Take an all-time superhero and send him spinning back to his teens. Geeky, gawky, uncertain, disconcerted. Out of his depth in life. But eager to save the world, or at least his local community. Determined to bring about justice. And smitten, as ever. This is Spider-Boy, 15 years old, not quite super yet, caught up in his own web of intrigue.
There’s more. Or perhaps less. Wearing an ill-fitting outfit which he takes off way too often in public. Creating havoc wherever he lands, but taking out at least some of the bad guys. Echoes of Mr Incredible at his clumsiest. Lacking in confidence. Falling not landing. Running out of web fluid, which he makes in the school science lab. Picking the wrong fights. Here we have Peter Parker before he was famous. Tom Holland’s young Spider-Man is inept. A superhero learning to be super the hard way.
Tom Holland, young Spidey
There are a few classic Spider-Man moments missing. We don’t see Peter being bitten by the spider. Maybe that was only in the Toby Maguire version. We also don’t see Peter hanging upside down in the rain and kissing Mary Jane. He’s hanging upside down in an elevator shaft this time and he falls crashing down into the dust instead.
A defining moment: Toby Maguire's Spider-Man with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst)
There’s a bit of a trend here, I’m picking out classic Toby Maguire scenes. I also had a thing for Andrew Garfield, or maybe it was Emma Stone. I mean Gwen Stacy. I get my characters and actors mixed up sometimes. So, now we have Tom Holland, the new Spidey, with Liz (Laura Harrier), his dream girl. It takes a while, but the magic slowly starts to happen.
Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and the Amazing Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield)
Emma Stone on set in the Amazing Spider-Man 2
Laura Harrier as Liz Allan in Spider-Man: Homecoming
The theme tune is just about there, but it’s very low key. Homer Simpson gives us a more passable version of the song in his tribute to Spider Pig in The Simpsons Movie. Aunt May is there, too, played by Marisa Tormei. She does her best, even teaches Peter how to dance, but it’s been a long time since My Cousin Vinnie. But again, I’m mixing up my actors and my characters with a dab of nostalgia, and maybe just a hint of a crush on how her voice used to sound: New York, twangy and cute. It no longer sounds like that. Just New York and tired these days.
Does whatever a Spider-Pig does
This is a classic Marvel film if not quite a classic Spider-Man. It fits in well in the Marvel universe, though this universe is continually being reinvented so almost anything goes these days. I gather that it always did, even in the comics. Maybe the changing universe is for the better. It certainly needs to change in this story for Peter Parker.
A powerful enemy in the wings
Now for a heavyweight connection. I absolutely love the presence of Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Junior. Peter Parker is now a prodigy of Tony Stark and an intern with Stark Industries. Stark has high expectations. It’s tough, but only right that Stark should take away Peter’s Spider-Man suit away for not living up to the extreme standards demanded of an Avenger. For me, there’s a bit of a risk in presenting Spider-Man as one of the Avengers, instead of the absolute star at the centre of his own web. Let’s be clear, though, Iron Man is something of a Marvel god, and gives the movie real gravitas. Captain America makes some on/off appearances but he’s not really needed here. But if you like cameo roles, we also see Stan Lee chatting out of a window. Nice. And Gwyneth Paltrow for a few moments later on.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) with new Spider-Man
Peter Parker looking quite unsuited to the role
And then there are links with some more of my favourite movies. First, a heart-warming moment of homage to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Peter emulates a number of escapades from this classic movie, which also just happens to be playing on the TV in Peter’s bedroom. And then, with the detention scene, we have a tribute to The Breakfast Club, with a ragbag of students being grounded and desperate to break out. Smallville also comes to mind with the High School setting. In Smallville, a young Clark Kent struggles to contain his powers, just as Peter seems to be on the verge of spinning out of control here. Somebody save him. And then, there’s a link with Back to the Future, re the High School prom and the challenges faced by Marty McFly. Homecoming is the prom in Spider-World, if you were wondering. Apparently it’s an American high school tradition.
Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)
Time to mention the villain. Young Spidey finds himself up against a truly magnificent opponent. Adrian Toomes, a decent fellow who has had his livelihood wrenched away from him, and then rebuilt his life with stolen, alien technology. He is now The Vulture, a remarkable nefarious genius. And also a loving dad. Our anti-hero is played by the brilliant Michael Keaton. Always a bit mad and completely driven. A superhero himself in another guise as Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman films. Keaton’s Vulture powers up with incredible menace and intensity. There’s no way that a pathetic, spindly Spider-Boy should ever win against such a powerful enemy. But there are comic book traditions to uphold and, unbelievably, well, you can guess what happens in the end.
Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his fearsome, feathered alter-ego
Michael Keaton: A Batman you wouldn't want to mess with
So, Spider-Man updated. Spider-Man downgraded. Reworked. Rejuvenated. It works. The movie is highly entertaining. Tom Holland’s Spidey has found his domain. Wisely, he follows the words of his mentor, Tony Stark: “Don’t do what I would do. Don’t do what I wouldn’t do. You operate in the grey areas in between”. That sounds about right. Young Spidey also finds himself scrambling around on the floor a lot, too, but that’s where real spiders belong, right?
Ultimately, young Spidey has to figure out for himself what to do. He swings into action heroically. Not quite super-heroically for me, but he’s learning. He is still at school, after all. For now, comic book history has been rewound, and Peter Parker has to accept his new status as the emerging star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
© Eddie Hewitt 2017
Spiderman, on Marvel’s website http://marvel.com/characters/54/spider-man