The modern coming-of-age story is often a fan favorite, with movies like Lady Bird and The Edge of Seventeen effectively redefining the genre. These films are growing in both critical acclaim every day, and articles or tweets are always trying to decipher which are the best films and which are the worst. While these are discussed at length from American Pie to Stand By Me, no one really addresses the insanely popular film that perhaps depicts growing up with more realism and clarity than everything except maybe Eighth Grade – Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Before you click off this article, hear me out. Take away the spider bite, and Peter Parker is a dorky kid with a few close friends trying to make his way through high school. He maintains his high school career while working his way through bullies and crushes, with the help of a mentor that just so happens to be the most powerful man on Earth. On top of that, it’s one of the few movies written by adults in which the dialogue from teenagers actually sounds like something a teenager would say. (The scene at the dance where M.J. sees Peter and immediately flips him off is every interaction with my friends, ever). Because of this, Homecoming’s story manages to be as relatable and diverse as every other film in the coming-of-age genre.
That’s exactly why Lady Bird works, too; Christine (Saoirse Ronan) deals with problematic crushes (like Peter and Liz), awkward and emotional relationships with what she considers to be restricting parents (like Peter and Tony), and her overwhelming desire to be happy and do the right thing (Peter Parker). All together, it’s a heartbreaking-turned-heartwarming story that shows just how well coming-of-age stories can work.
Homecoming doesn’t just utilize the genre, but effectively expands upon it. The stakes are raised due to the subject matter, and it makes the viewing experience much more exciting than your average film. The film is so relatable that when, for example, Peter has to lift a building off of himself in the most epic push-up of all time, there’s an extra layer of sympathy for him because part of him is you. When I’m watching Thor: Ragnarok or Captain America: The First Avenger, I’m rooting for the protagonists during that final battle scene. In Homecoming, though, Peter’s win reminds me of every math test I ever aced, every depressive spell I brought myself out of and every competition I ever won growing up.
Even still, no one seems to admit that Homecoming is on par with Lady Bird or Juno. This is symptomatic of a problem with popular films that has only recently been discussed. Part of film culture is the large amount of people who believe that “big-budget series = bad film”, and that only indie works can be true art. Luckily, Black Panther’s 2018 release left a positive impact on so many people by having a majority-black cast, showing the world that any movie can be beautiful; you just have to give it a chance.
Spider-Man: Homecoming perfected the coming-of-age genre and hopefully raised the stakes for similar movies set to release in the future. Peter Parker’s relationships with his classmates and with his parent-figures are incredibly honest and hilarious, and his win is a win for us all. Lady Bird is great, yes – but remember that anyone can wear the mask.