Iron Man and Batman get all the praise about being “human” superheroes—non-powered beings who are ultimately mortal underneath their superior intelligence, peak physical training, and seemingly endless array of advanced technology. But Spider-Man is actually the most “human” of the pantheon of costumed crusaders from both Marvel and D.C.
Despite the super-strength, heightened senses, and spider-like abilities of sticking to walls granted to him by a radioactive (or genetically-altered) arachnid, his enduring appeal comes from his relatable vulnerability.
When he was created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the character was a new wrinkle in superhero storytelling—presenting his meta-human powers as an allegory for puberty and growing up. He didn’t ask to be transformed into a larger-than-life hero, just like no kid ever wants to become an adult overnight. But everyone gets older, and the responsibilities that saddle all of us down are inevitable.
Spider-Man: Homecoming gets a lot of things about the character right. But it’s also the first film that portrays what it’s like to live in New York in a more accurate light. It’s so spot-on in its New York-ness that it could have been called Spider-Man: Deadass, My Guy? or Spider-Man: Faaaaacts.
Perhaps the only thing that could further cement the character as a true New Yorker would be if his costume included a pair of 6-inch Timberland wheat boots and a Mets hat. He is from Queens, after all, so it’s not hard to imagine Peter Parker growing up knocking back Nathan’s Famous chili cheese dogs at Citi Field. So in celebration of that, here are all the ways Spider-Man: Homecoming totally captures the reality of being a New Yorker.
Avoiding Midtown Like the Plague
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man hardly hops from one borough to another in the span of five minutes—like in the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film, where he gingerly travels from Midtown to Roosevelt Island in what seems like seconds. Anyone fortunate enough to go Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 fashion show can attest that the trip would take at least an hour.
Most of the film refreshingly takes place in Queens, and Midtown for the most part remains a far-off sight, characterized by the looming Avengers Tower a stone’s throw away from Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square (which arguably actually deserves the name “Hell’s Kitchen”). The constantly-packed, never-dimming glow of 42nd Street is already packed with enough costumed characters as it is (shouts to all the Batmen that have been arrested), and it’s usually portrayed as a stand-in for the city itself.
Thankfully, Spider-Man: Homecoming realizes that the Big Apple is so much bigger. In fact, it’s boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn that really give the city its character. And rags-to-riches stories from New Yorkers like Jay-Z who start off in the Marcy Projects until they can afford TriBeCa brownstones are the stuff that New York legends are made of. But for many people first moving into the city, figuring out how to balance home life and work life is as simple as finding a neighborhood a train ride away where they can disconnect from the din of Manhattan.
At his core, Spider-Man is a Queens kid trying to juggle being a teenager with being a hero. And his latest cinematic outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming, nails that on the head. Tom Holland flawlessly portrays the emotional ups-and-downs associated with teenage angst, and set in the backdrop of Queens, the film not only develops an intimate relationship with the character, but his immediate surroundings. We learn why Spidey is such a beloved hometown hero, and it’s the first film that places an emphasis on him being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, instead of one of the city’s star players.
Anyone who’s lived in a major city, especially in New York, can tell you that the longer you live in a metropolitan area, the more you become a creature of habit. You get your daily caffeine fix from the coffee shop closest to your apartment, you know which delis and bodegas have the best sandwiches within walking distance, and when you have visitors from out of town, the absolute last thing you want to do is go sightseeing in oft-treaded places that are sure to be crammed with a native’s worst enemies: tourists.
Truly there’s nothing more New York than the titular hero more than willing to keep his good deeds within the confines of his hometown. In fact, it becomes a pivotal point in the film’s denouement. At the end of the day, who wants to spend most of their time traveling all over the globe fighting villains with The Avengers when there’s more than enough action in the three-block radius of your crib?
Sleeping In a Shoebox-Sized Room
New York standards of “large” apartments are incredibly skewed. With one of the highest rent prices in America, living alone is a pipe dream for most young professionals in the city—and even if you can afford a 500-square-foot studio by yourself, you’re probably paying an insane amount for it. Granted, since Spidey and Aunt May live in Queens, they’re not subject to the super-high rent prices of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but their apartment is a bit more realistic than the spacious rooms seen in shows like Seinfeld, Girls, and Friends.
The living room and kitchen aren’t that big, and Peter’s room is super tiny. In Captain America: Civil War, you see the state of disarray it’s in—and the creative storage solutions he has to come up with. When he’s not refurbishing tech on a desk the size of a saltine cracker, he’s got to keep his homemade Spider-Man suit stowed away in a crawlspace above his room. His closet is bursting at the seams, and he has a loft-style bed to further maximize his space.
It’s far from the life-hacked bedrooms featured on sites like Apartment Therapy, and is more akin to the living situations most middle class teens in the city likely find themselves in. But despite the cozy square-footage, he and Aunt May still manage to make it feel enough like home.
