Spider-Man: Homecoming may be the sixth big screen film for the web head but it feels like audiences are truly meeting him for the first time.
Three years ago the idea of a Spider-Man movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a fantasy. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had just come out and Sony had their own cinematic universe future planned out. Yet after that sequel underperformed with critics and audiences, even the most hopeful fan couldn’t imagine what would come next. Rights issues, different studios, and other factors kept Spider-Man from playing with the Avengers.
Yet the impossible happened. An unprecedented deal between two major movie studios, Sony and the Walt Disney Corporation has allowed Spider-Man to return to the Marvel Universe. Audiences were given a taste in Captain America: Civil War a year ago and now get a chance to meet the web slinger again for the first time.
Spider-Man: Homecoming deals with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Peter Parker is trying to balance his commitments to school and his relationships with his friends while also trying to impress his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Tony wants Peter to stick to low-level crimes in New York but Peter desires to be like the heroes he has grown up admiring. When a mysterious threat known as the Vulture (Michael Keaton) shows up with his crew selling high-tech alien weapons to criminals, Peter Parker takes it upon himself to stop the Vulture and risk not only his physical safety but his social life as well.
That is the basic plot. But the meta-plot involves Peter Parker (Sony) begging Iron Man (Disney) to let him join the Avengers (MCU). Yet the filmmakers understand that Peter Parker’s arc is tied in with their task as filmmakers. Peter Parker (Sony) may be calling for help (The Avengers/Marvel) to save him, they must find their own strength to realize their full potential and be the hero audiences know and love.
Boy to Man
Spider-Man: Homecoming keeps the theme of Peter Parker balancing his two lives in extension to the genres. The film bounces back and forth between traditional Marvel superhero film and a high school coming of age film. While other Marvel superheroes tend to drop their characters into the genre (Captain America: Winter Soldier is a spy thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera) this film keeps it strictly separate until the end where those two worlds collide. Its action is big, but the stakes are small. There is no immediate end of the world danger on the horizon but people’s lives are at stake. This is a more personal story as the kid’s social life is hanging in the balance, which to a teenager is apocalyptic. It’s isn’t just a film aimed at teenagers, but for anyone who ever was. It almost becomes frustrating because the high school teenage drama is the freshest and interesting aspect to the film that you wish there was more of it. It feels like every time they are going to settle into a sweet high school scene the superhero antics interrupt, but that is the reality of Spider-Man. That could be negative but puts the audience in the mindset of Peter Parker.
The film is both contemporary but also respectful to the past. This is even down to the suit which may be a high-tech Tony Stark design but draws elements from the classic 60’s design done by Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. The film firmly places Peter Parker as a high school kid, an element the previous two Spider-Man films glossed over to get to his life as a young adult/college student.
While Peter Parker has not been a high school kid in the comics for years, it is such a vital part of his character. Stan Lee sold him as a teenage superhero in a time when they could only be sidekicks. Peter Parker is a kid of the 21ST century and they make a modern-day high school friends. Classrooms look diverse, nerds have friends but the key element that never changes is that being Spider-Man makes Peter’s life worse. His life was difficult before being Spider-Man and now it is amplified. He struggles to maintain a social life because of his commitments to being Spider-Man while being Peter Parker makes Spider-Man vulnerable to his enemies. Nothing comes easy for him. He loses more than he gains, but he does it because it is the right thing to do.
This is an origin story, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of going over the same beats of Peter getting bitten by the spider or showing Uncle Ben’s death, the film allows the audience to bring their shared memory into the film and jumpstart right into what is the true origin of Spider-Man. He may be wearing the Spider-Man suit in the beginning of the film but he must learn what it means to be Spider-Man.
Unlike the last two origins which used montages to show Peter growing into a hero, this is an entire film showcasing Peter learning how to be a hero. He doesn’t know how to properly use his web shooters, or how to fight. This is the first time we’ve seen Peter actually be worried about heights. The film actually doesn’t show any traditional heroic swinging across New York City. It sticks to low levels of Queens and even showcase how useless Spider-Man’s power are without skyscrapers.
Peter must learn the lesson that it’s not suit that makes him Spider-Man, it is the man (or boy) underneath it. In a world full of heroes, what purpose does Spider-Man serve? He is just a kid in a giant world. But that is the point. He may not be the most powerful hero the Avengers can call, or the most competent, or even the most useful. What he is though is a kid who wants to help make a difference. He has the heart of the hero.
Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker AND Spider-Man. That’s always been an issue with the previous two versions, they nailed one but not the other. Maguire was a great Peter Parker but his Spider-Man lacked the quips and jokes that make the character. Garfield had the fun sense of humor for Spider-Man but his Peter Parker never fit right, not capturing the geeky side to Peter Parker. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is nerdy but also a very sweet kid. Peter Parker is a nice guy. Not “nice guy” archetype but a genuinely sweet kid. He is just as interesting outside of the suit as he is in the suit. He is the Spider-Man generations of kid have grown up reading.
