The Millennial Spider-Man

Spider-Man

I sat on the edge of my seat awaiting the opening credits of the third incarnation of Spider-Man. The first Spider-Man taught us that superhero movies could hold a dominant place in Hollywood. The Amazing Spider-Man brought us closer to the Peter Parker—Spider-Man’s unmasked identity—from the comic books. But, what would the most recent Spider-Man bring to the table?

Tom Holland appeared in the red and blue suit in his official cameo in Captain America: Civil War. His character was notably younger than his Avenger peers, but what would this fresh face in the Spidey-suit bring to the franchise?

As I sat leaning forward slightly, I was surprised to find a Spider-Man and Spider-Man movie which was distinctly millennial.

Wait, Did Spidey Just Facebook Live?

One of striking features of a millennial is their comfort with technology and social media. It isn’t terribly shocking as this generation has had access to cell phones, the internet, and social media for a large chunk of their life. But, I was not expecting to find the presence of this generational trait in the opening of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

In the first scene featuring our high school hero, we get a recount of his appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Yet, the version in this movie appears as a video taken on Peter Parker’s phone. It includes selfies. It reflects him placing the phone down and narrating into the phone. It mirrors a Facebook Live video, a vlog, or a YouTube video. It includes Peter’s narration of the events from the former movie, exuding all the fanboy-wonder one might hope for in someone who meets their heroes. He does everything but ask for a selfie with Captain America and the other Avengers.

Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s bodyguard in the Iron Man series, appears in Peter’s video as the handler who brought Spider-Man to the big fight scene in Civil War. At one point, Happy Hogan tells Peter something to the effect, “you know you can’t show anyone that.”

Which is a funny line to hear, both because we are watching his story unfold on the screen, but also because when Peter’s friend Ned uncovers Peter’s identity he says, “You’re the Spider-man from YouTube!” The line lands, and it is obvious: this isn’t the Spider-Man of Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man.

Where the general public meet the two previous Spider-Men from the newspaper The Daily Bugle, Tom Holland is the Spider-Man who appears on YouTube. Phones and videos capture his heroics, rather than traditional print media. Tom Holland is the Spider-Man of the internet and social media. His character exists in the world similar to our own—where a web of unfathomable information is one ‘click’ or ‘like’ away.

Is Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man an Advocate for the 99%?

In the Avengers an alien force invades New York. In their defeat, New York had been ravaged with both the destruction from the battle and the bodies and technology of the invaders. In this aftermath, Spider-Man: Homecoming introduces Adrian Toomes who owns a small construction company which has been hired to do clean-up.

Toomes is blue-collar. He offers kind advice and guidance for his contractors. He seems like a “good guy.” Within moments, a governmental organization arrives to take over his clean-up contract. His business venture, his investment, and his hard work are gone. To make matters worse, the governmental organization which steps in to take his job, is co-funded by Tony Stark.

It leads to an interchange between two employees:

“So now the assholes who made this mess are getting paid to clean it up?”

“Yeah, it’s all rigged.”

Their discussion reflects a deep thread running throughout the entire movie: a deep mistrust of the ‘big players’ or the elite. Underlying the entire film was the same tension and outrage in the Occupy movements and even Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign: “We are the 99%!”

Adrian Toomes is the movie’s antagonist, but he never receives the vilification one might expect of Spider-Man’s usual sinister adversary. Unlike most superhero movies where the villain exists as super-human or otherworldly, Toomes remains entirely human and down to earth. In fact, I don’t remember him even being referred to as “the Vulture,” his name in the comics. Instead, in the film he is constantly painted as the little guy, just trying to make ends meet.

Toomes is easily one of the most sympathetic villains in any superhero movie: a contractor turned thief because of circumstance. His fiercest moments occur not when fighting Peter, but in the challenging instances where the comfort of his family is at stake. He loves his family and desperately wants to provide for them in a system rigged against him.

This theme is pushed further by the constant call for Peter Parker to be “a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” Tony Stark at one point even recommends, “Stay close to the ground and build your game helping the little people, like that lady who brought you the churro.” All of this is to say, while some superhero movies bring in the big, the global, and the billionaires, Spider-Man struggles to keep the little people at the forefront.

Did Spider-Man Troll Us with the Extra Scene?

The movie ended with Spider-Man saving the day, but—as per tradition at the end of comic book movies—I waited for the extra scene. In a final millennial act of mischief, Captain America appears on the screen delivering one of his public service announcements which we see throughout the film:

“Hi, I’m Captain America. I’m here to talk to you about patience… and why you waited around for something so disappointing.”

At first, I laughed at the public announcement from the Captain, but then it hit me: they just pranked me! Marvel, knowing I was looking forward to clues about the next installment, just did the film-equivalent of rickrolling the audience. In true millennial fashion, Spider-Man: Homecoming had used the technology available and my own expectations to troll me.

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Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user jundairao, found here.

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