie. It doesn’t really feel much like Spider-Man. And that’s on purpose – the powers that be at Marvel Studios are intelligent enough to know that the general public is fatigued by Spider-Man reboots. If this threeboot was going to be at all successful, it had to be different. I get that, I’m on board. I don’t need to see Peter get bitten by a spider again, nor do I need to see Uncle Ben die again. A picture of him in the background might have been nice, though. Or something.
This is so important because it’s Spider-Man’s defining moment. Why is Peter Parker Spider-Man? Because with great power there must also come great responsibility. That’s what drives Spider-Man. He gained the power, he didn’t use it responsibly, Uncle Ben died, and now everything he does as Spider-Man is to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. This idea gets touched on in Captain America: Civil War when Peter tells Tony, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” Similarly, in Homecoming, Peter doesn’t want May to know he’s Spider-Man because he doesn’t want to put her through more stress “after all she’s been through.” So yes, it gets touched on, and that’s great, but it’s hardly Spider-Man’s motivation.
Spider-Man’s motivation in this movie is to prove himself. He wants to impress Tony Stark. Then he wants to not be treated like a kid by Tony Stark. And then, after he loses his high tech suit, he has to prove to himself that he is worthy. The biggest example of this motivation is that scene where he’s pinned under the building and lifts it up after the voiceover from Tony Stark is an homage to the classing Amazing Spider-Man #33 from 1966 (google the cover, you’ll see.) The scene in the issue plays out very similarly to the scene in the movie, but in the comic, Spidey finds the strength to free himself not by believing that he is worthy, but by remembering his responsibilities, that Aunt May depends on him, which motivates him to be worthy of his power. It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one.
So Homecoming didn’t just not retread Spidey’s origin, they shifted his entire motivation. But it also just approached him differently in general. Not once did we see him web swinging between sky scrapers. Instead we saw him running through the suburbs (in a shot for shot recreation of Amazing Spider-Man #267), and climbing up the Washington Monument. And then there was that suit. I get its purpose in the story, but Spider-Man does not have a high tech suit (well, actually, he does currently in the comics, but even there he doesn’t have Jennifer Connelly AI that talks to him!) That’s what I mean by this being a weird Spider-Man movie; nothing about it feels like classic Spider-Man. Everything is intentionally different.
And the differences go beyond Spider-Man himself. Almost every other character in this movie were bizarre hybrid versions of their comic book counterparts. I’m not even talking about Aunt May being younger and attractive instead of old and frail, or Flash being Tony Revolori instead of a white jock. Those changes were pretty superficial. Ned Leeds, however, is Ned Leeds in name only, he’s actually Ganke Lee, Miles Morales’ best friend. There is literally no difference, down to the lego. Vulture in the comics is just an old guy in a bird suit who robs banks. In Homecoming, they gave him a lot more depth, and in some ways, he ended up being a lot like Norman Osborn. The dad of someone Peter cares about who ends up figuring out his identity. Which brings me to Liz, who’s not Liz Allen, but Liz Toomes (unless she has her mom’s last name, I guess?) and sort of takes Harry’s place in Peter’s life.
And then there’s Michelle Jones, who is MJ, but isn’t Mary Jane Watson. That’s the only one I actually disliked. Not because she’s not white or a redhead, but because in the early days of the comics, MJ was the one who hid her real self behind being a party girl and a flirt. She didn’t let people in until Gwen died. It’s great stuff. That’s not Michelle/MJ’s character in Homecoming. Except, when I watched it again, I realized that’s exactly her character, except instead of being a partier and flirt, she’s snarky and contrary. And, I think it becomes pretty clear by the end that she knows Peter’s secret (along with Ned, Vulture, Tony, Happy, Pepper, and Aunt May), which affects the way she reacts to him (which is also true to the comics). In that way, she’s definitely more like Mary Jane than Kirsten Dunst’s version. By the way, did you notice that the school mascot is a tiger? I am making a prediction now, that at some point in a sequel, Peter will end up in that costume and MJ will give him some version of the classic “Face it Tiger” line.
I think because I’m such a big Spider-Man geek, these movies will always be a little bit melancholy for me. There’s always going to be a part of me that wants to see a Spider-Man movie that captures the comics faithfulness of the original trilogy and the character chemistry of the ‘Amazing’ movies and the good story and script of Homecoming. I’m sad that we will probably never get a good version of the death of Gwen Stacy. I’ll never get to see my favourite villain, Harry Osborn done well because he’s been done badly twice before. But really, I need to get over it. Spider-Man is a fictional character that has been around for 55 years and has appeared in thousands of comics, somewhere around ten tv shows, and now three movie franchises. And each time, he’s interpreted a little differently. And that’s great. It’s nice to be able to enjoy Spider-Man in a fresh way and be surprised by the twists because the writers decided to reimagine the characters. Homecoming did that well and I look forward to seeing Spider-Man in the next two Avengers films and the Spider-Man sequel. It’s a good time to be a Spider-Man dork!
Thanks for reading, and God bless my friends.