Wednesday, August 2, 2017

MOVIES: "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and the Growth of Tony Stark

NOTE: This blog post contains major spoilers for basically everything about Spider-Man: Homecoming. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you do -- and highly recommend you give this piece a miss until you've done so. If you've seen it already or don't care about spoilers, read on.

It takes about ten seconds to realize that Spider-Man: Homecoming is done right. From the moment the original TV series theme plays through the Marvel logo at the front of the movie, you know you're pretty much set for a good ride. And once you realize that no, this is not Yet Another Origin Story, you can be comfortable. We've already seen the MCU Peter Parker make his debut in Civil War (which the beginning of this film ties into). This is not how Peter becomes Spidey. This is his Hero Journey.

That said, this is also Tony Stark's final exam.

We've known since the trailers that Tony would be figuring into this movie at least to some degree -- which makes a lot of sense, all things considered. Tony's mentorship of Peter has shown up in other iterations of the Avengers story, and even if it hadn't it, it Just Makes Sense. What the trailer left unclear was how much Tony would be an element of this film. From the looks of it, it could have been one quick cameo. And we probably would have been fine with that, to be honest. (I know I would have been.)

What we see, though, is a whole lot of Tony. He's engaged in every part of this new stage of Peter's life, even if he's not always literally there. Even Spidey's new suit is, conceptually, a one-off of Iron Man's. It may not do all the same things, but it's just as tricked out, and even has its own Suit Lady. The movie sets up -- shows, doesn't tell -- that we are in essence seeing what could have been a teenage Tony Stark.

And, Peter being Peter, a lot of the same personality elements are still there. He's super-smart. He wants to be credited as super-smart and not held back. He's got hella hubris, and just enough smarts to get to a really nice vantage point before he stumbles and falls. Honestly the only major differences between Tony and Peter are money and how nervous they get around girls.

As the Avenger who kicked off the MCU, Tony's done a lot of growing over the past several movies. He's gone from "billionaire genius playboy philanthropist" to, you know, someone who doesn't necessarily feel the need to crow about that. He's still the same cocksure charismatic Tony Stark with strange whims and no-acting-required RDJ moments. But he's a lot surer of who he is, what he is, and what it means to be a hero at this phase. Especially after the awkward break-up that was Civil War.

The reason it's so easy to see Iron Man and Spider-Man together is because, save for some social cues, Iron Man was Spider-Man. If there were no Avengers, no superheroes, no radioactive spiders, there are good odds Peter could have ended up on a Stark internship just for his sheer intelligence. But when you combine intelligence and caring -- you have someone who cares too much and gets themselves in trouble.

The moment was clear after the battle on the ferry. Tony's words to Peter: "If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it." It's a truth, granted. But to hear those words from Tony, a hero whose legend started with the building of a suit of his own, it resonates. And even in the face of Peter Parker, Tony is one of a very special few -- two, in fact -- in the Avengers: nothing inherently makes him a hero.

He has no Super Soldier serum. No radiation. No god powers. No psychic abilities or super speed. No special S.H.I.E.L.D. training. No vague, foggy history as a spy. Literally nothing about him makes him any more advanced than you or I could become on our own. Like Ant-Man, what makes him special is his suit. And being smart.

The fear of being "nothing without the suit" is a far truer concern for Tony. His Arc Reactor is gone. His heart is fixed. He's just this guy, you know? Switching the focus of the conversation after the ferry scene... making yourself Tony instead of Peter... reveals a different dynamic entirely: a man who had to fight for his life and his identity, looking a scientific miracle in the eye and hearing him say he's nothing. A kid who didn't have Tony's lab but still made web shooters. A kid who, without the suit, will still have his powers.

Of course Tony took the suit away.

And it's no surprise that the final scene of this film mirrors the final scene of the first Iron Man, while subverting the ending. Tony accepted his new role with a public announcement; Peter already did that internally. Spider-Man will mature far faster than Iron Man (in in-movie years, that is), and that is more than likely what Tony wants.

It's a shame that rights took so long to work out that we're only now seeing Spidey added to the Avengers roster. But in the end, the timing meant two stories got to be told at extremely good times. I guess this stuff has a way of working itself out.
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