By Jack Dignan
Fifteen-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) sits restlessly in his high school chemistry class, constantly looking over at the clock on the wall. He knows the answers to every question. His lack of enthusiasm and apparent distraction gets him called out by the teacher. But young Peter continues to stare at the clock, waiting for time to pass. School is but a mere distraction for our young protagonist. It’s a necessity he knows he’s too good for, and when that final bell rings, Peter’s free, and his superhero alter ego makes a triumphant, newly upgraded return. This is the Peter Parker we all know and love. It’s a Peter Parker who wants nothing more than to swing from webs and fight crime. And it’s the Peter Parker who’s here to stay.
Spider-Man: Homecoming sees a literal homecoming for the titular character. After five films of varying quality, Spider-Man is back where he belongs, fighting bad guys in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It just feels right, and a triumph long in the making. The character is finally receiving the on-screen justice he so deserves, and for comic book fans or comic book movie fans, it’s something you’re not going to want to miss. We’ve seen Peter Parker fly through New York City before, and we’ve seen him take down a plethora of super villains, but we haven’t seen this side of Peter Parker. This is a new him, and quite possibly the best incarnation of the character yet.
He lives his days trudging from class to class without any real care. His fellow students bully him, particularly Flash Thompson (Toni Revolori), but Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is always there for him. If based merely on the high school scenes, you could hardly tell that this is a big budgeted superhero flick. It often feels more reminiscent of John Hughes than it does the pages of Stan Lee’s iconic comics, but when it does make that leap into death-defying action, it does so with a smooth transition. Little do his classmates suspect that Peter is secretly the Spider-Man they’ve all seen on YouTube. They admire Spidey, but detest Peter, and while he problems could all be solved with a simple Iron Man-esque “I am Spider-Man” reveal, a whole slew of new problems would surely arrive. It’s one of the more fascinating, complicated aspects of the plot, and something that’s never been delved into as much in previous films.
Peter’s got a whole lot of typical teenage issues to deal with, and he’s forced to balance it out with crime fighting and homework. It’s a dynamic that’s handled extremely well, evening out the humour with genuine teen angst. Nobody really knows what’s happening with Peter, and he’s struggling to get through both of his lives. Complications are furthered when a flying super villain comes into the scene. He goes by the name of Vulture, and is played by the sinister, yet understanding Michael Keaton. While we’ve seen the Green Goblin appear on screen a number of times, it’s our first on-screen incarnation of the Vulture, and he makes for one of the MCU’s greatest villains to date. They’re a company known for their lackluster villain problems, but having already established the origins of Spider-Man in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, it allows for a lot of development of Vulture, and every scene he’s in works to perfection.
Spider-Man has always been a funny guy. He kicks ass while delivering quips and one-liners, and the writers behind Homecoming understand his character completely. This is a side of Spidey we haven’t seen before. He’s not good at his job, but he damn well enjoys it. An early montage sees him swinging through suburban streets and helping old ladies with directions. He stumbles and falls, never facing anything too challenging, but constantly getting in over his head. He’s a superhero in training. I loved it. It enables this film to successfully re-introduce the character in a fresh and exciting way without the now-clichéd “with great power comes great responsibility” speech by a dying Uncle Ben, who doesn’t so much as get a mention in this film.
That’s what makes the conflict with the Vulture all the more entertaining. Other than the events of Civil War, Spider-Man hasn’t faced anything major before. He’s gone from hanging with the Avengers to having dinner with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who’s funnier and livelier than ever. Her younger age has become a meme online, and the filmmakers get it. They know she’s lacking her signature grey hair and wrinkles, and plenty of humour stems from that early on in the first act. Her relation with Peter is key to the story, and helps with the intertwining of the film’s several plot lines. Homecoming deals with a lot, much like Peter himself. The story leaps from high school to parties to street-level action, but they can’t exist without the other. It’s all connected to paint a bigger picture, and while the stories themselves are separate entities, the intertwining made for some of my favourite moments in the film.
