Marvel movies have become a part of our summer rhythm – every new instalment promises (and delivers on) a loveable cast of characters who thrill us with their abilities and affect us with their shamelessly saccharine commitment to the good. Spider-Man: Homecoming delivers on the Marvel promise, in that we are shown the strongest screen version of Peter Parker and are told a tale firmly rooted in Parker’s adolescent life. There are no infinity gems or cosmic threats in this film, just a teenage boy coming to terms with responsibility.
This has always been the strength of Spider-Man: his struggle with how to best use his powers is a perfect parallel for growing up, where we discover that our actions start to have real consequences. The teenage tone of Homecoming also reveals Marvel’s awareness that one of its youngest heroes provides the perfect setting for a comic book story.
Comic stories are episodic by nature, usually deal with lower stakes and retain a persistent sense of the cool – emerging into adolescence with superpowers is as exciting as it is daunting. Homecoming presents an ideal complementing of medium and message, one that has eluded the sonorous X-Men films, the other comic film franchise that features young heroes. Yet Marvel’s commitment to frivolity is starting to feel flat – there are only so many times you can enjoy the comic reversal or well-placed quip before you start to wonder if there could ever be anything more.
Homecoming is as much weighed down by Marvel’s storytelling weaknesses as it is elevated by their storytelling strengths: characters do not extensively change or grow over the course of the story, the narrative lends little time for acquiring a feeling of the relationships central to the film, and every moment of pathos is undermined by the film’s need to make sure you are never not having a good time. Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is extremely promising. It signals a return to Peter Parker’s roots and reveals a thorough understanding of the character and his world. However, in the future, we should not be afraid to ask for more, to ask to ascend beyond the source material to tell stories that aren’t afraid to take risks in order to affect us in profound ways.
If Marvel keeps relying on its formula, its movies will continue to mine the past of its lore instead of explore the future of where comic book narratives could go.