Spider-Man, Spider-Man, inspiring some movie picks to watch when you can.
If Spider-Man: Homecoming is your introduction to the web-slinging superhero and his alter-ego, Peter Parker, then you might want to check out any of the six previous Spider-Man features. They’re not related, and only a few of them are any good, but they provide more of the back story and origins of the character, and each is interesting to see in contrast to Homecoming.
Additionally, filmmaker Jon Watts and star Tom Holland may be unfamiliar talents, so you should check out some of their previous efforts, such as Cop Car and The Lost City of Z, respectively (also try to find Holland’s performance in “Billy Elliott: The Musical” if you can). Consider those the basics, while the following eight picks are movies I recommend with specific relevance to the latest Spider-Man reboot.
In case the headline isn’t hint enough, note that this column deals in spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Way before the misguided remake starring Jaden Smith, the original Karate Kid movie gave a boost to young martial arts programs, even though it’s unlikely any karate school followed the lessons of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance). In the movie, that old man takes a teenage boy under his wing and teaches him how to physically defend himself against bullies.
Like Holland’s Peter in Homecoming, Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso is an impatient kid who wants to be the hero right away. While Peter/Spider-Man wants to fight crime and take on some local adversaries but is limited by a “training wheels” setting on his suit, Daniel/Karate Kid wants to fight his nemeses but feels limited by the chores he has to do for Mr. Miyagi, not knowing they’re actually part of his training. At one point in both movies, the kid tries to handle his situation himself and winds up in bigger trouble than he intended, but fortunately the mentor arrives just in time to save him.
The Karate Kid spawned three sequels — better than any of the Spider-Man incarnations, although the fourth Karate Kid is sort of a reboot. The Karate Kid Part II has Daniel accompanying Mr. Miyagi to a former Axis country, whereas Spider-Man accompanied his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man, to a former Axis country in Captain America: Civil War (recapped in Homecoming). If you want to follow the direct degrees of connection from The Karate Kid to Spider-Man, check out Macchio in My Cousin Vinny opposite the new Aunt May, Marisa Tomei, in her breakout, Oscar-winning role.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
There’s a sequence in Homecoming where Spider-Man is swinging through backyards that pays obvious homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, enough that we don’t really need the confirmation shot of a TV playing the classic teen comedy. Other than that bit and the fact that Peter cuts classes, Spider-Man’s alter-ego isn’t very much like Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), who is more popular, confident, and interested in leisure over responsibility. He does save someone, though. Well, he’s called a hero, jokingly, anyway.
There’s actually a good amount of reference to John Hughes, who wrote and directed Ferris Bueller, in Homecoming. Zendaya’s character, Michelle, is inspired by Ally Sheedy’s character in Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, and Peter and Ned are nerdy best friends in the spirit of the main duo of Weird Science —- which is one of Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr.’s early movies. Meanwhile, Jennifer Connelly, who starred in the Hughes-scripted Career Opportunities, voices Spider-Man’s suit-operating-system AI, “Karen.” And interestingly enough, Homecoming is co-written by the guys (Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley) who wrote and directed the most recent Vacation movie, which originated from a Hughes story.
The villainous role of Vulture in Homecoming is so perfect for Michael Keaton, it’s almost like he’s been building towards it his whole career. He’s a blue-collar guy, reminiscent of his characters in the ’80s who worked at auto plants. He’s also a costumed character named after a winged animal, like his Caped Crusader of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns and the title superhero portrayed by his actor character in Birdman.
I actually previously recommended Batman Returns in my list of movies to watch after you see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (the last Spider-Man movie before Homecoming), so now it’s best to just go back to the first one and then follow his progression from superhero to super villain in 28 years. His Batman is a vigilante, and his Vulture is a family man, so both are more complex than your basic good and evil.
There is one scene in Batman that I thought of during one of Keaton’s peak out-of-costume scenes in Homecoming, where as Batman’s out-of-costume alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, he lashes out at the Joker (Jack Nicholson) with a fireplace poker. In Homecoming, he’s similarly crazily addressing young Peter, making for a 180-degree swap for the actor. For another degree of connection to the new movie, while Keaton and Tomei don’t any scenes in Homecoming, they co-starred in 1994’s The Paper.
The Rock (1996)
Keaton’s Vulture is one of those villains where you’re sympathetic to his motives if not his actions. That’s actually fairly common for Spider-Man adversaries, such as the Sandman seen in Spider-Man 3. One of the best examples of a movie bad guy we can agree with in his anger but not his plan is Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) in Michael Bay’s The Rock. Like Keaton’s baddie, he and his men were screwed by the government.
The two villains have another thing in common: Bokeem Woodbine plays minion to both of them and at one point goes against the superior baddie. They also both rob government facilities of some of the worst weapons on the planet, though the Vulture sells his catch on the black market while Hummel aims his at San Francisco, but only as a bluff. The Rock also features a younger novice hero working alongside an elder experienced hero.