For myself and many others, Spider-Man is a character that is close to our hearts in a way few other heroes manage to be. He resonates with those who know what it was like to be a young person trying to figure out their place in the world (so most people I’d imagine unless you’re a robot), while still appealing to the escapism that superheroes are designed for. He punches dudes who are up to no good, tell jokes at inopportune times, and still manages to screw up incredibly often to show that he is still human; what more is there to want from a teenage crime fighter. It was truly unfortunate then that after the initial success of the first two Spider-Man films in 2002 and 2004, the producers at Sony decided to screw quality in favor of trying to print money for themselves as quickly as possible (looking at you Amazing Spider-Man 2). As the raging dumpster fire that was the Spider-Man film rights blazed on while the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued to blossom into the giant it has become, everyone yearned for the day Sony would get its act together and make a deal for Spidey to join his fellow Avengers on the big screen.
Lo and behold last year our wish was granted with the debut of a new Spider-Man under Tony Stark’s tutelage in Captain America: Civil War, a younger incarnation who spent as much time wowed by his fellow heroes as he did fighting them. Alas, we would have to wait just a little longer for this new webhead to star in his own film, but now he has that chance with Spider-Man: Homecoming (a nice little play on Spidey “coming home” to Marvel and the high school setting). But is it everything people hoped for? Let’s talk about it.
The first thing that comes on screen before the start of the film are two different logos for Sony brand companies, because of course that’s the case. What actually came as a surprise though was that for the following couple of minutes, there was no Peter Parker or Spider-Man in sight. Instead this brief sequence is dedicated to the establishment of Adrian Toomes, the main antagonist and consequently the man who will brandish the mechanical Vulture suit later in the film. Instead of simply being evil for the sake of it, he’s shown to be a blue-collar everyman pushed to extremes in order to provide for his family. Once this bit of exposition is done, the Marvel Studios logo finally appears in all of its Glory accompanied by a fitting orchestral reprise of the classic theme song of the Amazing Spider-Man cartoon series, as if to say “this is the Spider-Man you know and love”.
It is at this point that Spider-Man: Homecoming places its focus on Peter Parker (Tom Holland) directly following his involvement in Captain America: Civil War as Tony Stark leaves the suit with him acommpanied by a promise that “we’ll call you when we need you”. Ecstatic that he may become a full-time Avenger, Peter eagerly awaits a phone call for months that never comes. Instead, he spends his days going through the motions of high school and his evenings fighting street level crime under the guise of attending his “Stark Internship”. Eventually he strikes gold though upon running across high-tech weaponry being peddled on the streets by Toome’s goons, which leads to an encounter with the Vulture himself. This creates a direct conflict between himself and Tony Stark, as the more experienced superhero feels that Peter should stick to “helping the little guy” and leave the real villains to the adults.
Despite the driving plot of the film being Peter’s search for the Vulture, this is by no means an action movie. Instead, it is more of a high school drama/coming of age story with crime fighting thrown in. For many protagonists this would come as a detriment, but for Peter Parker it works beautifully, because the constant punishment from his personal life is what makes him who he is. This is helped by the extremely well cast and shot school that he attends, the diversity of the students and the atmosphere presented being very believable (except for all of the super geniuses roaming about. This is where Tom Holland proves himself to be the perfect fit for this role, being just young enough to really sell being a 15 year old kid while still being athletic enough (he is an experienced gymnast and dancer) to sell being a superhero in his spare time. He brings a naivety and joy to the character that neither of the previous incarnations really grasped, and it’s apparent constantly as he struggles with his crush (Liz played by Laura Harrier) as well during his patrols (pausing to decide if he should go with stealth or pose to look cool).
