*This commentary contains minor plot spoilers
I wasn’t particularly pumped, or even ready, for a new Spider-Man film. Heck, I didn’t even care one bit to see the Andrew Garfield/Marc Webb films, as I felt those were simply too soon for a reboot of our web-slinging friend. The first two Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi-helmed Spider-Man films set the tone and standard for our modern-day superhero blockbusters, and then everything just felt too soon in an onslaught of superhero movies to follow (except for Spider-Man 3…it was never too soon to move on from and forget that calamity). But funnily enough, it’s already (only?) been 10 years since Tobey Maguire last donned the Spidey suit and here we are with a second reboot. It’s as if we can pretend the Garfield/Webb films never existed at all (sorry, Andrew).
All of this is to say, when the production of this film was announced, albeit now officially a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was underwhelmed. Then I saw Captain America: Civil War, and thoroughly enjoyed the tease of this new Peter Parker, played with charisma and a youthful energy by Tom Holland. Yet, I still wasn’t entirely convinced. I mostly enjoy the MCU movies, but as someone who never read about these superheroes’ escapades in comic book form growing up, I don’t go running to the theater with every release. It definitely took seeing the positive reviews flowing in that changed my mind. Fine, I’ll go check this one out.
Cut to sitting in the theater and enjoying every minute. I could elaborate on the spot-on casting of Tom Holland or the subtle layers of villainy behind Michael Keaton’s Vulture, or even how much I loved seeing the faces of Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, and Martha Kelly in smaller roles. No, what struck me most was how relevant the film felt, and yes, even how patriotic it is. It’s a politically tumultuous time in America, where it can be challenging to feel proud of the country’s image and reception abroad, so it was extremely satisfying to see a story, even if fictional, that showcases some of the great and even messy things about this country.
Usually Spider-Man is such a staple for representing New York City, specifically Queens. I can’t admit to knowing much about Queens, having never been to that borough, but I hear that this movie does the borough and its accompanying community justice. I’ll go a step further and say that it’s utterly patriotic to boot (but not in a, you know, Nationalistic sort of way, thank goodness). Let’s consider the content:
–The diverse cast. Like I mentioned before, Peter Parker lives in Queens and his neighborhood and high school reflect how diverse any major city (and even suburbs) is in today’s America. And even though diversity is something to celebrate, it’s handled here as a non-issue—as it should be.
–Peter is smart and so are his friends. So many American kids are smart and talented, yet often in pop culture it’s looked down on and characters are labeled as geeks and nerds. Here, these kids’ brains are touted (one plot point revolves around an academic decathlon!) and even the guy who is somewhat the stand-in as “the bully” character is just as smart and goofy as the rest of Peter’s gang thanks to his side hustle as a DJ.
–That whole Washington Monument set piece. What’s more patriotic than high school students going on a field trip to Washington, D.C.?
–“Protesting is patriotic.” Martin Starr delivers this line as the academic team’s teacher, and boy is this something we’ve heard a lot lately in the American zeitgeist. There’s nothing quite more American than this country’s history of activism and protecting the right to free speech.
– Themes of capitalism and class struggles. Michael Keaton gives us a powerful monologue that explains his grievances and the background for why he’s become a villain (in our eyes). He essentially bemoans the structures of capitalism and the American workforce, how he gave and gave and got nothing in return while the ‘bigger guy’ (aka Stark Industries) profited. So he took matters into his own hands to provide for his family. All about that American Dream, baby.
–We don’t know if we should root for or against Tony Stark and Stark Industries. What’s more American than supporting big box companies while simultaneously despising them? We live in a world where it’s hard to avoid the largest corporations yet they structure our lives in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (see note about capitalism above). We support Tony Stark because the narrative of these MCU movies constructs that perspective for us, yet Stark Industries and even the Avengers have created a lot of collateral damage and have ruined people’s lives in the process.
–Punk rock reigns supreme. Speaking of capitalism, the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Pop” plays not once but twice in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thanks to punk’s anti-mainstream undertones (albeit a bit ironic to be placed in a big-budget blockbuster), the American punk rock movement is as essential to American music as any other genre and lends voices to those who feel sidelined and undervalued by mass culture and politics.
No matter which way you spin it, Spider-Man: Homecoming IS patriotic: it deals with messy, complicated facets of American society, showing not only the diverse faces that make up the American populous, but also the diversity of thought and opinion. All the while, a teenage boy is full of hope and determination to make the world a better place with his own American Dream in mind, rejecting a job offer to join the Avengers. Let’s just see how he feels when he hits 30 and if he peddles back on those ideals of his.