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A lesser movie would have taken Peter’s side when he demands to be taken seriously and not treated like a kid. But Tony, despite his own immaturity and other flaws, knows this world better. He rightfully lectures and even punishes the well-meaning upstart hero.

In a way, so does the film’s villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), leader of a band of alien tech scavengers. His arrogant response to a similar authority’s correction gives the story its negative example. Toomes also personally challenges Peter’s existence—and not just because he can hook into a hovercraft/jetpack and soar high like a vulture, while Peter needs buildings he can stick to. Toomes is aggressive, world-wise, and blue-collar philosophical. In one of my favorite Marvel villain scenes, he challenges Peter: Why can’t Peter see that Toomes is only doing what’s right to protect his people? After all, those rich heroes like Tony don’t know how the real world works. They only care for themselves.

Peter’s humble, intentional response, both to Tony’s well-meant lessons and Toomes’s villainous challenges, elevate the film even while it draws us to Peter’s side. He’s not a Christ-like hero; instead, he’s more like us—a Christian-like hero. Like many young Christians, he is given great gifts, cast into a world of established heroes and villains, and burdened to change this world—the same world that keeps interrupting him with jerk schoolmates, barking dogs, Aunt May’s probing questions, and school detention.

By the end, Peter finds that he doesn’t need to reach a higher numerical score, attain special knowledge, or hit physical training goals to join the Avengers; he simply needs to mature. Through repeated discipline and self-sacrifice, he needs to become a better person. And by defining the goal so vaguely, Tony—and the story itself—incidentally point Peter and his fans in the same direction as biblical servanthood.

For our part, we may have new tech, special gifts, or improved views on how the church should engage culture, but we can’t instantly level-up into heroes who save the world. Only God can decide how and when we grow. Jesus told us how we ought to think of this growth process: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Jesus showed this by lowering himself from his privileged place, dying on the cross, and enduring the shame for the joy set before him (Phil. 2:1–11, Heb. 12: 1–2).

Of course, this act of humility is often itself the exaltation. By Spider-Man: Homecoming’s finale, the filmmakers happily reflect this truth as Peter re-embraces his unique identity. Peter’s fans know his given power and responsibility: to stick to his friendly neighborhood, fighting his own villains and balancing his normal life with discipline and maturity. Only through these acts of servanthood can Peter become great enough to take a break from New York and join the Avengers a few movies later. Only then will the joy of Peter’s level-up and his team-up feel truly earned for both Spider-Man and his fans.

E. Stephen Burnett writes about biblical truth and fantastical stories at Speculative Faith and Christ and Pop Culture. He lives with his wife, Lacy, in their Austin-area home.

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