Latest turn on Peter Parker’s story reminds us that small heroes can be fun, too.
Appropriately enough, not being at the top is actually something of a theme that runs throughout Spider-Man: Homecoming. The story begins with construction contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew hard at work helping clean up New York City following the Chitauri invasion, which occurred at the climax of the first Avengers movie. The gig promises to be a much-needed lucrative job, at least until the government sponsored Damage Control shows up and unceremoniously fires everyone in the name of national security. Faced with the possibility of having to let all his employees go, Toomes decides to abscond with some of the alien tech as a means of keeping his business afloat. If the “little guy” isn’t allowed to earn an honest living, Toomes reasons, then he’ll find another way to make it.
Years later, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds himself in something of a similar situation. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter finds himself relegated to the sidelines instead of being offered membership in the Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) may be Marvel’s answer to Bruce Wayne, but even he’s not quite ready to place a 14-year-old kid into the kind of super-powered peril the Avengers face on a daily basis. Stark allows Peter to keep his fancy new Spider-Man suit, but instructs him to use it only against small-time criminals like muggers and bank robbers until he gets a little more experience under his spandex-covered belt.
Because Peter is a 14-year-old kid, however, patience is not one of his virtues. So, when Toomes shows up as the tech-empowered Vulture and begins making trouble in Spider-Man’s beloved borough of Queens, Peter sees an opportunity to prove he’s ready for the bigtime. Needless to say, things go badly.
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t just a superhero story, however. As the title suggests, there is an actual school dance involved. The movie spends an impressive amount of time in teen comedy territory as it follows the nerdish Parker and his even more nerdish pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) as they try to navigate the hellish waters of high school. There are bullies, unrequited loves, botched homework assignments, and all the other angsty events one associates with that time of life.
Things never get too heavy, though. In fact, unless I missed it, the movie never even mentions Peter’s Uncle Ben by name. Perhaps the filmmakers are just taking for granted that most of the planet knows Spider-Man’s origin by now, and how his uncle’s death taught him that great power so often comes with a great, crushing sense of responsibility. Even so, it feels like a conscious decision to keep things light-hearted. Even the final boss battle is decidedly low stakes, with very few lives at risk. At every turn, Spider-Man: Homecoming strives to remind us, and Peter Parker, that not everything has to be about the big stuff, at least not on the surface.
It kind of reminiscent of the Church. Yes, she needs good men to step forward, don the robes, and take the lead in the cosmos shaking event that is the consecration of the Eucharist. But she also needs folks to handle the thousand and one little things a parish requires, from delivering meals to the sick and elderly, to scraping the squashed gum off the carpets after Mass has ended. Such tasks may not be as flashy as what the men in the white collars are up to, but they’re important nonetheless. Just try running a parish without someone to do those things. The Church needs the “little guys.”
And the movies need the little heroes. I enjoy seeing superheroes save the planet as much as the next person, and when Avengers: Infinity War shows up in theaters next year, I’ll be first in line to watch the universe get blown up. Even so, it’s nice to have a Spider-Man or an Ant-Man show up every now and then to remind us that small stories can be fun as well. Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the biggest or best superhero ever, but that’s not a bad thing.
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