With great homework comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man: Homecoming brings us back to Peter ‘s high school years (he’s fifteen) as he tries to balance his family, friends, homework, and an ongoing application to join the Avengers. Publicly claiming to be a member of the ‘Stark Internship’, young Peter is secretly being mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the ways of being a ‘friendly neighborhood’ superhero. However, when Peter stumbles across a plot to sell pieces of alien technology to local criminals, he is drawn into a battle that forces him to ask hard questions about his identity and calling.
Although he made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in last year’s Civil War, Homecoming is Spidey’s true introduction to the world of the Avengers. In a move that many felt would never happen due to Sony’s ownership of the film rights, allowing Spidey to join the MCU was easily the smartest decision that the company could have made. By joining forces with Marvel, Sony frees itself of rebooting their franchise for the second time while also allowing access to iconic characters such as Iron Man and Captain America to make appearances.
Through its heavy emphasis on Spidey’s high school adventures and Holland’s contagious enthusiasm, Homecoming manages to pull off the one thing that seemed impossible for this franchise: it feels fresh. Similar to his experience on the original Iron Man, Downey Jr. has compared the environment behind the scenes as one of freedom and creativity and the results appear onscreen. This film has all the pop and flash of other Marvel entries yet also carries with it the teen angst of a John Hughes ‘coming-of-age’ film. (In fact, there is even a brief reference to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) In other words, despite the Avengers, alien technology and a villainous Vulture (an energized Michael Keaton), it’s the realities of Spidey’s youth and inexperience that are front and center here.
As the film opens, Peter is filled with excitement and the mammoth aspirations of becoming an Avenger. With superhero glory in full view, Peter has begun to lose sight of his everyday life and responsibilities. (“I am so far beyond high school right now,” Peter argues.) Desperate to prove that he’s more than ‘just a kid’, Peter feels boxed in by Stark’s ‘training wheels protocols’ and tries to force his way up the superhero ladder. (“I hate that Mr. Stark keep treating me like a kid!” he exclaims.)
But Peter’s immaturity prevents him from recognizing the value of the ‘small’.
In a world of Galaxy Guardians and Incredible Hulks, Homecoming is a reminder of the importance of those things and people that so many believe to be unremarkable. Though Peter may be able to hold a ship together, he also must do his homework. Though he wants desperately to be fight alongside Iron Man, he also needs to stop a local bicycle thief. Though Vulture is stealing alien technology, so much of his motivation lies in simply getting by financially. Gone are traditional MCU tropes like world domination and government conspiracies in favor of dinners with Aunt May and struggling to pay the bills.
In a story that echoes Jesus’ call to let the little children come to Him, Homecoming reminds us that everyone’s story matters, regardless how small. The responsibility to care for the most seemingly insignificant people of the world carries the same importance as saving the entire planet. (In fact, one of the film’s most subtle but significant moments comes through Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark’s driver, as he confesses to Peter that, “I really don’t know what I would do without this job [working for Tony].” Despite the fact that we’ve known him to do amazing things with his superhero billionaire, he too is simply a man who needs help.) Moreover, as Peter realizes the value of the ‘small’, he is solidified as a true hero, not just to the world but to everyone.
Because there is power in being the ‘friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.’