Review: Spider-Man and the Marvel Machine

Before beginning the review, I must offer a confession:  I am not an admirer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seeing as I have yet to watch an enjoyable superhero movie, I’m on the opposite end of the movie-going spectrum.  However, I did my best to drop all comic-based preconceptions and give Spider-Man: Homecoming an unbiased watch.  Well, now that I’ve unburdened myself, let’s get to the review.

Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming  is the third reboot of the Marvel franchise within the last 15 years.  One of the benefits of this is the audience’s familiarity with Peter Parker’s story.  Because we know the origin of Spider-Man, Watts can bypass the beginnings and immerse the audience in Parker’s complicated life and exploration of identity.  

Drawing inspiration heavily from the classic coming-of-age films of John Hughes, Homecoming is more than the average action movie.  While Watts did a great job of capturing the warm-hearted adolescent innocence for which Hughes was famous, the homage was heavy-handed at times.  One example of this is the recreation of a famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.   In Hughes’ film, the title character ends the movie with race home, rushing through backyards in hopes hopes of hiding his truancy.  The Spider-Man sequence has Peter Parker mirroring the actions of Ferris Bueller, but instead of trusting the audience to understand the reference, director ends the scene with a short clip of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing on a television in the background.  While I appreciate a film that understands its influences, the nod was as clumsy and awkward as its protagonist.   

For the most part, the plot of the film does not deviate much from the hero standard.  However, the bare-bones narrative of the Spider-Man series has enough intrinsic value to build an interesting story.  In Homecoming, we find a young Peter Parker trying to balance the normalities of a teenage life with the divergence of his alter ego.  This, in itself, should present interesting questions regarding individuality and what it is to develop a sense of self. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest issues for the movie.  For most of modern cinema, a thinking-man’s blockbuster has been a rare occurrence. Action films have been a staple in escapist art, guaranteeing the viewer a 90-minute distraction from the unpleasant reality of existence.  Lately, though, the MCU has aimed its sights higher than previous installments. While the action is unabated, recent films have given way to the exploration of existentialist concepts. It is through a pursuit of breaking the two-dimensional narratives of the past that I find Watts’ film to be the most enjoyable.  

With this being said, Homecoming is still an action film at heart, which diminishes the effect of the film’s inherent dichotomy.  Rather than examine the dualistic struggle of Parker’s adolescence, the story suppresses anything more than a superficial glance.  It is frustrating to see a movie make an intelligent point without expanding the premise to its logical conclusion. My hope is Marvel will continue to explore abstract themes and find a compromise between action and human reflection.