Arts and Entertainment

Spider-Man: How A High School Setting Brings The Franchise to its Peak

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” stands out from other superhero movies in that its protagonist accurately portrays the character of a high school student.

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By Christine Jegarl

Imagine how you’d feel if a high-ranking executive of a well-known corporation, such as Apple, noticed your talent and promised to get in touch with you in the near future. Then, imagine your disappointment if that official were to cut off communication with you altogether.

If you’ve managed to do this, you have captured the exact feelings of Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

“Spider-Man: Homecoming,” directed by Jon Watts, revolves around Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland), a 15-year-old high school student, trying to prevent Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) from dealing dangerous weapons involving alien technology in order to prove himself worthy of becoming an Avenger.

It is hard to imagine how a second reboot of the Spider-Man franchise could stand out from its predecessors in any way. However, in the first “Spider-Man” trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, Peter Parker is depicted as a photographer who had just graduated high school. In “The Amazing Spider-Man” series directed by Marc Webb, Peter Parker is portrayed as a high school student. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” manages to stand out from not just the previous Spider-Man movies, but also movies of the superhero genre, by focusing on Spider-Man as a high school sophomore.

For example, unlike in the first “Spider-Man” trilogy where Spider-Man is granted the power of organic webbing, in this version, Parker secretly creates his own web fluid in chemistry class and hides it beneath his locker. In addition, when Parker finds out that Vulture is in Maryland thanks to his secretly implanted tracker, he makes a last-minute decision to accompany the decathlon team to its national academic tournament in Washington, D.C. The movie ties in aspects of Parker’s second life with his school life so well that it makes it seem as though Spider-Man cannot exist without his counterpart role as a high school student.

In “Captain America: Civil War,” Parker is taken out on his first Avengers-related fight by Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Industries, leaving Peter with a thirst for more missions, a theme that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” expands upon. Throughout the film, Parker repeatedly attempts to prove himself to Stark by ending Vulture’s arms trafficking business. His need to show he is more than just someone trying to protect his neighborhood is a reflection of how a majority of teenagers believe they are more than just “children.”

Many teenagers attempt to make their own life choices in order to be more independent and to show their maturity. Peter is not an exception, making many rash decisions to put his job as a superhero first, stating, “I am so far beyond high school right now.” He quits band, hangs out with his best friend Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) less frequently, refuses to participate in the national academic decathlon tournament with his team before finding out about Vulture’s location, and even skips class—all in order to commit more time to combatting criminals as Spider-Man.

The most prominent example of this kind of decision-making is in regards to his suit. In order to keep Stark from shutting down his quest to defeat Vulture, Parker disables his suit’s tracking device and shuts down the suit’s “Training Wheels Protocol,” which had previously prevented him from using its more advanced features, such as shooting different kinds of webs and enhancing hearing and sight. Trying to unlock features he was not prepared for at his skill level caused him to be at a constant loss during the action sequence that followed and ultimately lead to Vulture escaping and Parker being stuck in a storage vault.

However, the reckless mistakes he makes to validate his role as a superhero make his maturing all the more gratifying. After apprehending Vulture, Parker realizes he does not need to be an Avenger in order to be a good superhero. Thus, at the end of the movie, when he turns down Stark’s offer to become a member of the Avengers, Peter truly illustrates how much he has grown. By no longer feeling the need to prove he is capable of fighting crime on a larger scale, Peter overcomes one obstacle on the long road to maturity, creating a satisfying ending.

One may argue that simply changing the age of a main character cannot possibly affect the quality of a movie to such a large degree; but in this case, changing the age impacts the movie by making it more appealing to its audience.

The scenario used at the beginning of the article shouldn’t have been too hard to visualize. Many high school students, especially those in competitive schools like Stuyvesant, will go through or have already gone through the struggle of trying to get themselves noticed by high-status officials, whether it be through research papers or project ideas. So when Parker tries to get his efforts and talents noticed by Stark in attempt after attempt, the majority of the audience—who are either high school students or have been in high school—will be able to empathize with Parker, creating a larger emotional payoff for Parker’s eventual success in proving himself.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is vastly different from the preceding films of the franchise. By weaving the experience of a high school student into the storyline of a savior of Queens, it creates its own unique charm and leaves a greater impact on its audience through its relatability.