Fortunately Spider-Man: Homecoming knows that Peter Parker is nothing without those surrounding him, a fact that Sam Raimi’s trilogy was aware of but not Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films (Gwen Stacy was atrociously one-dimensional and Aunt May had even less going for her). The most prominent individual is Ned Leeds (played by the hilarious Jacob Batalon) , Peter’s best friend and his eventual partner in his search for Toomes (which I hope isn’t a spoiler since this was in every trailer for the film). He too sells a very believable reaction to his best friend being a superhero, having difficulty keeping the secret while also being very supportive and attempting his best to help when he can. Peter also has two primary authority figures in his life, the first being the ever pivotal Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei. Homecoming’s portayal of May is much younger and energetic than usual, lending herself to as much of a big sister role as that of Peter’s guardian. Honestly though, a new Peter-May dynamic is welcome and she gives more personality to the character than “worrying about Peter”.
The second adult that pops up every now and then is of course Tony Stark, who owns every scene he’s in only like Robert Downey Jr. can. Iron Man was used so much in the marketing for this film in fact that many worried it would be “Iron Man 4” instead of a Spider-Man film. I am glad to say that is not the case, and instead the writers intelligently used Tony Stark sparingly as a mentor for Peter (a role Tony relishes) that serves primarily to add conflict and purpose to Peter’s heroics.
Other players in the tangled web of Peter’s daily life include powerhouses such as the aforementioned Liz as well as Michelle (Zendaya). Liz is Peter’s romantic interest in Homecoming, a senior who is characterized as very driven and goal oriented without being incapable of having fun when she wants to. As a bonus change of pace, she is never really used as a damsel in distress (like Mary Jane was used often in the Sam Raimi trilogy) and plays a more important role in the high school portions of the film than anything else. Michelle meanwhile is a quirky, quiet loner with a unique sense of humor that shows itself in the rare occasion she ever chooses to open her mouth. Although she does not have nearly as much importance as Liz within Homecoming in particular, certain clues show she’ll be pivotal in the implied future films in the franchise.
The final major role in the film naturally brings us back to Michael Keaton’s Vulture, who I will right off the bat honor as one of the top MCU villains, possibly rivaling Loki for the best overall. Throughout the movie his evolution from an average Joe to supervillain is apparent and even relatable, driven to crime by the need to provide for those he cares for. His rise to true insanity is even spurred on by Spider-Man’s actions, as every foiled heist attempt makes him more desperate and irritated. This motivation give context for every sinister moment the character has. In fact, after the climax where he is inevitably stopped, one of those viewing with me said “if it were me I would have let Michael Keaton’s character go and ask him to think about what he’d done”.
It is probably noticeable that I spent quite a bit of time talking about the characters in this piece, which would be because the plot is fairly linear and easy to comprehend, depending much on the people within it to drive everything forward. It’s a very small time, closer-to-home-than-we-ever-get comic book movie which is only rivaled by Ant Man in that respect. Sure, it is definitely not as well written or acted as something like Logan, but it is definitely up there. It’s all presented well with fairly solid visuals, with only one or two obviously CGI moments which is good for something as intensive as a Spider-Man picture. The shots are almost entirely well angled and cut, with perhaps one confusing moment in the film. Because Homecoming is as character driven as I’ve mentioned, the action sequences are nowhere nearly as grand as any other Marvel setpieces, but they still look cool and if anything reflect this being a young hero’s first big adventure. The most tense part of the entire film is a slow dialogue sequence in Peter’s social life, a pretty solid “oh shit” moment that caught me off guard. However, the final fight of the film felt nicely visceral, almost up there with the Green Goblin fights in 2002 Spider-Man.
Altogether, I obviously loved this movie. It definitely at least ties with Spider-Man 2 for the best Spider-Man movie, though these movies are two distinct styles. It does so much right and even manages to set up a lot of future for the MCU and the Spider-Verse without being obnoxious (guys Amazing Spider-Man 2 though) . Sure, it is not necessarily a masterpiece of cinema, but it is top of the line as a Spider-Man story.
- Tom Holland is a perfect casting choice
- Surprising tension
- Knows how to appropriately use its stars
- Michael Keaton's Vulture is top 3 MCU villains
- Slightly anticlimactic
- Lack of overly flashy action setpieces may not please those looking for another action movie