Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man should be the very symbol of franchise fatigue. It’s a 55-year-old character who has been played by three different actors in six films within 15 years. The last three Spider-Man films were bloated messes largely devoid of super-fun dance sequences. Yet Spider-Man: Homecoming has brought freshness and joy to summer, and to a genre still trying to find its feet. Critics like it. Fans like it. Its future looks as bright as an Infinity Stone.

It would be unfair to mine it for certain lessons (Have a well-established, global brand to use in a movie! Get Marvel to take the creative lead on their own character, who’s a well-established, global brand!), but there’s something that every studio can learn from it, and a few tricks that apply beyond the superhero world.

Spider-Man Homecoming

Bring Freshness to Old Formulas

Everything has a formula. All genres. All studio films. Even indie films start falling into formulas once a few of them earn success. Given enough time (and rope) I’d be able to argue that even experimental films have them. The storytelling wheel hasn’t been reinvented since Gilgamesh was doing heroic deeds and Aristotle was getting poetic.

In defense of the studios, it’s insanely difficult to know when your cash cow’s milk starts to curdle, but in the case of superheroes, it should be obvious that the same old song and dance will need some new steps. And a new milk metaphor. Studios dealing the world of superheroes have a catch-22 on their hands. It’s simultaneously the hottest thing going and, unlike Westerns in the pre-WWII era, you only have a few opportunities each year to get them right. If you belly flop, you injure your character and rely on the future appetite of audience who are rightly skeptical that you can deliver.

Here’s where the bigger problem for studios comes into play. Superheroes are bogged down in history, myth, and defining tropes that trying something new gets tricky. It risks alienating the very fanbase you’re courting (“That’s not MY Mandarin!”) and on whose word of mouth you depend, but refusing to innovate risks boring everyone.

Spider-Man: Homecoming threads the needle by refusing the formula at every turn (and giving the superhero story arc to the villain). This is all obviously easier to write a few paragraphs about than to do, but it should at least give studios the license to escape the rut of how heroes are introduced to us. This possibility isn’t unique to the character we’ve been introduced to three times in 15 years.

Spider-Man Homecoming TV Spot

Make the Movie in Front of You

It’s weird that this has to be said, but the desperation for franchises is palpable. It didn’t exactly sink Marvel, but everyone (rightly) hates half of Iron Man 2.

Homecoming is slightly clunky at times, but it’s streets ahead of many films who put the next eight movies that won’t happen ahead of the one we’ve sat down to watch (*cough*Amazing Spider-Man 2*cough*The Mummy*cough*). Characters from potential future movies don’t waltz into the dance with neon signs attached to them. Homecoming even downplays Zendaya’s character after presenting her as an equal co-star. Ditto for Betty Brant, who may or may not play a significant role later on, but who Angourie Rice brings to fantastic, eye-rolling life.

It’s a little crazy that Marvel crafted a winning formula for setting up an extended universe, and no other studio has copied it. Instead, they’re all trying to make their own version of Iron Man 2. If you’re angling for a big tent franchise, you can’t simultaneously use an audience for market research and shove a character down our throats, yet that’s what many studios do. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Listen to us, and we’ll help you decide what we want to see more of going forward.

Or you could just press ahead with Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man or whatever.

It’s also a bit ironic that a film that’s technically the 16th in a series is still treated (smartly) as an introduction. Studios, please, make a good movie first, and if it connects with an audience, you’ll be cleared for takeoff.

Spider-Man Homecoming Opening Scene

Find an Enthusiastic Ambassador

This gets into the weeds a bit (or at least it gets away from the writing and storytelling parts of cinema).

Tom Holland is the MVP of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Not only was he the right person for the role of Peter Parker – awkward and funny and shy and audacious – he was also the right person to sell Spider-Man to an audience with a wary eye. He was inexhaustible on the press circuit, even after giving 110% to lip syncing/rain-dancing to Rihann’s “Umbrella” (and if you don’t think that was marketing for Homecoming, you don’t fully understand modern movie marketing). He sold himself while selling the movie.

That’s a great two-for-one deal in an era where who plays your superhero doesn’t fully matter. Case in point: non-household-name Tom Holland carrying Homecoming not because he’s super famous, but because he was right for the role, and the character does the heavy lifting on getting butts into seats.

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