The connexion between making money and survival, for you and your loved ones, as always been fertile ground for drama in stories set in the U.S. 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming dramatises the political struggle between a working class whose sense of morality has been warped by the money-making imperative and a new generation who is so accustomed to economic privilege that abdication of higher moral responsibility seems monstrous. Not all of the implications may have been intended but the film certainly has economic class in mind while presenting, in some ways, the best and most true to his comic roots Spider-Man brought to film: Tom Holland as an unmistakeably adolescent Peter Parker. In some ways, though, the character deviates quite a bit from his original comic book incarnation in order to make its argument on the economic landscape.
Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, is the best villain to feature in an MCU film, largely because he’s barely a villain. He’s a salvage contractor who’s muscled out of the job of picking up alien scrap from the first Avengers movie by the Department of Damage Control, a government department set up by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). This after he’d already spent money on the resources necessary to clean up the stuff so now he and his team have to get creative if they have any hope of bringing a paycheck home. This is the kind of problem Peter Parker would’ve been familiar with in his original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko incarnation—Peter was constantly worrying about bringing enough money home to support his aunt May and himself. And he certainly wasn’t above using his new-found powers to make a buck—something we see in Sam Raimi’s adaptation, though I don’t remember seeing one of my favourite scenes from the comic, where our hero tries to cash a check made out to “Spider-Man”.
No mention is made of May having serious financial woes in Homecoming and Peter seems to feel no pressure to make money. When Tony Stark mentions he can get Peter into a good school, the kid barely seems to notice. It’s no wonder he seems to have no sympathy for the lengths Toomes goes to to support his family.
The fact that Peter isn’t thoroughly irritating is one of the film’s greatest achievements and it’s accomplished with the same goal that makes the new Wonder Woman movie work so well—Peter really cares about helping people and he has what seems like a very honest humility.
He isn’t a guy looking for a fight, he’s a guy looking to help out, and if that involves fighting he’s ready to do it. He’s not above giving an old lady directions and he’s deeply apologetic when he accidentally webs a guy trying to break into his own car. Like Wonder Woman, he’s a welcome return to the original idea of Superman, the idea of a really powerful person who really is more interested in making life better for everyone than in stroking his own ego or getting revenge. Like Raimi’s incarnation of the character, he’s also really excited to be Spider-Man and do Spider-Man things, but he naturally sees this as something he doesn’t keep to himself—when some guys on the street ask him to do a flip, he automatically does it. Later, when his friend tries to talk him into showing up as Spider-Man at a party to improve Peter Parker’s reputation, he realises how stupid this is and seems like he would have avoided doing it if a crisis hadn’t called him away anyway.
The character is also helped a lot by some lessons taken from Deadpool. In addition to giving the mask expressive eyes, the filmmakers also seem to have recognised that the character’s awkwardness is a strength and here it makes even more sense when kid Spidey is a but a wisp of a lad.
I hope to whatever gods might be listening that no remake of Back to the Future goes forward but if someone were casting a new Marty McFly I could see Tom Holland being a very good fit. He has a real Michael J. Fox quality, handsome but with a sort of ungainly kittenishness. All this helps make the movie’s underlying drama more interesting.
It’s hard to believe this movie was wrapped before the election last year. Vulture almost seems like he’s meant to be the working class Donald Trump voters while Peter is the Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama who failed to campaign for that working class demographic. On that note, the movie has an optimism in its conclusion I wish I could share in.