I love Spider-Man. He’s forever been my favourite superhero, so the thought of a new movie being out in less than a month, under the creative influence of Marvel itself, should have my excitement levels through the roof. But they aren’t, and that’s mainly because of the presence of a particular billionaire playboy genius.
My concern actually started after my colleague Germain Lussier returned from the set of Homecoming with news that there is a lot of Tony in the movie. That the Spidey-suit is basically a red-and-blue spandex-y Iron Man armour, with its own Jarvis-esque AI, its own weird holo-interface, its own zillion combinations of web-fluid uses, all hand-crafted by Tony and not Peter. That basically, Tony Stark is Peter’s teacher, the guiding hand throughout Homecoming that sets Peter on his path to being Spider-Man.
Germain letting me down slowly in our Slack channel.
Then the trailers started coming out, and the more footage we saw, the clearer it became just how present and just how important Tony Stark is to the movie. Peter looked less like a hero and more like Iron Man’s sidekick every time.
And then it just snowballs from there: Trailers where you have Peter yelling “I’M NOTHING WITHOUT THIS SUIT” as Tony chides him and demands to have the costume back. You have Tom Holland telling reporters that what makes his Peter stand out is that now his lifelong goal isn’t being a superhero, to use his great power (with great responsibility) for good, it’s being an Avenger and proving himself to his idol, Tony Stark. Another trailer takes it to an even comical extremes, with Peter checking in by phone with Tony to let him know how patrols are going like an overprotective dad. Hell, you might even have noticed the creepily hilarious scenario where Tony has regifted Peter a T-shirt of his once worn in bed by Tony’s girlfriend Pepper Potts. That, or Peter’s such a big fan he’s starting to try and dress like Tony does. Either way, it speaks to the absurd level of just how much Tony Stark is in Homecoming.
So now, I feel less like we’re about to see Marvel Studios’ attempt at a Spider-Man movie and instead, we’re getting ready to watch Tony Stark uplift some kid from Queens and mould him into Spider-Man, by giving him his suit and his goals and his ethos. This isn’t Peter learning that great power comes with great responsibility, but that great power (and a billionaire’s paycheck and nigh-on-unlimited resources) comes with strict orders from Mr Stark. Tony’s overwhelming presence in Homecoming feels like a cheap way to bluntly let audiences know that this movie is connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it cheapens Peter Parker as a character in the process.
I had these same doubts a few years ago, when Amazing Spider-Man 2 decided to make Peter Parker genetically destined to be the only person who could become Spider-Man thanks to experiments by his dad. Although what Homecoming is doing with its Peter seems very different, the end result is all too similar: It removes a layer of agency from Peter Parker as a character to have these elements being heavily guided, if not literally provided, by another person.
The enduring appeal of Spider-Man is less in the how of he gets his powers, but what he chooses to do with them after — the lessons he’s learned about power and responsibility, his genius-level talent, being put into action by himself. He’s just an everyman, your average high school kid; he has no money, but a lot of smarts. And yet Peter makes a masked identity to use his abilities to help people. He uses his intelligence to build himself slick gadgets on a shoestring budget. He does all that to go out and be his own hero, a journey that is of all his own doing, because he believes he’s doing the right thing.
Look, I get it — put Robert Downey Jr in a Marvel movie and it will make more money than one without. Tony is the hero that helped kick this whole universe off in the first place. Tony’s deep, deep involvement in these nascent stages of Peter’s life as Spider-Man doesn’t just rob the young hero of a lot of the agency in his own origins, it helps Marvel’s cinematic universe feel so much more smaller, because everything in the Earth-based side of things keeps coming back to Tony Stark.
And one day Downey Jr is going to be done playing this character, and what will Marvel do when that day comes and they realise that they have rooted Tony so deeply into the stories of these other characters that his absence will wreak havoc on the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s also a disappointing move at a time when Marvel needs to start expanding the MCU beyond Tony’s circle of friends much more than it has at the moment. Spider-Man: Homecoming could have been a major step forward in doing that, and yet instead it feels more like The Iron Man and Spider-Man Power Hour than it does a Spider-Man movie.
I’m sure I’ll enjoy Spider-Man: Homecoming in the end. After all, I love the character, and every bit of the trailers that haven’t had Tony in them have been enjoyable. Those trailers have also dropped the hint that the basic premise of the film will ultimately see Peter, robbed of the shiny suit Tony made for him, going back out on his own and being a hero on his own merit, in his dinky home-made costume, to prove himself that he doesn’t need Tony’s validation to be the hero he is in the first place.
And if Peter Parker doesn’t need Tony Stark to be a hero, then that means Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t need Iron Man, either.