When I was about ten years old I made a discovery at the corner soda fountain, a brand of comic book I hadn’t encountered before, Marvel comics. They had superheroes qualitatively different from the DC characters I was accustomed to reading. Their characters seemed real and readily relatable. The ‘Fantastic Four’ was a team with super powers and a group dynamic of an actual family. The members of the ‘X-Men’ where based in a very familiar setting, school, of all these new heroes one resonated greatly with my younger self, ‘Spider-Man’. He was a kid, only a few years older than I was a science nerd, the social position I held in my class. Most importantly he lived in the same borough of New York City I lived, Queens. This wasn’t a fiction city like Gotham or Metropolis, Spider-Man walked, and sung along streets I knew personally, these elements allowed me to consider this comic book character as a person that could very well live down the streets or couple of stops away on the LL subway line. To date this character has been a popular property for the studio holding the distribution rights, Sony. Unfortunately, after several attempts and too many reboots they were unable to reignite that feeling still residing with my inner child. In some ways they over thought the character, his powers and social environment. The previous iterations dive straight into involving Peter Parker with mature romantic entanglements lifting the onus from the unique factors that drew so many of his charter fans to him. The rights to the most popular characters in the Marvel Pantheon were sold off in a piecemeal fashion given exclusive rights to several studios, while the Walt Disney Studios would come to own the bulk of the Marvel roster, sufficient to launch the entertainment and financial juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony Pictures held fast to the web slinger. That is until Marvel managed to make Sony an offer they couldn’t refuse, in the latest Avengers movie, ‘Civil War, a very familiar Blue and Red costume appeared. And finally, at long last, they got it right.
After the infamous ‘Battle of New York’ featured in the original ‘Avengers the area was littered with pieces of alien technology scattered all around the five boroughs running the gamut of extraterrestrial drives to energy weapons of unbelievable power. In every war ever fought a certain form of enterprising individuals would rise, the scavenger. They search through the debris looking for any technology that they could sell or use for personal gain. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) was fundamentally the same as a man collecting spent cartridges to sell the brass except on a level extending beyond the twenty-first century technology of humanity. With his salvage company they rummage through the battlefields picking up whatever they might find. Toomes and is mechanics retool the Chitauri technology to produce weapons and gadgets the sell to criminals at exorbitant prices. Several years later Toomes’ business is thriving with low level crooks pulling off crimes far beyond their usual capabilities thanks to high tech equipment. After the battle of the Civil War Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has been on an adrenaline high since this time fighting with the Avengers, at least with ‘Team Iron Man. His has been constantly calling Tony Stark’s driver (Robert Downey Jr.), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), desperately hoping for his next assignment on the path to becoming an official Avenger. While on patrol he encounters a crew of thieves robbing an ATM. The notable difference is they are using advanced alien technology, this makes is job of apprehending them substantially more arduous. When he returns to his Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) apartment where Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) is waiting. Ned sees Peter in the new suit Stark gave him realizing his best friend is Spider-Man. In an exchange of dialogue perfectly suited for a pair of fifteen-year-old boys, Peter brags, implying he is an Avenger just waiting for Mr. Stark to call. Completely blown away by the revelation Ned immediately wats to become Peter’s home base tech specialist, his ‘man in the chair’. This scene sets the tone for the continuing dynamic between the two. This brought the tine on the story directly back to the original comic books with the eminently relatable 15-year old Peter Parker/Spider-Man. This proved to be less of a reboot or reimagining than a return to the character’s roots.
The commentary tracks and various interviews with the director Jon Watts, that his inspiration for the underlying social dynamic particularly in the high school was the decade defining movies of John Hughes. His films provided a generation with the template for the high school driven coming of age story. Peter attends the elite Midtown School of Science and Technology, a fictitious version of ‘Stuyvesant High School, which is the rival for my school, Brooklyn Technical High School. The focus on such things as academic competition was not just for nerds, the entire school technically qualifies for that moniker. The dialogue written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley that sounds natural ringing true to the age and experience level of the characters. The previous incarnations of Spider-Man overlooked this crucial aspect of Spider-Man deciding instead for a mature, version of tis pivotal member of the original Marvel lineup. The feel that this was imparted by this decision was the underlying foundation that ultimately led to the success of the film. among the themes a young setting allowed were typical of a standard high school movie. The ever-present bully, Flash (Tony Revolori), updated from the dense jock to a spoiled, self-important rich kid. This demonstrated how artistic license van be used properly to connect with a new generation. Another example of altering the source material can be found in the ‘big bad’ of the film.
Toomes in the comic books was significantly older and invented a special set of harness and wings that imparted enhanced strength and the ability to fly. His costume as The Vulture had a distinctively organic look, covered in green feathers. Retaining that look and backstory would require a substantial break from the pervading mood and severing the connection to Loki and the Chitauri invasion. This portrayal of Spider-Man second nemesis is ideally suited to reinforce consistency with the painstakingly established MCU. Having established Toomes and his engineer are genius in repurposing alien technology his vulture suit is a mechanical pair of wings capable of limited independent flight. Like Stark’s Iron Man armor, the wings can fly to Toomes allowing him to don them in seconds. They have rotatable jet engines that allow for extreme maneuverability. The tips of the wings serve a variety of functions from finger like appendages to razor sharp blades. The wings look cobbled together lacking an finesse in appearance but rather like a collection of various types of technologies into a deadly assembly. Adding to the problems for Peter, he finally works up the courage to ask the prettiest girl in school, Liz (Laura Harrier), to the homecoming dance. Spidey had just thwarted the Vulture in Washington DC where Peter and Liz were both attending a championship meet of the Academic Decathlon team. That group brought together the main youthful characters including Flash, and another friend of Peter’s, Michelle (Zendaya). She is sarcastic and very much a loner. When Peter picks up Liz for the dance she mentions how he disappeared during the event, the same time of Toomes’ heist. Toomes pieces it together that Peter is that Pete is Spider-Man and openly admits he is the villain warning the young man. For any teenage boy, meeting the father of a girl you like is absolutely frightening but to discover he is a murderous super villain that just tried to kill you, is off the chart.
This is where infusing a super hero movie with the defining qualities of a coming of age story proves its merit. The previous tries to bring this iconic character to life were ultimately unable to sustain any measure of success because it overcooked or lost the crucial component from the comic book, an emotional center. ‘Spider-Man 2’ came closest to this goal and is widely considered the best of the first trilogy and remains a template for creating an impressive comic book based film. The journey to adult responsibilities is twofold here, Peter had to grow out of his immature reaction to his enhanced powers and the overwhelming abilities in the high-tech Spidey suit Stark created. That was giving a teenager with a learner’s permit the keys to a Porsche, too much, too soon. There was a pivotal moment when Spider-Man is back to wearing his homemade costume and is trapped under a crushing amount of rubble. His super strength was insufficient until Peter connected with his innate intestinal fortitude to extricate himself. He then further proves his new-found maturity by declining an immediate induction as an Avenger to gain experience alone. Spider-Boy truly became Spider-man in that moment. At long last one of my first comic book heroes lived up to the character that first caught my attention and fan loyalty so very long ago. One final note as a post script. The use of 3D effects in this film was spectacular. The filmmaker has an innate understanding of how to properly utilize the illusion of depth not just as a gimmick to enhance the action but as an integral element of storytelling. Activity in the foreground and background is not merely filler, it arguments the center of activity providing context to the story as it unfolds.