Grounded: Why Homecoming Handles Responsibility Better Than Spider-Man 2
Ever since I was a child, I’ve watched each Spider-Man movie with excitement and joy. From the Raimi films to the Webb films to the Watts/MCU films, and to Into the Spider-Verse, each one has helped shape me into the person I am today, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. While Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 are certainly below the bar in terms of structure, I still have fond memories of both, and enjoy them to this day. Each actor to take on the character of Peter Parker have done magnificent jobs of bringing him to life, and I want that to be remembered before I get into this. There have now been eight films made about our favorite wall-crawler, but the one that seems to reign as king in the minds of most people (at least in terms of live-action) is Spider-Man 2, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic movie, filled with so much love and adoration for the character and the people in his life, and has an engrossing message about choice and sacrifice that are all a part of growing up. Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well, is an excellent coming-of-age story about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, and not taking the people in your life for granted. In the past two years, these two films have been pitted against each other, with fans having some valid arguments for both. Well, today I would like to deal in and express why, although I love Spider-Man 2, Homecoming handles a crucial theme of the web-slinger much better than it does: responsibility. To do this, I’ll look at three parallel moments from each movie, and discuss my personal take on both. I call these the choice, the bail-out, and the comeback. So, without further ado, here we go.
Early on in the first act of Spider-Man 2, we watch as Peter Parker tries to have a peaceful night without any superhero antics, heading over to Mary Jane’s play with a few flowers in hand. However, almost out of nowhere, a car being chased by the police crashes into his vehicle, causing him to spring into action. Quickly, he subdues the criminals, taking their car and driving over to the theater while changing back into his clothes. Because of this, however, he’s late to the play, and the usher refuses to let him in during the middle of it. My personal problem with how the film handles the theme of responsibility seems to start right here, and it’s not because of what Peter does. Everything he does is in-character, and doesn’t go against his own sense of responsibility. However, it presents him with a choice that’s in no way difficult for him to make, and doesn’t necessarily challenge him to be responsible. It’s not as if he knows how much time he has before the play starts, and since the problem quite literally falls into his lap, it’s a no-brainer for him to go ahead and solve it. Him taking care of the criminals almost immediately only takes away from that dread of being late and not getting what he wants, at least in my opinion. For me, the sequence doesn’t pack that extra punch of him being between a rock and a hard place, and doesn’t really showcase how his responsibility has to outweigh what he wants.
In Homecoming, we get a pretty different scene that springs the plot of the film into action. In the first act, we watch as Peter, with some coaxing from Ned, plan to be irresponsible for his own benefit. They tell everyone that Peter and Spider-Man are friends, to which Liz and Flash invite them to her party that night, the latter looking to prove that Peter’s full of himself and a liar. When he’s at the party, Flash pushes Peter’s buttons just enough to where he goes outside and gets ready to hop in while in his suit. We see the conflict in his expression and in his discussion with himself, to which he gets distracted by hearing and seeing an explosion far away from the house, to which he decides to spring into action. What I love about this scene and why I think it nails down his sense of responsibility isn’t just his choice to leave the party and investigate the disturbance, but his struggle in deciding whether or not he’s gonna use Spider-Man as a party trick. Earlier on, when he’s coaxed by Ned into saying that he knows Spider-Man, he specifically recognizes he could end up winning Liz’s heart by proving it at the party. When the time comes for him to make that choice, though, he knows deep down he can’t do it, that it would be wrong to use his alter-ego for his own benefit. We see in his eyes that he’s familiar with doing something like this, and knows how irresponsible it would be to do it again. In my opinion, this hits a lot closer to that core theme of responsibility and truly shows where Peter draws the line between himself and Spider-Man.
Back in Spider-Man 2, halfway through the movie, we find Peter as he’s slowly losing his powers, and a talk with a doctor makes him think he just isn’t meant to be Spider-Man anymore. Back in his apartment, he has a talk with Uncle Ben in his mind, where he chooses to let the costume go, and try to live a life of his own. In a beautiful shot that parallels Amazing Spider-Man #50, Peter lays his suit in an alleyway garbage can, walking away in the background. There’s a whole lot to love about this scene, from the music to the cinematography, to the acting between Tobey Maguire and Cliff Robertson, it’s definitely beautiful, and that’s why picking into it definitely stings. While the scene is absolutely emotionally-impactful, it once again doesn’t give Peter a difficult choice to make, and that mostly lies on the subplot of his powers disappearing. In short, I think the subplot is a bit cheap and lazy, and holds the movie back a lot, with this scene being a prime example. Despite the scene in the car with Ben, and despite the clear longing for a normal life, the reason for Peter quitting as Spider-Man boils down to the fact that his powers aren’t working anymore, rather than him choosing it for himself. It feels like the subplot is there to make Peter seem less irresponsible, when the point of the original story is, in my opinion, to show that Peter can still be reckless and fallible, but will always do what’s right in the end. Cushioning the impact of the scene with the subplot of him being powerless takes away from the character and the film rather than adding to it, despite how beautifully-directed and well-acted it is, and it once again robs Peter’s character of having to make those drastic choices.
