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Spider-Man: Far From Home turns a class-conscious hero into a tech bro

Peter Parker has become Tony Stark’s heir apparent, in ways both intriguing and kinda gross.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home
Here’s Spider-Man, and he’s been optimized for peak performance!
Columbia Pictures
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Warning: Spoilers follow for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

As Spider-Man: Far From Home nears its conclusion, Peter Parker is at a low ebb.

A confusing, terrifying encounter with the villain Mysterio left our young hero stranded in a small village in the Netherlands, when he had hoped to be in Berlin to warn Nick Fury of Mysterio’s duplicity. And Mysterio has just learned that Peter told his friends — especially his best friend Ned and his would-be girlfriend MJ — that Mysterio wasn’t the good guy he seemed to be. Peter has to find his way to London where his friends are to save them from the villain, and at the same time, he has to finally grow up and assume the mantle of superhero he’s been resisting all movie.

So, naturally, what Peter does is call in Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man)’s old pal Happy Hogan, then use Stark’s impressive tech to make himself a new suit. Peter Parker sells himself as just a normal kid from Queens, but everything else suggests he’s the surrogate son of one of the world’s richest and most powerful men. With great power comes access to even cooler toys. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

The idea that all a hero needs to win the day is cooler stuff is a very Marvel Cinematic Universe one — how else would the company’s merchandisers be able to sell new toys based on all of the new versions of the characters in this movie? But I found myself resisting Far From Home’s spin on this idea more than I already tend to do. Spider-Man used to be a hero with a vague class consciousness. But in these new movies, he’s downright gentrified.

Spider-Man: a hero who can’t pay his rent

Spider-man: Homecoming
On the one hand, Spider-Man is just a lonely kid in these movies. On the other hand ... no?
Sony Pictures

The very first time I ever thought about Spider-Man as a fictional character was when my superhero geek pal Ethan sold me on what made the character the greatest of all superheroes: He was just a kid. He might have larger-than-life problems, and he might have to battle a terrifying rogues’ gallery of villains. But he also had to pay his rent. He had to get good grades in his classes. He had to win the heart of the girl who thought he was just a nerd.

Comic creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original version of Spider-Man mostly carried through to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy of Spider-Man films, which were released between 2002 and 2007. Peter and Mary Jane Watson came from a lower-class neighborhood, and over the course of Raimi’s three films, the couple scratched out a tentative hold on a more stable life in Manhattan. They were thriving, but just enough. Spider-Man 2, for instance, made very clear that the slightest mishap could empty Peter’s bank account in an instant.

Director Marc Webb’s 2012 and 2014 Amazing Spider-Man films (the ones with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) paid lip service to this idea by initially settling him in a working-class milieu, but that version of Peter Parker already was starting to trend in a more upper-class direction. (It has a very Harry Potter feel, where Peter slowly learns his destiny to be a superhero because he is the child of scientists.) And to be sure, the comics version of Spider-Man has also frequently had plenty of wealth — in many of his iterations’ storylines, Peter eventually gets married to MJ, and she’s a dang movie star.

But any time Peter starts to creep a little too close to genuine wealth and comfortable living, a writer will come along to yank the character back to his young and hungry roots. Peter Parker is a character built atop class conflict. He’s an orphan, who grows up with his cash-strapped aunt and uncle in a lower-class neighborhood. And just when Peter has some cool superpowers that might make him a quick buck, his uncle dies. Unlike plenty of other superheroes (like, say, Iron Man), the fact that he has to scramble to make money gives Peter an added layer of relatability for many readers.

In recent years, the mantle of the Spider-Man “who has to eke out a life amid adverse economic conditions” has increasingly settled on the shoulders of Miles Morales, an alternate Spider-Man from the comics whose story was turned into the Oscar-winning animated film Into the Spider-Verse.

Yet even in Spider-Verse — a genuinely wonderful and magical movie — Miles’s presence in a magnet school is an easy shorthand for a talented kid from a working-class background pulling himself up by his bootstraps. Miles’s family is struggling to make ends meet, but the movie doesn’t make a big deal of it, because Miles has a scholarship to attend a prestigious magnet school. He’s a character on an upwardly mobile track.

In the two Tom Holland Spider-Man movies (Far From Home and its 2017 prequel Homecoming), however, Peter Parker has a few of the trappings of the character’s original working-class background — I guess the apartment he and Aunt May live in in Queens is smaller than the other Avengers’ homes (though, like, Thor lives in a palace) — but his journey isn’t even one of successfully chasing the American dream. It’s one of learning to embrace the coming tech utopia, and especially its many benevolent billionaires.

The MCU isn’t exactly a universe where class enters into stories. But that’s especially noticeable with these two Spider-Man movies.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Mysterio knows that capitalism is fatally flawed!
Columbia Pictures

I don’t know that I need Spider-Man to be a working-class hero for the character to work. But there’s still something cynical about the MCU’s treatment of him as a kind of Iron Man protégé. Peter Parker is defined by his sincere do-gooder nature; Tony Stark typically did the right thing, but always with a naughty wink. To have Peter tied so closely to Tony, thus, feels a little hard to take.

To be sure, the MCU’s Spider-Man movies are about Peter cozying up to Tony because, on some level, they’re about Sony Pictures (which owns the Spider-Man rights and very nearly botched them utterly with the two Amazing Spider-Man movies) cozying up to Marvel Studios (which makes the Iron Man movies). Peter tries to draft off Tony’s success because, well, that’s literally what the movies he’s in are trying to do. And Far From Home is very noticeably interested in what happens to a superhero cinematic universe without its foremost member. Peter is so concerned about living up to Tony’s legacy because the MCU is very worried about what will happen to it without Iron Man.

But it’s still slightly odd that two of Spider-Man’s greatest foes — Vulture in Homecoming and Mysterio in this movie — have been reimagined not just as men formerly in conflict with Tony Stark, but as people specifically disgruntled with how little Stark was able to see past his own ego and massive wealth. Vulture is sore that Stark’s massive deal with the government pushed smaller cleanup crews (like the one Vulture owned) out of business; Mysterio is mad that Stark took too much credit for inventions and ideas dreamed up by other people.

One of the tensions within both these movies is that the villains in them are, on some level, right. Tony Stark represents corporate America, and corporate America really does shove the little guy aside and strip the imaginations of its employees for parts. But as is too often common with the MCU, both films are interested in these ideas only so far as they can be safely swept under the rug by the pseudo-parental relationship between Tony and Peter. Should Tony think more about how his actions affect other entrepreneurs and his employees? Eh, probably, but wouldn’t he be a good dad?

It’s fascinating to track how Marvel’s movies increasingly seem to be commentaries on what it means to be such a world-defining pop culture force. The Marvel films can never think too heavily about the amount of power a character like Tony Stark accrues, because to do so would require contending with the degree to which Marvel has run almost all of its closest competitors out of the game. And we certainly can’t have that. Like all culturally omnipresent things, the MCU works because it insists on its own importance. And that means questioning itself — and its greatest heroes — but only to a point, lest you start to question the mighty machine you’re watching.

So maybe Peter doesn’t need to be a working-class hero, but the moment when he gets his high-tech new suit that costs million still bummed me out just a little. Peter Parker, stranded in the middle of nowhere, unsure of what to do next, with only his wits to help him, arrives at a solution that’s distressingly common in our own world: When in doubt, find your richest friend and ask for some cash.

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