Smelling Like Hot Garbage After a Ferry Ride
One of the most-seen scenes in the film is when Spider-Man webs together a Staten Island Ferry that’s been torn in half. It seems you can’t make a Spider-Man movie without at least one shot depicting him as a Christ-like figure. And while the aftermath of that battle is an important plot point, there’s also a a true-to-life interaction that occurs when Peter Parker returns home.
Post-ferry fight, Parker walks back into the apartment he shares with Aunt May and they share a heart-to-heart conversation. They hug, and May advises that her nephew take a shower, because he “smells like garbage.” And man, if you’ve ever had the privilege of using public transportation in New York, your nose will encounter odors it will never forget. None really quite match up the noxious stench of NYC’s waterways, where no one dares take a dip lest they catch some sort of venereal disease or strain of super-bacteria that’s only been strengthened by the city’s pollution.
New York is a city where unknown liquids drip from pipes in the subway and other places for no real reason other than to gross out its citizens. It’s unfortunate enough when you get a drop of mysterious fluid on your person when strolling down the street—maybe it’s just from an air conditioner floors above, but New Yorkers always assume it’s something worse than that. One can easily imagine that the aftermath of taking a dip in a NYC river is the smell of centuries of crap being dumped into the city’s waterways—but hey, at least our filtration systems are on point.
He Can’t Drive for Crap
Peter Parker is an avid subway user, and at 15-years-old, is around the age he learns to start driving. At least that’s when most American teens start with a learner’s permit and a few laps in empty parking lots under the watchful eye of a parent or guardian. But towards the end of the movie, Spidey finds himself behind the wheel of a brilliantly product-placed Audi, and well—let’s just say things don’t end well for the Audi.
Native New Yorkers in particular treat not having a valid driver’s license as a badge of pride. When you live in a city where everything is a subway stop or Uber ride away, you really don’t need to learn how to drive. After all, it’s a city where most people prefer public transportation or cycling to the hassle of having to drive someplace and then park your car.
What you realize quickly if you’re fortunate to own a car in New York is that it’s definitely a privilege, all your friends will start hitting you up to go to grocery stores or Ikea, and getting a dedicated parking spot is like paying rent twice. For day-to-day travel purposes, using a car to get around is essentially opting for a 4,000-pound backpack. Sure, it’s a convenient place to keep your crap, but whenever you get to your destination, the hardest part is trying to figure out where you can lay it down.
Parking garages can cost $30 for a period of even just 20 minutes. Traffic cops hand out pricey parking tickets like Tic-Tacs. And parking signs are more confusing to read than most Terms of Agreement, and often contradict themselves depending on things like road closures and movie shoots. What this all boils down to is that it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see the ludicrous Spider-Mobile pop up within the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and that’s a good thing.
Living For Your Job
Much of Spider-Man’s conflicts are inner. In the film, he’s constantly struggling between his fledgling superhero career and wanting to be a normal teen. Should he go to a party with the popular kids or track down an illegal weapons deal? It’s a quandary a lot of New Yorkers who came to the city with a dream can relate to. No, we’re not all trying to be superheros, but even aspiring creative directors and finance bros can relate to having to sacrifice your personal life for your professional one.
New York is the city of the 10-minute desk lunch where you wolf down a salad or half a sandwich from Pret A Manger before diving back into your work. It’s the place where music journalists practically have to sleep by their laptops in case an album drops at midnight. Your smartphone essentially becomes a prison of Slack and e-mail notifications that seem more urgent than calling your parents to let them know you’re still alive.
But we do it not because we’re automatons, but because deep down, we believe that hard work pays off, and the ones that succeed are the focused, self-motivated people who haven’t lost sight of the big picture. Spider-Man has to sacrifice certain extra-curricular activities and even interpersonal relationships in order to focus on being a hero, and that’s a feeling plenty of New Yorkers know all too well.
Portraying Criminals As Anti-Heroes
For all of Spider-Man’s idealism about good versus evil, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is the perfect foil for highlighting the gray area between black-and-white. He’s a fully rounded-out villain with clear motivations and an agenda that plenty of the film’s audience can sympathize with. Keep in mind, Spidey’s mentor Tony Stark doesn’t exactly have a perfect record either. There was a whole other MCU film about it.
But whereas Captain America: Civil War’s big bad, Baron Zemo, seemed one-dimensional, there are parts of the film where you can’t help but secretly be persuaded to Toomes’ side. New York has a history of glorifying people on the seedier side of the law. Rappers have made a career out of it, with plenty of references to real-life criminals like Nicky Barnes, Frank Lucas, and John Gotti. The Godfather made an entire franchise off of the concept that it isn’t always worth rooting for the “good guys.”
Felonies notwithstanding, what these figures represent are the very New York ideal that, as Frank Sinatra famously sang, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. The self-made success is always preferable to the silver platters that get handed down through generations of old money—even if that success comes from less-than-legal means. What could possibly be more authentically New York than taking your destiny into your own hands?
For more Spider-Man: Homecoming news, check out all the glowing reviews the new film is getting.