Spider-Man: Homecoming — the popular webhead’s first solo foray in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — has been out for almost a week now, and reviews are overwhelmingly positive. More than one critic has called Homecoming the best Spider-Man film...ever.
There’s certainly a case to be made for that argument. From his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, it was clear that Tom Holland was going to be perhaps the greatest onscreen Spider-Man we’ve seen yet. He was joyous, charismatic, and best of all, an actual teenager - although barely (Holland has since turned 21). In Civil War, Holland was the best, and funniest, part of a pretty flawless film.
So expectations were high for Homecoming, and there’s no doubt that director Jon Watts and MCU overlord Kevin Feige finally got Spider-Man right. Homecoming perfectly nails the tension that makes Peter Parker such a compelling character. He’s one of the most powerful people in New York, able to “stop a bus with his bare hands,” and yet he still has to be home in time to finish his homework before bed.
Inevitably, comparisons have been made between Holland and the two other actors who have portrayed the web-slinger onscreen. Andrew Garfield had the misfortune of playing Peter Parker in an ill-fated reboot franchise that no one wanted or cared for. The problem with his Spider-Man was he was a whiny pretty-boy, much too capable on a skateboard and prone to wearing hoodies.
Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, originated the role on the big screen, under director Sam Raimi, in two critically acclaimed installments and a third, lesser-acclaimed installment (Okay, maybe it’s fairer to say it was outright maligned). But while Holland’s Spider-Man may come closest in age and personality to matching the Spidey in the comics, in Homecoming, I still found myself missing something essential about the character.
The best superhero stories are all about sacrifice. A normal, every day man or woman finds unimaginable power, comes to terms with it, and then learns that in order to use that power to help people, they are going to have to give up some things they want. In Superman II, Clark Kent forgoes becoming human, and thereby being with Lois Lane, in order to save Metropolis from General Zod and his cronies. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne loses some of the people closest to him during his battle for Gotham’s soul. And in Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker learns that being a hero is going to cost him the life he wants to live as a normal person.
The line “With great power comes great responsibility” is noticeably missing from Spider-Man: Homecoming, as is any mention of Uncle Ben. There’s not so much as a photo of Peter’s late uncle that he longingly stares at as he contemplates his calling. It makes sense why; Watts probably didn’t want to rehash the same storyline we’ve seen hundreds of times before. But in its aversion to even mention Uncle Ben’s fate, Homecoming fails to understand a crucial part of who Peter Parker is. In Homecoming, Peter’s main struggle becomes trying to prove himself — to Iron Man and the Avengers, to his friends, and to himself. It’s a great story of a young person fighting to be taken seriously in a world run by adults. But it’s not exactly the story of a person learning to give up the things they want the most. Not yet, anyway.
That’s something the Raimi Spider-Man films — yes, even the third one — got right, and still do better than any other superhero film out there. From what I’ve seen, I’m confident the MCU’s version of Spider-Man will get there. It’s worth noting that in the examples above, it always the second movie that got the character best. I for one am definitely lining up as often as Holland puts on the Spider suit, and I’m excited to see where his character grows (the actor is currently signed on for a total of six Marvel films - well into his late 20s).
For now, though, while Homecoming may be the best iteration of Spider-Man as a character — young, angsty, and desperate to please — Raimi’s trilogy is still the best example of actual superheroism that involves the web slinger. Actually, scratch that - it’s still the best example of superheroism, period.