This plot, as well, couldn’t exist without being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s unique in that regard, and creates a future for this franchise with endless possibilities. Everything ties back to the bigger picture, but it does so in a way that allows this film to play out as its own unique story. Plot threads are planted for future films to embrace, but you can watch this movie as a solo film, disconnected to the world around, and still follow along. The Vulture’s motives originate from the battle of New York seen in 2012’s The Avengers. He’s a down to earth, real world character shaped by prior events and you feel empathy towards him. Describing him as a villain almost feels like a disservice to his character, because he’s not. He’s merely a guy trying to find his much-deserved slice of the pie, and in searching for it has wound up treading the line between good and evil.
There’s a scene between Michael Keaton’s Vulture and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man that’s easily the finest, most well executed scene from this movie. Everything from the lighting to the music cues to the tense performances makes it a standout scene for good reason. It’s a dramatic beat in an otherwise fun-loving movie, and it sets the stage for the thrilling, unexpected and high wire third act finale that proves to the world just how amazing Spider-Man, as a character, can be. He doesn’t see the world in a clear image of good and bad. He sees the good in everyone, and his optimistic ways make for a final confrontation that’s got the big set piece we’ve come to expect in superhero movies, but also the heart and the warmth we get in high school movies.
Director Jon Watts has brought fresh air to both the Spider-Man franchise and the teen movie genre. The vibe and the themes are all in the right place, and everything’s balanced out to ensure the movie is a wonderful time for everyone involved. His directing is full of callbacks and visual references to the teen movies of old, including a few fun but on the nose references to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. They’re often a bit too nudge-nudge-wink-wink, but they work. And as is to be expected, the thing is jam packed with plenty of Marvel Easter Eggs too. Character names and relations will surely ring a bell with the most enthusiastic Marvel fans, and hopefully a number of them will go on to play a bigger role in films to come. What we get is but a tease of some of the character’s true potentials.
That’s not to say this film isn’t without flaws, however. The use of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) concerned many moviegoers, as, based on the trailers, it seemed as though he was going to have a more prominent role in the story than Spider-Man. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Jon Favreau’s Happy actually gets more screen time than Downey Jr. does. This is without a doubt Peter’s story from beginning to end, but the use of Iron Man, while necessary for Peter’s arc and aspirations towards becoming an Avenger, does come with problems. He’s a bit of a convenience. Peter finds himself in a few situations that are a little bit too tricky for our young hero, and when the odds are stacked against him, Iron Man miraculously arrives thanks to a tracker planted in Spider-Man’s suit.
Parallels to other Spider-Man movies are almost inescapable. It’s the nature of who the character is, so elements of the plot have been delved into in previous films, but you can’t really have a Spider-Man movie without them. The familiarity of occasional story points is an issue that was destined to happen. They never get in the way of the bigger picture though, so it’s an issue I’m able to look past. Still, decisions are made for certain characters that didn’t resonate with me as well as I’d hoped. Halfway through the film, Spider-Man discovers an AI system in his suit. It makes for a mix of fun scenes and really annoying dialogue exchanges, and makes Spider-Man feel more like a Tony Stark protégée than a hero in his own right, which I guess is the point of the film. He wants to be an Avenger, but he needs to be his own thing, and a lot of the personal conflict draws from that.
And that brings me to the supporting cast. They are, for the most part, all excellent. In fact, not a single performance managed to fall flat. It’s a wide and diverse cast, full of talented comedians and upcoming actors getting a chance to prove themselves in a big budgeted, highly seen movie. A lot of them are going to be given plenty of new work after displaying their talent here. This is also Disney Channel star Zendaya’s first feature film. I have nothing against the performance she gives, it suits the character, but it’s the character that has issues. I liked her until I stopped liking her. Once that happened, during a scene you’ll know once you see the movie, my opinion on what came before took a complete 180 turn around.
As a movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t perfect. But as the latest installment in the TV show-structured Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s an endlessly enjoyable cinema experience that’ll leave a smile lingering on your face long after the second post credit scene. This is the Spider-Man we deserve. It’s a comic book brought to life, taking inspiration from so many of the all-time great Spidey comics and crafting a movie fuelled with love. Marvel doesn’t get the profits from this film. Sony does. They made this because they wanted to make it, and their admiration for the character shines off of the screen.
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