Jacob Batalon shines as Peter’s friend, Ned Leeds. What could have been an over the top comedic effect is actually a clever sweet much need character. He realizes his friend is a superhero and reacts the way a good portion of the audience would, excited and filled with questions. Plus it is nice that the filmmakers have expelled this old notion that nerds don’t have friends. They form their own group of friends and having Ned doesn’t make Peter any less sympathetic. Tony Revolori does a great job as a reimagined Flash Thompson. Flash in the comics and the previous film is depicted as physically imposing jock. This version is a smug rich kid that reflects a modern bully. He is a fun foil for Peter and hope to see more of his character in future installments.
Despite what the trailers would have you believe; Robert Downey Jr. is not the co-lead in the film. Sony may have lied to audiences since one shot of Iron Man in the trailers was not even in the movie. This isn’t Iron Man 4 as many have joked. He has less screen-time than Spider-Man did in Captain America: Civil War. Peter’s mentor role is filled by Jon Favreau returning as Happy Hogan. Jon Favreau is such an underrated comedic actor. His stern straight man routine works well of Tom Holland’s youthful optimism. This is the most Jon Favreau has had to do in front of the camera in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It is fitting that he is Peter Parker’s liaison into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since he laid the groundwork for everything back in 2008 with Iron Man.
People who like Marvel films tend to agree on one thing: there is something left to be desired in the villain department. People call it “A Villain Problem”. This tends to be because the Marvel films are more interested in developing the heroes of their stories. The hero tends to have a flaw they must overcome, they are their own worst enemies. The villains contribute to the plot, they occasionally drive the momentum and they give the hero somebody to fight in the climax but overall provide an outward stimulus for the heroes inner conflict. This also comes from the early superhero films where the villains allowed respected actors chances to chew scenery. They were memorable because they were showy (and the heroes were reactive). It is safe to report that Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a stand out villain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s hard to talk in detail without going into spoilers but Vulture’s is probably the most human/relatable villains so far to exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and cut from the same cloth as Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2. They have found a way to take one of Spider-Man’s iconic villains and give him a sense of depth not found in the comics. The elevate him from more than a man out for revenge. He is a man who wants to take care of his friends and family and will do whatever it takes to do so. Keaton is menacing without ever having to raise his voice. Just his gravely voice gives such a weight to the villain. The design on the character is astounding to. Vulture is a silly character in the comics to look at. Marvel and company found a balance between paying respect to the comic book suit while also something more “realistic”. His back story does create probably the biggest/most confusing continuity error to date that throws the whole timeline. It will be fun to see how fans try to make it fit.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is filled with cameos from other Marvel heroes, name drops of other characters from the Spider-Man mythos. A grand Easter egg hunt to be had trying to figure out all the kid’s names at the school and what comic book character they tie into. Some nice comedic performances at Peter’s school. The two standouts are Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr as the debate coach and Broad City’s Hannibal Buress as Peter Parker’s dimwitted coach. A lot of hype has been made around Donald Glover’s character. He does tie back into a famous Marvel character but his part is rather small. But any Donald Glover is always better than no Donald Glover.
If the film does have a problem it is in the treatment of the women in the film. They’ve assembled a group of talented actresses who are given substantially less than their male co-stars. Marissa Tomei as Aunt May has about two scenes in the entire film. Her character only exists in this film for other characters to comment on how hot she is. Zendaya shines as Michelle and is the first one of Peter’s potential love interests in the films to have a world view all her own. She is funny and a great onscreen presence, but the problem is for all the hype, she doesn’t get much screen time. You are left wanting more.
Laura Harrier as Liz is the one that needs to be talked about the most. The Spider-Man films have had a spotty track record with the women in Peter Parker’s life. Kirsten Dunst Mary Jane was mainly an object for Peter to pine over and impress, she didn’t have much agency of her own. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy faired a bit better as they let her help Peter in his fight against the super villains. She was written as actually being smarter than Peter. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, who dated in real life during the filming of both films, had such excellent chemistry they elevated the script and naturally fleshed out their characters. Yet Gwen was used as a plot device to drive Peter Parker.
Liz Allen here is once again used as an object of Peter’s affection. He and his friend Ned stare at her and marvel at her beauty. Liz is there for Peter to pine over. While we get a great understanding of Peter’s feelings for Liz the audience is never given a chance to know where Liz is coming from. What are her thoughts on Peter? How does she feel about anything? She is sadly defined by the men in the story. She has natural charisma and chemistry with her co-stars. The film sadly doesn’t utilize her to the best of its abilities.
Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a classic Spider-Man comic book come to life. From the design to the atmosphere to the actors in it. It’s amazing after five Spider-Man films it can still feel like one can discover something all over again and have it feel like the first time. It has some issues but those pieces don’t take away from the greater whole. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a movie meant to be seen on the big screen on a hot summer day with a large soda and a bag of popcorn.
Welcome home Spidey.
Next mission: Save the Fantastic Four.
Spider-Man: Homecoming Grade: A