My first introduction to Peter Parker was by way of a ’90s guitar riff. This was common for me back in the day, as I was prone to watching animated representations of the characters that graced the pages of my dad’s comic books. Since then, there have been several more interpretations of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, some of which have made it onto the big screen. We could probably empty out several web cartridges on whether or not Tobey or Andrew did the web head justice, so instead, I’m going to talk about something that always comes up when you mention good ol’ Spidey: relatability. Because with great power comes great . . . well, you know how it goes.
As someone who hasn’t looked into the comics (I can feel the pitchfork holders breathing down my neck already), even I know that one of the huge selling points for this everyday hero from Queens is that he’s an everyday hero from Queens. Sure, he’s got unbelievable superpowers, but at the end of the day Spider-Man is just a normal guy who’s trying to do the right thing. To me, Tom Holland takes that relatability to a new level. It’s not just his sense of protecting those who can’t protect themselves, but the trials he has to go through to achieve that goal.
You see, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was a normal high school brainiac, then he was whisked away to a civil war of sorts. He’s been waiting for a chance to shine ever since that fateful “Hey, everyone!” he proclaimed after stealing Captain America’s shield. It’s like he’d been working the front desk of herodom until he got a taste of what life was like on the top floor, and now, he wants more of those fancy PowerPoint presentations. In fact, he knows he can do a killer slideshow if they just gave him a chance. From his point of view, he doesn’t know why “Mr. Stark” won’t call on him because, well, once upon a time he did call on him. When someone in the big leagues just shows up at your frumpy apartment to rechristen you as Underoos, it kind of stings when they don’t answer your follow-up calls for the next assignment.
But as Will Smith taught us decades ago: parents just don’t understand. And apparently neither do billionaire mentors, at least sometimes.
This movie isn’t just Peter jumping on the bed, whining about how Mr. Stark won’t let him do his thing. The two actually do have a dialog—albeit delayed and full of the inevitable butting of heads because neither is really mature enough to handle the other in the best way. Tony is trying to be a father figure, but he doesn’t know how. (It doesn’t help that his first attempt with Peter was the equivalent of giving a kid the keys to a Ferrari after he’d spent years taking the bus.) Meanwhile, Peter is trying to be a better hero. He’s done with those normal, everyday crimes and somewhat loses sight of how important that everyman persona is. It’s what Tony liked about him in the first place.
This led to an interesting internal conflict as I watched the movie: my younger self versus my adult self. As an adult in her 30s, I know that Peter needs to sit his radioactive ass down and let the “grownups” handle Bird-Keaton (ahem, the Vulture). I know that this kid isn’t ready, not just because Tony says he isn’t but because of the way Peter approaches the situation. There’s a part in Captain America: Civil War when Falcon tells Spider-Man that he obviously hasn’t been in that many fights, and watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, we see exactly what he means. Peter’s heart is in the right place, but there are a lot of things he’s not prepared for, so my adult self is wincing when he takes those hard hits. In fact, my 30-something adult self is a lot like my 63-year-old sassy black mother, putting her hands on her hips and saying, “I told you so, now sit down!” My adult self wants Peter to just go to school like everyone else and maybe, just maybe, go back to getting cats out of trees. When it comes to taking on a guy who can split a ship apart with a beam of energy, Spider-Man’s not there yet, and he doesn’t realize how permanent the consequences of failing could be.
My younger self, on the other hand? She’s frustrated that no one will give Peter a chance to be Spider-Man. “You can’t just take this kid into that epic airport battle and drop him off like nothing happened,” my younger self says. “And for spider’s sake, answer your phone when he calls!” Yes, Peter needs to be more patient. Yes, Peter needs to not override Tony’s programming for his suit. But you know what? The adult needs to be a touch bit more reasonable, too. If Peter were just out there being rash, fine, but in those moments where he tries to get a hold of Tony and is completely ignored? Argh! Why is Mr. Stark like this?! Thank goodness for best friends whose dreams are to be the “guy in the chair.” My younger self knows what it’s like to have adults write you off because you’re just a kid, especially after being told to rely on said adults. If the “kids” are supposed to rely on you, why aren’t you there when they need you?
It’s not just Peter who captures this feeling. He’s got a friend by his side who, honestly, is all of us. We’ve all been that person stuck between supporting a friend’s foolish (but cool) decisions and needing to tell your best bud to stick with high-school crushes and building with Legos. Ned really wants to cheer Peter on—and he does, a lot—but there comes a time where he has to do the opposite: he has to be the voice of reason and hurt his friend’s feelings with the truth while simultaneously, somehow, encouraging him to keep going. It’s a very honest portrayal of how friendship works. We often want to give our friends the thumbs up, but cautiously, especially when things get too tough. And dealing with a vicious super villain is definitely tough.
Speaking of which, the Vulture? Also surprisingly relatable. Much like Spider-Man, he started out as just a normal guy in Queens—he just went in a different direction after a certain monumental battle against Loki and the Chitauri. (Yep, the movie goes that far back, and the ripple effects are still being felt.) Honestly, Spider-Man’s villain being an average Joe is pretty fitting. He’s not fighting alien creatures or a diabolical organization that wants everyone to hail them. He’s not even fighting a guy who wants revenge because his family was killed during that short-lived Age of Ultron. He’s just fighting . . . a guy. An intimidating guy with access to some pretty dangerous tech, but a guy nonetheless.
Anyone could have become the Vulture, and that almost makes him more frightening.
I can’t really speak to whether or not Spider-Man: Homecoming remains true to the comics, but I can speak the fact that Tom Holland’s young, optimistic, eager-to-save-the-day Peter Parker speaks to the audience. Robert Downey Jr.’s sincere attempt to cosplay a responsible adult is also heartfelt and genuine, and Michael Keaton’s down-to-earth but threatening twist of a villain is as chilling as it is approachable. It all speaks to parts of life I’m familiar with. Even Jacob Batalon’s role as Peter’s best friend speaks to me.
It’s realistic. It’s relatable. It’s Spider-Man.