Spider-Man: Homecoming has many memorable moments, but the scene pictured above left MFJ’s own Sam Watermeier stunned long after the lights went up in the theater. He builds up to this magic moment in this week’s entry in “The Marvel Decade.”
When he first swings his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man is just like us — wide-eyed and buzzing with childlike excitement. He peers through his mask with a certain detached wonder, as if he can’t believe the comic-book spectacle unfolding before his eyes. When he catches a punch thrown by the Winter Solider, he exclaims, “You have a metal arm? That’s awesome, dude!” In this moment, we remember why we loved Spider-Man as adolescents: He’s a nerdy kid, too.
Spidey’s standalone MCU movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is ultimately a heartfelt coming-of-age story. While co-writer / director Jon Watts’s previous film, Cop Car, smacks of ’80s-era Steven Spielberg fare, Homecoming radiates with the warmth of a John Hughes high-school comedy. It’s like a character study revolving around the missing member of The Breakfast Club — the superhero.
The film follows Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as he balances high-school studies with a secret life as a gentle vigilante in his neighborhood of Queens. Under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he strives to earn his place as a future member of the Avengers.
Things heat up when Spidey starts tussling with Adrian Toomes (a perfect Michael Keaton) — aka the Vulture — a contractor-turned-arms dealer seeking revenge upon Stark Industries for putting his salvage company out of operation. He’s a refreshingly different nemesis for Spider-Man. Unlike the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, he doesn’t start off as some kind of upper-crust Ivy League hero / father figure to Peter. He’s an embittered, blue-collar badass. With his craggy face and gravelly voice, Keaton makes us feel the weight of this man’s long, rocky history of struggling to make ends meet. We come to understand why he has a chip on his shoulder and why he resents men like Stark.
“Those people up there, the rich and the powerful, they do whatever they want,” he tells Peter. “Guys like us, like you and me … they don’t care about us. We build their roads and we fight all their wars and everything. They don’t care about us. That’s how it is.”
Peter winces as Toomes hurls these accusations, which are ultimately aimed at his hero.
After Peter thrusts himself into the battle between Toomes and Stark — which puts people in danger — Stark takes his suit away. Peter pleads with him, like a kid getting kicked off the football team. It’s a painful, quintessential moment of adolescent angst. The following dialogue exchange struck me as one of the most poignant moments in the entire MCU franchise.
“I’m nothing without this suit,” Peter tells Tony, to which he replies, “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”
This response hits hard, like a shot of tough love from a parent in the midst of a shouting match. It stings because it’s something we all desperately need to hear at some point in our lives, but we’re never braced for it.
We all wear a form of armor to feel cooler and stronger, and we struggle to realize that true strength lies in embracing what’s underneath.
Social media is where we tend to most often don our superhero suits and share the idealized version of ourselves. We bust through the doors of our ordinary lives, rip open our work shirts, puff out our armor-clad chests and put on our digital masks. We make people focus on our feats rather than our faults. We get them to root for us. And we feel naked without their validation and the security blanket of social media.
My own Spidey suit is the one I wear as a writer. For years, I’ve defined myself by accomplishments, saying I’m only as good as my last article and always longing to reach the top — wherever that is. Since I was a little boy, I’ve wanted to “be somebody,” whatever that means. Back then, the wish was to be a director. I made movies in the backyard with my parents’ camcorder, and I drew posters for them on construction paper. As I grew older and worked toward being a film critic or some kind of writer, I still thought my path could possibly lead toward my childhood dream of creating movie magic. I wanted to feel part of something larger than life, and as my film reviews were published in print and online, I got a taste of that feeling. When I went to the theater and looked up at the screen, I felt like a small part of the film world I always longed to call home.
Spider-Man: Homecoming came out at a time when I was drifting away from that world. I had just parted ways with the local paper I contributed movie reviews to for several years, and my writing career seemed to be slowing down. My suit of armor was coming loose. And then those magical words echoed through the theater: “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”
Spider-Man isn’t great because of the suit — he’s great because of Peter. This made me realize that, at the end of the day, I don’t need to be a famous filmmaker, critic or writer first and foremost. I just need to be me.
The Marvel movies highlight their heroes’ humanity. They reveal them at their most vulnerable. They reel us in by showing their flaws. At a certain point, we don’t even care whether we see these characters in their suits … because it isn’t their armor that shines.
This film basically says, “If you can’t handle him at his Peter Parker, you don’t deserve him at his Spider-Man.” Like many Marvel movies, it’s about staying true to one’s self. It’s a superhero film that tells its viewers to be human first and super second.
I saw the film during a personal low and left the theater feeling utterly inspired. That’s what a great comic-book movie can do to you. A great movie, period.
Midwest Film Journal posted new, weekly entries of “The Marvel Decade” leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War on April 27, 2018. (That film’s last-minute release change prompted publication of the final two in the same week.) A different writer wrote each entry, some of them familiar to readers of the site and some fresh faces handpicked by members of the group. Each writer chose a Marvel movie that inspired insights or personal connections that they highlighted in their piece.
The MCU is a franchise that’s popular largely because of what it means to so many people, and that’s something we aimed to capture with “The Marvel Decade.” Please find a complete list of “Marvel Decade” entries below.
“THE MARVEL DECADE” IN FULL
Iron Man (2008) — Evan Dossey
The Incredible Hulk (2008) — Nick Rogers
Iron Man 2 (2010) — Joe Shearer
Thor (2011) — Aly Caviness
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) — Sy Stiner
The Avengers (2012) — Craig McQuinn
Iron Man 3 (2013) — Rachael Derrick
Thor: The Dark World (2013) — Will Norris
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) — Salem
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) — Mitch Ringenberg
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) — Daniel Fidler & Evan Dossey
Ant-Man (2015) — Jeremy Cahnmann
Captain America: Civil War (2016) — John Derrick
Doctor Strange (2016) — Joel “Con” Connell
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) — Dave Gutierrez
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) — Sam Watermeier
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) — Heather Knight
Black Panther (2018) — Angelique Smith