Note: This article contains light spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
We're in the final run up to the theatrical release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and as exciting as the film promises to be, the film's production certainly saw its fair share of controversy. One of the more contentious issues was the casting of Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, Peter Parker's school bully.
In the comics, Flash is traditionally something of a jock, and although it's very common for him to verbally belittle "puny Parker," he's never been afraid to get physical either. Not only has Marvel race-swapped the character for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony Revolori also doesn't have the same kind of brute physicality that we normally associate with Flash Thompson. So how has #Marvel redesigned the character for Homecoming, and why?
Modern Bullying Has Changed
Marvel Comics has always tried to show "the world outside your window" (albeit with added superheroes). Embracing this ethos means that Marvel Studios sometimes has to heavily adapt a character or concept, to haul it into the modern day. In this case, the idea of the "school bully" has changed a lot. As Revolori told Hello Giggles:
“I don’t want to be a physical bully or anything like that because that’s not really what happens now. It’s all about the social comments on social media and everything. And so how do you bring that online bully to real life?”
He's right. Global studies actually suggest that traditional school bullying is on the decline — but cyberbullying is on the rise. This kind of bullying is inescapable, with the bullies stalking their victims on social media, sending intimidating text messages, and taking advantage of the Internet's anonymity to diminish their targets. It's just as crushing to a victim's self-esteem as normal bullying, but its effects ripple out of the school environment and into every aspect of life.
Marvel has redesigned the character of Peter Parker so as to make him relatable to a new generation of Spider-fans. But that also necessitates redesigning Flash Thompson; he has to be the kind of bully children are now more likely to encounter. And that means he's not a physical bully — he's a digital one.
A Deeper Character Motivation
As Tony Revolori notes, this version of Flash Thompson has a very deep reason for being Peter Parker's bully:
"He’s cocky because of money, but he’s also not the best so he hates Peter for the fact that it comes so easy to him. They all go to this school and sure, maybe Flash’s dad pays for him to go there, but regardless, he is a smart kid. And I think by that fact we didn’t want to make it…you can’t be smart and a jock and be this physical a-hole."
In the original comics, Flash was naturally competitive, and revelled in demonstrating his physical strength. That led to quite a few fun scenes where Peter was tempted to reveal just how strong he really was, and put Flash in his place! In contrast, Flash's competitiveness here has become more academic, with the bully jealous because he's not the best or brightest. It's a more subtle, and frankly more interesting, power dynamic; this version of Flash bullies in order to reassert his power, to express his anger that Peter outperforms him academically.
It's a smart adaptation. After all, if the bullying is taking place online, then you want the present-day Flash to actually have a reason for his actions. He's an important character in Peter Parker's life story, so he needs to be three-dimensional, with motives that make sense.
Of course, nothing is more controversial among comic book fans than a race-swap. At a press luncheon, Producer Amy Pascal was asked why Homecoming is so diverse, and gave a simple answer:
"I would say the inspiration for it was reality."
Again, Marvel is attempting to place Spider-Man in "the world outside your window" here. That means embracing a diverse school environment. What's more, with Flash Thompson redesigned so much as a character, there's simply no reason for him to be a white jock anymore.
The approach is consistent, and makes perfect sense. Unfortunately this, more than probably anything else, has sparked fury among comic book fans. Sickeningly, some have gone so far as to issue death threats against Tony Revolori, who noted:
"I’m not what the character was in the comic books. I’m not, and we can say that clearly and easily —and there’s still people who will hate that fact. It was very disheartening to receive hate mail and death threats and things like that."
The last few years have shown us just how fiercely fans can rail against race- and gender-swapping of beloved characters. Last year saw fans rail against Paul Feig's all-female Ghostbusters, tearing into the film before it was even released. Head to any Marvel fan group on social media, and it won't take you long to stumble across posts and comments expressing fury at Revolori's casting. They're premature; we haven't even seen the film yet, so we're hardly in a position to rationally criticize him.
Marvel has fully embraced the challenge of making the young #SpiderMan relatable for the present generation. In order to achieve that goal, they've carefully adjusted his supporting cast to suit the present. That means embracing racial diversity in this corner of the #MCU, and that also means moving on from the trope of a white jock who's a physical bully.
Personally, I think they made the right decision. Back when comic book readers originally picked up Amazing Spider-Man, they could relate to Peter's experience, and he gave a measure of comfort to the victims of bullying. Tom Holland and Tony Revolori have a chance to make Spider-Man just as important for those who experience bullying in today's increasingly digital world.
Do you agree with the decision to update Tony Revolori's bullying of Peter Parker?
(Source: Hello Giggles)