The world's changed...time we change too

The world’s changed…time we change too

 

When I was seventeen, a friend’s mother told her that I seemed like the cockiest kid she’d ever met. My friend countered with the fact that my cockiness was actually a complete front, and that beneath it I was actually extremely shy. I never asked my friend how she knew that (though the answer was probably “Because I have eyes, Ryan”)…but I have to believe that lots of other teenagers use that trick.

Cloak yourself in some sort of persona to achieve what you want to achieve, since underneath that cloak is a person saddled with discomposure, doubt, and dread.

The formula works even better for teenage superheroes.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING takes us back to the aftermath of THE AVENGERS. A clean-up crew headed-up by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is supposed to be digging New York out of the rubble left behind by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes after their battle with Loki and his extraterrestrial minions. That team is swiftly pulled off the job by federal authorities claiming jurisdiction. The slight forces Toomes’ hand, and helps him see that what he is hauling away might be far more valuable than the service he is providing.

So it is that he becomes something of a gunrunner specializing in extra-terrestrial tech.

Eight years later, a young gifted lad from Queens is recruited by billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and whisked into the middle of The Avengers CIVIL WAR. The kid is Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – and when he performs his feats of daring-do, he calls himself The Spider-Man. His contribution to The Avengers Initiative goes well, and Tony Stark continues to support and mentor him back in Queens.

Small problem though, Tony is largely absent. He has no plans to bring Parker into the larger fight, and no illusions of training him how to use his abilities. For that, Peter is on his own. Not even his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) can guide him through these uncertain times, since she’d promptly freak-out. So Peter basically goes it alone.

His heroism is of the low-key variety, his presence in the high school social scene is nil, and even his contributions to the extracurriculars he once enjoyed are sliding in the hopes of being ready to be called by Stark once again.

In the background of all of this, Tommes’ career as a munitions supplier has grown, and eventually Peter stumbles upon it. Does he have the abilities yet to take down the lord of war? Or is this a job better left to Iron Man and his mighty pals?

 

Tony Stark and Peter Parker

 

It would be great to sit here and say that Spider-Man’s inclusion into this broader universe (that in the comic books he was already a part of from the get-go), was a result of timing and careful forethought. The fact of the matter is, it was a fluke; a Hail Mary pass by a studio desperate to avoid losing their most lucrative property. That’s not any sort of criticism, just a point that needs to be made that so much of this film’s success comes after ten years of failing to various degrees.

Regardless, what that curious moment of kismet did though, was give us a much-needed dose of levity and uncertainty in this big blow-em-up world that is the MCU. There’s a running joke in the film that involves Captain America speaking from TV screens in various PSA’s. In the face of that buff, brave, brassy hero, we keep cutting back to Peter Parker. He’s a nerd, scared shitless around girls, and living in his aunt’s apartment. He could not be less like Captain America if he tried.

And yet, he still has so damned much to offer the world…if only he could tell us all, and if only he could get a grip on his capabilities.

Instead, he makes jokes, he screws up, he makes rash decisions, and he spreads himself too thin. That’s without the tights on. One would like to believe that once he gets into that suit, he gets that extra rush of confidence a teenager got when they stepped on to a basketball court, stood before the blackboard in chemistry, or did whatever one thing they did where they knew they excelled.

No such luck. This Spider-Man is still figuring things out there too, and in this film, his heroics aren’t so much feats of great ability, as they are great ability cut with mad amounts of luck. Holland sells every one of them, both in and out of the suit. Whether he’s trying to talk to a girl, trying to thwart a bank robbery, or trying to placate his overprotective aunt – he does it all with a panic in his eyes and a squeak in his voices that pretty much screams “Don’t mind me; I’m new here”

…and we love him for it.

HOMECOMING does something special that is the key to its success and deserves a tip of the cap. The movie decides to dial back a character’s story arc without rebooting it completely. It allows us to revisit the themes at the core of the character – the insane amount of changes that teenagers experience, uncertainty in the face of much of it, the capacity to court real danger – and not have to start at one to experience it again. The prevailing wisdom in Hollywood has been “If we break it, we’ll just reboot it” for nearly twenty years now, and as much as I’m sure we were all looking forward to Peter getting bit again, and seeing Uncle Ben get shot again…it’s nice to know that the filmmakers trust us to remember those details.

Indeed, we all remember where The Webslinger came from…and also all remember the anxiety and angst that comes with being a teenager. Seeing a character in this crazy on-screen universe go through those same feelings of angst an anxiety makes the whole thing seem a little less nuts. It burrows itself a warm little centre in the middle of all those super-soldiers, gods, and billionaires, and becomes something a little more human. Mutated and death-defying, but still human.

Nine years into The Marvel Cinematic Universe, moviegoers could be pardoned for feeling exhausted. It’s become so vast, so overwhelming…it’s easy to get lost. So it was, that filmmakers decided to counterweight it all by telling a simple, self-contained story.

HOMECOMING is exactly what its title implies; a singular story that somehow brings us back to one. It’s familiar, funny, warm, and wonderful…and feels very much like returning to the old stomping grounds.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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