Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) embodies exemplary elements of the franchise teen film, and demonstrates that these productions are still going strong. Marvel Cinematic Universe’s expansion into teen territory illustrates the many ways the genre remains a reliable production trend while evolving in scope. Consider the different meanings for the titular "Homecoming" that relate to its teen, high concept blockbuster, and franchise classifications:
1. The homecoming dance Peter attends is a staple of teen films. Iconography and narrative tropes of the genre are abundant: high school and family home settings; house party and school dance; bonds of the peer group and authority figures who just don’t understand. The ways the genre adapts to contemporary times is also evident: Peter uses his cell phone not just for interpersonal communication, but also as a tracking device and to make video diaries; there are more diverse cast members, although they’re still relegated to primarily supporting roles; and the crushes and bullies are nerds and geeks instead of cheerleaders and jocks.
2. Spider-Man is coming home from his character’s initial Marvel/Disney introduction in Captain America: Civil War (2016), and Iron Man tasks him with fighting crimes in his neighborhood instead of on the grand scale of other Avengers. The film is still a high concept blockbuster in the superhero arena though. Yes, he catches a bicycle thief, but he also stumbles upon a local arms dealer whom he pursues in the face of danger and personal sacrifice. Action scenes of fiery proportions ensue as confrontations play out on a Staten Island Ferry that splits in two and on the exterior of an airborne plane that eventually crash lands.
3. This reboot of Spider-Man is also a homecoming that brings the intellectual property back to Marvel from Sony. The first trilogy was a tremendous success; the second iteration was not. Sony was struggling to find a way to monetize the popular character, and Marvel had the creative talent and established foundation to make it work. A co-production between the two Hollywood juggernauts brings Spider-Man into the fold of the larger franchise as it continues to expand.
As teen, blockbuster, and franchise fare, Spider-Man: Homecoming is representative of the current state of conglomerate Hollywood. In the shadow of Iron Man, Peter Parker searches for his identity and is on the path to self-actualization, but his coming of age is not yet complete - it will have to wait for the sequels.
Youth in Perpetual Franchising
That we have seen three different incarnations of the 'Spider-Man' franchise in just 15 years is not as surprising today as it would have been in the post-war boom of teen movies, when few youth media products retained long-term recognition (beyond Disney movies, which were rarely sequelized). Hollywood has realized what schoolteachers have known forever: that "generations" of youth only last about 4-6 years, moving through their respective school systems and then abandoning those identities as they move into adulthood for grown-up life. Youth of 2017 cannot respect the same actors (and stories) in their movies as those enjoyed way back in 2012, and certainly not those of the ancient 2002 franchise, which was almost in the last century. Just as we continue to witness the ongoing waves of 'Star Wars' and see other superhero stories recycled for new young audiences, we will indeed have "homecomings" for further teen franchises in the future. As long as teens keep watching movies.
Your discussion here, Elissa, made me immediately think of the second season of the current popular teen "millennial noir" (to borrow Louisa's term) Riverdale, which seems like it's doing much of the same kind of work in its development of the Red Circle teen militia (led by Archie) as local crime fighters. In doing so, they're tapping into the superhero-themed Archie comics, which does seems like a potentially very lucrative avenue for them as it has been for other properties on the CW. But the localism of Riverdale seems more like what you're describing with the Spiderman film rather than CW properties such as The Flash or Supergirl (is Archie DC? Others will know this). Anyway, this is just an observation but I find this teen vigilante localism both intriguing and disturbing. We'll have to see where it goes.
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