Spider-man: Homecoming

Saw Spider-man: Homecoming a few days ago. A few quick thoughts:

1.    Detractors like to portray comic book movies as a monolithic genre of interchangeable middle-of-the-road products, and that’s not totally wrong – after all, this movie does feature a big set piece where two CGI spandexed figures punch each other on top of a plane that’s flying at cruise altitude, so it is definitely a kissing cousin to Captain America: Winter Soldier (whose climax involved spandexed warriors fighting in a flying helicarrier, which is basically a bigger plane), and to Captain America: Civil War (where 12 spandexed dudes punch either at an airport), and to Wonder Woman (where spandexed Gods wave their laser-shooting jazz-hands at each other at an airport), etc.

But that’s not entirely fair, either, because each of those movies has a different tone. Most of the Marvel movies have had jokes in them, but they’ve never made something that I would call a pure comedy (…although Guardians of the Galaxy does come very close.) However, Spider-man Homecoming is basically a pure comedy. It continually undercuts its own seriousness with comic relief characters, absurd flourishes or knowing meta-commentary, and it almost always lets its scenes play out for an extra beat longer than is absolutely necessary so the jokes have time to land. It has such a high jokes-per-scene ratio that it is closer tonally to a Hot Fuzz or a 21 Jump Street than it is to the first Thor or to Man of Steel.

Look: I get why people are frustrated by the omnipresence of superhero movies. I’m a Marvel fanboy and even I find their output to be a bit hit-or-miss – in:re their three most recent films I was underwhelmed by Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I really loved Dr. Strange, and I was bored by the first half of Civil War before falling in love with the second half. But that just goes to prove that “superhero movies” are not an homogenous genre and that the shot-callers are still willing to take chances with their properties. I would recommend Spider-man Homecoming to people who like comedies but who don’t generally like big action blockbusters; I would recommend Dr. Strange to people who love over-the-top spectacles but not to people who prefer intensely personal character dramas; I would recommend Batman V Superman to masochists but not to people I actually like. So that’s a pretty wide spread for such a narrow genre.

Look at all that NYC-ing that's going on 

Look at all that NYC-ing that's going on 

2.    Related to that first point: I get why people dismiss comic book movies because they aren’t serious enough, but that’s another criticism that I think is a little overblown. I’ve never believed that there is a hard and fast border between high culture and low culture and Spider-man: Homecoming is a good example why.

Homecoming is very much a New York City movie (although it does briefly swing by Washington DC.) When Peter Parker is in his red and black suit fighting crime he’ll get yelled at by passing know-it-alls (some of whom approve of him and some of whom don’t); when he isn’t in his red-and-black suit he shops for gummy worms at a corner bodega.

And because it is such a New York movie I couldn’t help but compare it to Woody Allen’s oeuvre because Woody is basically the patron saint of NYC-centric filmmakers. And in a head-to-head competition I think that Spider-man actually comes ahead.

Now, obviously that claim is coming from a heavily biased place – and I can’t deny to having a long running pro-comic book agenda / a separate (but equally long running) anti-Woody agenda. However, I do think you can objectively claim that Spider-man does a better job of portraying the city than Allen ever has, in large part because Allen has only ever been interested in a very small slice of humanity while Spider-man casts a wider net. Allen has no use for people that don’t love jazz and art museums and neurotically obsessing over death; his films rarely (if ever) leave a certain upper-class bubble of smugness. In contrast, Peter Parker lives in a very multicultural city: his best friend is Asian, he asks a black woman out to the big homecoming dance, and his academic decathlon coach is a very white (and very well cast) Martin Starr. I don’t think that you can call it a realistic movie because Homecoming’s plot ultimately hinges on technology that was created by evil insectoid aliens, but it still felt closer to reality than the last few Allen films that I’ve seen. (…Films that I saw against my own better judgment, for the record.)

It isn’t necessarily fair to hold Allen up as the ultimate New York City auetuer; I know Spike Lee would disagree with that statement, and obviously films like Do the Right Thing depict a more cosmopolitan place than (say) Allen’s Manhattan. But I’m not trying not to make an absolute claim about which films are the most accurate depictions of New York ever made, but rather to make a point about how arbitrary our distinctions between “serious art” and “mere entertainments” can be. There are tradeoffs inherent in both Homecoming and Allen’s best work: Spider-man is more honest about the Big Apple’s cultural dynamics than Allen’s movies are, but it is also a lot more dishonest about how scary the idea of mortality is. I can understand liking one but not the other, but nonetheless I think it is a bit cheap to dismiss either out of hand.

(Which doesn’t mean that I don’t do that – again, I do have a long running anti-Woody agenda.)

3. And related to both of those two points: Homecoming is actually not the sort of thing that should make you want to pick a side in any of the internet’s longest running arguments. In fact, it should do the opposite of that – it is a very entertaining popcorn flick, and watching it should make you amused and content. So I’m going to stop throwing rocks at straw-men and get on with my day, but before I do I would just like to reiterate one more time: this is a very funny movie and I dug it quite a bit.

Winner: Me

Spiderman: Homecoming on IMDb