When Spider-Man Homecoming was originally announced, a lot of people were surprised that the superhero would be rebooted again so soon after The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Spider-Man is one of my favorite characters, so I was excited regardless. Now that I saw Homecoming, there’s a lot to love about the movie.

My list is after the cut. (Spoilers, of course.)


I didn’t have any reservations about rebooting Spider-Man. He’s my favorite superhero, and things weren’t working out with Sam Raimi after Spider-Man 3, so by all means, have another go at Spider-Man with a new crew. After seeing Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, I’m happy we got this movie.

The first time Spider-Man is in his full suit and faces a thief in The Amazing Spider-Man, he says, “No one seems to grasp the concept of the mask.”

The characters in the movie might not understand how the mask allows Peter Parker to be Spider-Man, but the people who made the movie certainly do. That’s what I want to talk about.

Spoilers after the cut.

First, a bit about casting Andrew Garfield: he looks the part. He’s got the gymnast’s body and boxer’s speed that Spider-Man needs. His mannerisms, body language, and voice hint at a kind-hearted personality. He can talk about science facts and theories (though he doesn’t have many lines like that) and he pulls off the socially awkward teenager—that’s all Peter Parker.

But there’s more to Peter Parker and Spider-Man than that, and this is where the mask comes in.

Without the mask, Peter is nerdy, shy, polite, and forgetful. He’s wary of Flash, awkward when he tries to ask out Gwen, and remorseful about Uncle Ben’s death.

With the mask on, Peter gains anonymity, and that gives him confidence. He taunts criminals and he’s sarcastic around the police. Spider-Man assertively reacts to what happens around him (no doubt with the help of his enhanced senses), and Peter’s uncertainty falls away.

I like the scene where Peter goes after the mugger in the alley, when Peter is wearing a jacket and hat. He roughs up the mugger and when more criminals gang up on Peter, he runs away, punching and kicking them when he can. Peter reacts to what the criminals do, and he doesn’t stop to think. He simply moves, and that’s Spider-Man’s personality coming through. But even so, he’s sloppy. He trips, runs into more criminals, and has to change directions. Peter doesn’t have the mask on, and so he doesn’t have Spider-Man’s finesse yet.

Compare that scene to one later in the movie, where Spider-Man fights off a group of policemen, including Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy. The police catch up to Spider-Man and Captain Stacy unmasks him. But at this point, Peter has better control of his abilities. No mask, but still in the suit, he disarms the ring of police officers so that he can keep going after the Lizard.

The mask lets Spider-Man shift into superhero mode and taking it off lets him go back to being Peter Parker.

I want to see a Spider-Man movie that focuses on Peter Parker. He’s in college trying to juggle his course work with freelance photography. He makes friends, upsets girlfriends, eats dinner with Aunt May every Sunday, and manages to pick up a research grant his junior year.

Peter Parker as Spider-Man is in the backdrop of all this. Spider-Man is the focus of Peter’s work for The Bugle. Spider-Man is the way Peter travels across the city. Spider-Man stops the mugging Peter would have witnessed.

I love that superheroes movies are still trendy ten years after the first Spider-Man movie came out, but I’d like to see a story that focuses on the human side of the superhero.

For several weeks in July, August, and September, I watched every episode of Spider-Man, the animated series that was on FOX from 1994 to 1997. I had seen most of the episodes growing up, but seeing them again now, I realize how much this cartoon series respected children as an audience.

I see respect for the audience in several aspects of the show:

1. Complex characters. Peter Parker is consistently an intelligent and flawed character. We see how smart he is in figuring how to defeat villains, and when he makes mistakes it’s because his  arrogance, carelessness, or anger. Everything Peter does makes sense, though. His actions are logical reactions to what happens to him and around him. The villains are relatively flat compared to Peter, but even they have logical motivations. Doc Ock needs resources for his research. The Green Goblin sabotages the King Pin’s work so that Norman Osbourne can keep a clean reputation.

2. Multiple story lines at the same time. Episodes often contain one problem for Peter Parker and one for Spider-Man. Besides those, we see plot developments with Mary Jane, Harry, and Aunt May.

3. Multi-episode stories. Spider-Man often carried a story over several episodes. Recaps at the beginning of every episode probably helped children follow along, but even so, children had to pay close attention to make sense of the larger story. Characters and other elements from early seasons came back in the final season of the show. That’s a lot of detail to ask children to remember.

4. Crossovers. I’m impressed with the number of Marvel characters Spider-Man features. I started keeping track after I realized crossovers were a recurring theme. The X-Men, Punisher, Daredevil, Iron Man, War Machine, Captain America, Blade, Red Skull, and Fantastic Four all teamed up with or fought against Spider-Man in the series.

Spider-Man respected its child audience by offering entertaining, complex stories. The banter and action scenes so typical of superhero cartoons are there, but so are deeply emotional scenes, like when Peter loses Mary Jane. The creators of the series must have felt that children could follow and enjoy these stories. Or else, why would they bother writing such developed plots and characters?

I feel like today’s creators of children’s television have much lower expectations for their audience. Children today are lucky to watch characters who behave rationally, let alone see complicated and satisfying story lines.

Since Netflix added Spider-Man, the animated series (1994-1998), to instant streaming, I’ve been watching season 1 and remembering what a great show it was.

“The Alien Costume” is a three-part story in the middle of season one. The symbiote comes to Earth with a space shuttle and attaches to Spider-Man. Peter fights it off, and it takes over Eddie Brock to become Venom. This story is the animated version of everything Spider-Man 3 should have been. But I don’t want to talk about the film’s emo Peter Parker.

I want to talk about how Venom is a reflection of Spider-Man and why that makes him such an interesting villain.

I’m going off the animated series here (which I expect is close to the original story in the comics). Venom knows everything about Spider-Man and Peter Parker because the symbiote tried to bond with Peter first. This gives Venom a few advantages.

1. Venom can block Spider-Man’s spidey sense. Venom is the only thing that can sneak up on Peter, and we see how jumpy and paranoid Peter feels because of that.

2. Venom has Peter’s memories, so he knows Mary Jane Watson and Aunt May.

3. Venom has all the same powers as Spider-Man, except he’s stronger.

Venom matches and beats Spider-Man in strength and ability. He plays mind games. He threatens to expose Spider-Man and hurt his loved ones. Venom is dangerous because he knows how to fight Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He can attack both identities.

This idea of a villain who is a reflection of the hero reminded me of “Amy’s Choice,” a series 5 episode of Doctor Who. The Dream Lord is a mocking version of the Doctor (Time Lord) that comes from the Doctor’s mind. He hates the Doctor, he taunts Amy, and he puts Amy, Rory, and the Doctor in a cruel test of distinguishing dreams from reality.

But there’s an important difference between the Dream Lord and Venom. Venom is a reflection of Spider-Man, but a separate entity. The Dream Lord is part the Doctor, the dark thoughts about issues the Doctor doesn’t want to face. Venom’s threat is in being able to match Spider-Man. The Dream Lord’s threat is in the Doctor torturing himself.

These types of villains are compelling because they aren’t simply evil: they’re evil that comes from the hero. That complexity shows a flawed side of the hero, and that’s good storytelling.