So today, let's talk about Spider-Man. I wasn't sure. What do I expect from this film since everyone said that it was new and improved and something special. I for one, was skeptical. I'd heard this song before and I always ended up coming out of the theater disappointed yet again, tired of the boy movie bullshit where it's all just guns and violence and punching, I have been yearning for a film that had a little more soul to it.
This film may not have had a lot of soul, but what it did have was something it didn't have before. It didn't take itself quite so seriously as films like Logan or Captain America, but instead featured teenagers doing things that teenagers do. These were kids that felt awkward and unpopular and crushed on each other with the sincerity and fervor that can only come during the teen years. Basically, this was a superhero film as if John Hughes had directed it. It harkened back to films such as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, with its earnestness and awkwardness that we all can relate to, whether or not we can shoot webs from our fingers.
I also appreciated the attention paid to the diversity of American culture. And I don't mean diversity in some affirmative action kind of way but more in a way of recognizing that America is more than one viewpoint more than one culture. More than one person. For instance, the Michelle character (played by Zendaya), while still a side character, puts forth lots of one liners that draw attention to the fact that her world is not the white man's world, and she recognizes that, and she may be the only one. She also recognizes that her teacher (a white man) does not see this in the scene at the Washington monument, where she comments that it was a building built by slaves. It is particularly interesting in that her white male teacher shakes his head and says no it's not quite that bad, but the black security guard basically nods and corroborates the truth that the teacher has chosen to ignore from his inherently privileged position in society.
I also appreciated the more subtle references to our cultural assumptions that the film plays with. One of those moments is when the principal appears and calls Peter into his office, he identifies himself as the principal and he's a tall, somewhat imposing Asian man. Okay, sure, the principal is an asian man that's fine. Not that much of an unusual choice, right? But then, in the shot in his office, he sits talking to Peter. The production design in this scene serves to give us a window into the principal as a character, which is that of an American patriot who has served his country with a photograph of the him in his military uniform, complete with medals in the background. This more subtle piece of the storytelling is interesting in that it subverts the white male American viewpoint that only white males have served this country.
The last major point of the film that I felt really forces the audience to contend with their own assumptions of what this society in America should look like, and what a family should look like was really interesting. When Peter goes to his crush Michelle's house and discovers that his nemesis is her father, I personally was surprised in realizing my own assumptions about his crush. I assumed that her parents, both parents, were of a similar race as she was. So when it turned out that her mother was black and her father was white, I found myself being surprised, and if the girl had not been of mixed race, I don't know if it would have been as surprising of a twist. I'd be interested to hear how other people felt when they realized the twists in the film. I, for one, was surprised, then was surprised that I was surprised. Mind you, I didn't have a problem with this plot twist, it was just unexpected. And the filmmakers made it even more unexpected by using our assumptions. Or possibly just my assumptions. .
I would be interested to know how other people felt at this plot twist, and if they had the same sense of surprise that I did. I think this kind of surprise really speaks to our assumptions as a society, that a viewpoint in any kind of story is going to be predominantly white and predominantly male?