Welcome Home Spidey
We’ve had our fair share of Spider-Man on the big screen. Through the years, the series has varied wildly in quality, with some entries hailed as innovative and great, while others have received significantly less generous reactions. 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth Spider-Man studio film to come out in the last fifteen years, but it’s the first to be made under the Marvel Studios banner. Homecoming most certainly falls into the great category; it’s the best Spider-Man film since at least Spider-Man 2 and is one of the web slinger’s best on-screen performances to date.
Spider-Man Homecoming takes place two months after the events of Captain America: Civil War and finds the friendly neighborhood hero coming into his own on the streets of New York City. Every day, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) trudges through day-to-day high school life anxious to hit the streets as Spider-Man. When he comes across a gang of arms dealers selling super-powered weapons powered by alien technology, Spider-Man graduates from stopping car thieves to chasing down hardened criminals armed with matter-shifting alien tech.
From the beginning, it’s hard to completely shake baggage from the previous Spider-Man films. The set pieces in Spider-Man: Homecoming are interesting and fun. The writing is quick, and everything is well acted, but there’s nothing in the film that’s feels particularly new. There’s little that hasn’t been seen somewhere before, whether in a Spider-Man movie or any other recent superhero film. The fatigue from a half-dozen superhero movies in a year has set in a little bit in this case. It’s the nature of the business and ultimately not that alarming of a flaw, but it does show.
However, this fatigue is why most of the changes in Spider-Man: Homecoming work so well. The movie is at its best when it turns expectations on their heads. The final scene before the credits is just one fantastic example of this. Spider-Man’s introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe through Captain America: Civil War was a perfectly executed move. It’s almost relieving to not have to see Uncle Ben die again, and it feels as if Spidey has already been part of the MCU for years. There’s a youthfulness to the cast that really works in the film’s favor as well. From Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May to Holland’s Parker, the fresh young faces really bring a certain vitality to the story. It’s easy to believe that Holland and his counterparts are actually in high school and the age they purport to be, more so than any Spider-Man film before. The diversity of the cast is another huge success and step in the right direction for the company. Tony Revolori and Zendaya do such a fantastic job (portraying Flash Thompson and Michelle respectively) that it’s incredibly easy to forget that the characters were ever any different than what these young actors have made them. Jacob Batalon gives a sincere and hilarious performance as classic Spider-Man supporting character Ned Leeds, although his take on the character is more of an amalgamation of a number of different Spidey friends
Michael Keaton gives a standout performance as Adrian Toomes, better known as The Vulture (although he’s hardly called by that name in the film). Keaton, who after Batman and Birdman is quickly running out of bird-based characters, plays a complicated and believable Toomes. He’s a complex, disenfranchised, and layered antagonist. He also bears the mark of any great comic book character: he’s at his best when he’s outside of his suit. A tense, skin-crawling conversation between Peter and Adrian, not Spider-Man and Vulture, is one of the heaviest and most climactic moments in the film. It’s more thrilling than any action sequence. It’s good too, because Vulture leaves a bit to be desired when it comes the action and fighting scenes. Toomes and his alien powered weapons trade feels more like an arc on Marvel’s Agents of Shield than it does the villainous plot of a summer blockbuster. It’s not nearly enough to detract from Keaton’s chilling and nuanced performance, but hopefully this will finally be the last of post-Avengers Chitauri weaponry in the MCU.
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark in the film, and while it’s always fantastic to see him on screen and struggle to discern if he’s actually even acting in the role, there’s something off about his place in this film. The pseudo-father figure role he plays is smart, and his part in the narrative of the film makes complete sense, but it’s the one aspect in Homecoming that feels a bit rushed. It’s the only area of the film that gives any indication that lots of things were thrown around behind the scenes the minute Marvel acquired the Spider-Man rights from Sony. It feels as if the writers simply needed a way of introducing Peter to the MCU, and arbitrarily decided on having Iron Man do it.
In many ways, Spider-Man: Homecoming plays as a coming of age film. It follows a well-known narrative: a teenager tired of everyone treating him like a child gets over-ambitious and causes a major problem, but he soon learns from his mistakes and matures and grows in the end. The film is aware and intentional in this aspect, and it’s nostalgic simply in the way that it’s structured. Spider-Man has grown and learned plenty of times before, but it feels different and better this time around.
Spider-Man’s popularity is at such an interesting point at the beginning of this film. Superheroes have been on the scene in this world for almost a decade now, and Spider-Man isn’t anything incredible. It’s smart and alert of the writers to recognize this fact and introduce him in the way that they do. Citizens know his name, but they may half-jokingly ask him to do a flip. He helps keep the neighborhood safe, but sometimes only receives a churro as a reward. Sometimes Spider-Man falls flat on his face. He’s learning, but he’s not inept. It’s one of the most original and best parts of the film. It’s a stage in which most superheroes are never seen. It’s a post-origin, pre-hero story, and it’s immensely fun to watch.
The film is funny as well, with plenty of genuine, laugh-out-loud moments. It has a number of the witty one-liners that the Spider-Man character and Marvel movies are known for, but there’s plenty of comedy beyond that. One running gag in particular is somehow completely absurd while simultaneously making perfect sense. The supporting cast has its fair share of comedians as well, which adds yet another layer of humor. A number of good laughs also come from Spider-Man still learning and regularly failing at understanding how to use his suit or be a hero.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot of heart. Its flaws are minimal and they don’t detract from what is an exciting, well-made Spider-Man movie. From the opening credits to the extra scenes at the end, it just feels like Spider-Man, and Marvel has done a great job bringing the character back into the fold. But one of the most exciting things about the film is where the story can go next. The characters and actors are young, and there’s a lot of Spiderman stories left to be told. With a number of Marvel’s stars potentially leaving the fold within the next few years as contracts expire, it’s encouraging to see the company has a fairly good hold on bringing in exciting new talent. When Spider-Man returns, hopefully it will be just as spectacular