My Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming
It’s safe to give credit to Spider-Man for rejuvenating the superhero genre in the early 2000s. So, when all of the other Marvel characters’ movies took off to the point where they built an entire universe around them, it dictated how any new movies by classic characters would have to adapt to fit into that universe. Spider-Man’s introduction into the MCU in Captain America: Civil War solved this problem with their most popular character. He was famous enough that he could be rebooted without needing his origin story to be retold yet again, and he was unique enough that his powers and character would bring something new to the team. Spider-Man was so well-received in that film that he earned the right to be rebooted for the third time in 15 years. The result is the teen comedy-turned-action spectacle, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Our high school student and anonymous superhero, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), finds himself having difficulty adjusting back to regular life after his brief stint in Germany with the Avengers during the events of Captain America: Civil War. He spends his school days watching the clock and waiting around for a call for another mission that doesn’t seem to be coming. Instead, he meanders around Queens, looking for heroic things to do. One night, when he attempts to stop a crew of ATM robbers, he comes face to face with the alien technology introduced during the attack on New York in the first Avengers movie. He discovers that these weapons are being sold by a former cleanup crew boss, Adrian Toomes, (Michael Keaton) who is bitter and vengeful after his contract to clean up the city was terminated by Stark’s own salvage team after the attacks. Despite repeated warnings from his mentor, Tony Stark, Peter decides to track down Toomes and stop him from distributing further weapons into the wrong hands.
Introducing Spider-Man into the MCU as a part-time Avenger was going to guarantee a solo Spider-Man movie unlike any we’ve seen before. Gone is the time invested in telling his origin story, we’ve already seen it twice before from two other actors, so we are able to launch right into Peter’s life after he taunted one half of the Avengers and aided the other.
Despite this advantage, there is still a lot to set up. What does a 15-year-old kid do with himself after he has been involved in an epic superhero battle? How does he make himself useful? How can a kid who is still dealing with the pressures of growing up fit into a team of full grown adults who do not have to hide their identities from the world, don’t have to answer to their aunts, friends, or teachers as to why they disappear all the time, and who is taking it all in with unabashed enthusiasm?
Fans were promised a John Hughes-style story to headline their first MCU Spidey story. While the movie pays homage, sometimes literally (at one point he runs through suburban backyards parallel to the climax of Ferris Bueller), to Hughes’ 80’s teen comedies, it is still a very modern, stand alone interpretation of the character. I wouldn’t say that it embodies a classic teen movie since it focuses more on the spectacle than the personal, which was Hughes’ specialty. The scenes move fast, and there’s little time for reflection as Peter hops from school to social to superhero tasks.
This is the most comic-book literal interpretation of the character ever put on film in terms of how Spider-Man acts, talks, and moves. Spidey is a character that can’t stay silent during a fight which helps to keep the movie from getting too dark and provides a lot of room to insert jokes and humorous situations. Starting him out young is another element that audiences have only seen briefly in previous movies. It would have been easy to start Peter out as a high school senior as the previous two franchises did and have him college bound and headed for adulthood in the sequel. Instead, Peter’s age is utilized in order to create limitations that must be worked around such as getting Peter being able to follow villains out of the city (by having him tag along on an academic decathlon trip), creating his webbing (during chemistry class), and disappearing from his responsibilities and social situations (Stark internship).
Peter’s relationship with Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) takes both a father/son and employer/employee approach at the same time. It reminds me of the dynamic created in the Batman Beyond universe with an older hero trusting a young hero with a secret identity but always staying close by to monitor and come to their aid when needed. Stark seesaws in and out of the story, appearing in order to interchangeably praise and scold Peter’s performance from scene-to-scene. His Iron Man tech is incorporated into the Spider-Man suit, and after overriding its limitations, Peter struggles to adapt to the overkill number of features that the suit contains. It makes his fighting awkward and inaccurate, and it doesn’t fit with his scrapper persona, even if it does appeal to his scientific mindset.
I found myself disappointed with all of the tech that he possesses at one point. Spider-Man works best with his bare bones approach to crime fighting, relying on his powers and intellect to get him through each fight. This is what makes him so relatable and great. My disappointment turned to understanding when Tony, upset with Peter’s increasing involvement in taking down Toomes’ plans to steal more alien parts, takes away his suit, and Peter has nothing but his homemade costume and his wits available to finish his self-made mission.
Because of Peter’s former introduction into the MCU, his story needed to adapt to the few elements that were set up in Civil War. This primarily pertains to his supporting cast. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is no longer a sickly old woman with her hair pulled into a silver bun. She is Peter’s cool aunt who teaches him how to tie a tie for the homecoming dance and either ignores or doesn’t notice the numerous men ogling her from scene to scene. You’re not going to find a firey, red-haired Mary Jane or a blonde, angelic Gwen Stacy roaming the halls at school. Instead, there’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), crush Liz (Laura Harrier), and moody stalker Michelle (Zendaya). Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) is no longer a popular jock but a preppy nerd who seems to be more threatened by Peter than threatening himself. In fact, all of the people that Peter interacts with are members of the decathlon team who either support or butt heads with him, creating a very concentrated viewpoint of high school life.
Watching this movie as a full grown adult versus a coming-of-age teenager provided me with a very different experience watching a Spider-Man movie than I had back in the early 2000’s. This Peter embodies the spirit of the character while making him very relatable to younger audience members, though not as relatable to me. This time around, I look at him like one of the other Avengers would, like an amused adult impressed by a kid’s fantastic abilities. The film is so fast-paced that I would lose track of what Peter was trying to do at any given time. It gives you the idea of what it’s like to try to juggle a normal life with that of a superhero. Sometimes he has to be Peter the student, Peter the nephew, and Spider-Man all within a few minutes time. He’s a terrible liar and frustrated by his inability to call out “I’m Spider-Man” whenever he hears someone mention his alter-ego or the Avengers. While the MCU allowed for a more comic book-inspired Spider-Man, I miss the days when he was his own stand alone character in a stand-alone universe not confined to the continuity of that universe.
The performances are really sharp and compelling from Keaton’s understandably bitter Toomes to Holland’s eager and enthusiastic Peter and everyone in between. I didn’t feel like I was watching the Disney Channel while still feeling like the kids in the movie were playing their ages. Peter’s youth also made the villains feel a lot more threatening than most other superhero villains in terms of overpowering the hero and making themselves a credible opponent to a guy still trying to figure out how to do this superhero stuff.
The action scenes felt a bit lackluster, especially the final battle. While most first movies in a new superhero franchise do not try to go over-the-top on the first go around, I would have liked for them to have gone bigger or at least slower. I was expecting more to it, and for a movie that up until that point had been full of dialogue during the action sequences, this one lost out on the opportunity to dig deep one last time on a personal relationship between hero and villain. In fact, my biggest problem with the movie was its inability to slow down and give Peter room to breathe and express what he’s feeling. A video journal scene opens the film, and that would have been a great tool to use to help the audience to see what Peter is going through internally.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is, overall, a great new addition into the MCU. I think that Spider-Man is going to be a great supporting character in the Avengers, and his talkative nature is going to help him to thrive on the team and what they have coming. The great thing about the Avengers is how diverse each character is and how their unique personalities fit together in an unconventional yet functional puzzle. Spider-Man is a welcome piece of that puzzle, and I’m hoping that further movies will help him grow into the great stand alone hero that we all know he is.