At the end of Homecoming‘s second act, we see Peter try to take matters into his own hands against Vulture and his crew, despite warnings from Tony Stark. Because of his recklessness, the ferry boat he’s on gets split in half, putting all the people on board in danger. Despite his best efforts, he can’t keep the boat together and keep it from sinking, to which Tony shows up and uses his suit and tech to repair the boat and save everyone. After everyone’s safe, Peter snaps at Tony, to which he reprimands him for being reckless and takes away his tech-savvy suit, saying if he’s nothing without it, he shouldn’t have it. Afterward, Peter seems to give up Spider-Man for a bit, believing he’s not good enough to don the mask and tries to readjust to a normal life again. I know a huge amount of people had a bone to pick with this scene, and I can definitely understand why. However, the reason I love it is that it shows that responsibility isn’t just about springing into action to stop the bad guys. You can be responsible, absolutely, but you can also be reckless, and it’s all about learning how to keep control. Peter’s faced with the reality that being Spider-Man is still gonna have consequences if he’s not careful, and those consequences were nearly fatal. Despite what some might say, I don’t see this as a replacement of “with great power comes great responsibility,” but rather an extension of it that’s important for Peter to learn, as well. This moment recognizes and addresses the layers of responsibility, and it carries weight throughout the rest of the film.
In the third act of Spider-Man 2, we get a scene at a cafe between Peter and MJ, where they discuss their feelings towards one another in light of Peter recently trying to win her back. While she seems to have come around and looks to express that she loves him, he pulls back, lying and saying that he doesn’t. When she tries to kiss him in order to see if there’s any connection, Doc Ock throws a car into the restaurant and threatens Peter, saying that if he doesn’t get Spider-Man to meet him face-to-face, he’ll kill MJ. He throws Peter against a wall, trapping him under a bunch of rubble, and kidnaps MJ, leaving the scene. Miraculously, Peter’s powers return, as he bursts out of the rubble and takes off his glasses, determined to get MJ back. Once again, this scene is shot and acted phenomenally, and there’s no denying how cool it is to see Peter get his powers and suit back. However, my problems with this moment stem back to my problems with the other two, that being the subplot and the easy decision-making. Since the subplot plays no factor whatsoever into either of the two final fights on the train and in Ock’s lair, and just abruptly ended during this scene, it only further makes it feel like a hindrance the movie’s had up until this point. In my opinion, it’s not particularly used in any interesting way except for the burning building scene, which I do admit, is fantastic. On top of that, Peter’s choice to become Spider-Man again isn’t based on a difficult choice to stop bad things that are unrelated to him from happening, but because, once again, MJ has been kidnapped. There’s no question that he’d do literally anything to keep her safe, so to me, it’s not super impactful to see him don the mask again to save her, especially since the first movie already did it effectively. Despite the film trying to build up these themes of responsibility and doing whatever you can to help and save people, the big choice boils down to whether or not Peter wants to save the girl he loves again, which goes without saying. And as for the train scene later on, the choice is obvious once again, there’s no way he’d just hop off the train and let it crash. All in all, in my opinion, this crucial moment doesn’t highlight responsibility in the way it wants to, and displays the crux of my problems with this movie’s handling of it.
In Homecoming‘s third act, we get a very different, yet familiar scene. After learning who Vulture is, and vice versa, Peter makes the tough call of leaving Liz at the dance, chasing after Vulture in his homemade suit with Ned’s help. Once he arrives at his hideout, Toomes talks to Peter about how the world isn’t as black and white as he thinks, trying to stress to Peter that he has to do this for his family. As it turns out, he used this opportunity to distract Peter, using his wingsuit via remote-control to crash all of the columns in the room, collapsing the roof on him. As Vulture gets into position to rob Stark’s plane heading towards the Avengers compound, Peter struggles under the rubble, unable to free himself and calling for help in desperation. When he looks down at his mask in the water, he remembers what Tony told him earlier, and finds it within himself to finally lift the rubble, freeing himself and chasing after Vulture. While, again, I can understand the criticisms of having Tony’s voice in Peter’s head, as well as lifting a moment from a storyline that isn’t adapted in this film, this moment is the defining reason why I believe Homecoming handles the theme of responsibility so well. It shows Peter, at his lowest point with no hope of getting out, using his resolve to do the right thing to overcome that voice in his head telling him to stay put and wait for help. While nobody’s been kidnapped and nobody’s in current danger, Peter knows what the weapons that Vulture and his crew make can do, and he doesn’t want to let it happen again. It’s the moment where Peter truly becomes Spider-Man, because despite having no safety net, no tech suit, and no one coming to save him, he chooses responsibility and decides to not stay down. He chooses for himself to be Spider-Man and to go out and stop Vulture for good, even though he could lay there and wait for help, or wait for someone to save him. The city may not be in danger, and someone’s life may not be hanging in the balance, but he still fights through to be responsible and do the right thing. The movie allows him to struggle this moment, to let him make the tough choice between staying down, or fighting tooth and nail to get out. To me, that’s the core of Peter’s sense of responsibility, and it’s showcased beautifully in this scene.
Just to be clear, I believe both of these versions of Peter are valid adaptations, and both have a clear sense of responsibility. I just personally believe Homecoming showcases that trait better than Spider-Man 2 does. Homecoming definitely has its faults, for sure, and Spider-Man 2 has its superb moments. At the end of the day, this is just my personal take that I wanted to put out there, not blinded by nostalgia or jumping on the bandwagon for the next big thing. As I said earlier, I have a soft spot in my heart for each and every Spider-Man movie, as well as each adaptation of the character. My love for the Raimi films and their version of Peter is just as important as my love for the Webb films and their version of Peter, and those are just as important as my love for the Watts/MCU films and their version of Peter. You can’t even get me started on how much love I have for Into the Spider-Verse and their versions of Miles and Peter, as well. No matter what films you prefer, or what Peter you prefer, we’re all still Spidey fans at the end of the day, and we’re all valid in terms of which interpretations are our favorites. At the end of the day, we’re all nerds getting excited over a person in spandex swinging on glorified silly string, and we all wouldn’t have it any other way.