Like many superhero movies before it, Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in a world completely unfamiliar to me. The setup is simple: a captain leads a team of men against a seemingly impossible task. But there were no subtitles indicating the fictional Asgard or Sokovia or any other Marvel implant. Instead, the first scene drops us in a demolition cleanup site in our very own New York City.
I’ll admit, I thought I had walked into the wrong theater. The characters were busy at work, reviewing plans and signing contracts and trading words without any trace of the super-ordinary. Until we get a glimpse of what the crew is there to clean up.
The first scene conveys both fictional and physical damage, but not in the way that you’d think. The camera pans over the rock and rubble of a previous installment of the franchise, created by an alien attack. The damage is tangible, but its cause is not; the dust can slip through human fingers but never seamlessly integrate with our world. However, Homecoming swiftly departs from the Marvel standard when Stark Industries, headed by Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man, takes over the cleanup job and puts dozens of men out of work. In placing a recognizable hero figure and seasoned protagonist in the role of greedy villain, the film’s setup recreates a textbook case of working-class resentment of the coastal elite.
Despite the extraneous right-wing sympathizing, the movie offers a kernel of hope for the days to come. Not in the same syrupy good-conquers-evil, love-conquers-all sentiments of its MCU predecessors—sentiments that, in this day and age, can only be sustained until you lay eyes on the next ‘presidential’ tweet. Instead, Homecoming’s brand of hopeful offers assurance that even the most incomprehensible rivals and threats are, in fact, human, and of this world. Which means, they can be named, understood, and defeated.
Much like his antagonist, Peter Parker squares up against a directly translatable threat. The movie unfolds across his sophomore year of high school—confusing and terrifying even in the absence of superpowers. Before facing that threat, however, Peter fights on a much larger field. He films the entirety of a secret mission and gushes to the camera during every free moment. Since he has to protect his identity, it’s unlikely that Peter will share the video any time soon. Nevertheless, he addresses an audience that rides with him every step of the way.
In more ways than one, Spider-Man stands out in a long line of Marvel blockbusters. The newest chapter erodes the boundaries between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and ours. Peter’s recounting of events from the previous Marvel installment feels like we’re tuning into a superhero’s Snapchat story. As technology makes it easier to step into the lives of our friends and peers, we expect no less from our superhero movies. And with a villain that could walk out of the screen and into a ballot box, Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers.
What are your thoughts on the newest Spider-Man movie? If you haven’t seen it, does the real-world comparison interest you? Or do you prefer superhero movies that stick to the fictional?