Spider-Man has been a fan favorite ever since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 in August of 1962. Over the years, he’s made the jump from comic books to syndicated newspaper strips, animated shows, and even a live action show starring Nicholas Hammond which ran from 1977 to 1979. Things really took off when Sam Raimi cast Tobey Maguire in the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in his film version in 2002 and two sequels. Five years after Spider-Man 3 hit the screen actor Andrew Garfield took over the role for two films under the heading of The Amazing Spider-Man. Two years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the character was again recast, this time with a much younger actor. Tom Holland (The Impossible) made a big splash in his scenes in Captain America: Civil War (2016) as the webslinger, and both Marvel and Sony, now working jointly, have given Holland his own full length feature film in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Taking place several months after the events in Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming finds Peter trying to balance high school life and wanting to gain the favor of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to become the next Avenger. He longs for something big to happen while taking care of little things- recovering a stolen bike, giving an old lady directions- all while gaining familiarity with his abilities. Wisely, with this being the third new start-up Spider-Man movie in 15 years, director/writer Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) doesn’t rehash Spidey’s origin outside a brief rundown Peter gives his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). Ned in fact learns Peter’s secret early on in the film, which makes for a running comedic bit throughout the movie’s 133 minute runtime. Ned appoints himself Peter’s sidekick (“I’ll be your man in the chair!”), and struggles to contain himself and not out Peter as Spider-Man. It makes for a new dynamic, something different from previous films where those who know Peter’s secret were girlfriends or enemies. Having his nerdy friend geek out as much as Peter does with his suit provided some very funny moments as well as making them a bit more relatable.
Things take a turn when Peter crosses the path of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a former salvage operator who was bumped from his contract with New York cleaning up after the Chitari attack eight years earlier. Toomes makes for a sympathetic villain, motivated by an injustice done to him and a real desire to provide for his family as well as those of his workers. Fortunately, one of his crew is good with tinkering and is able to create new and deadly weapons from the discarded alien technology. He gets a flying suit made for him, becoming the Vulture, who does not take well to Spider-Man interfering in his business. Toomes comes off as one of the better Marvel cinematic villains, with relatable motivations and a demeanor that never dips into campy territory. He’s not afraid to kill someone in his way, but he never comes across as an all out psychopath, either. His battles with Spider-Man are nicely staged, with one leading to one of the film’s bigger set pieces, though there’s nothing that tops the airport battle from Civil War. The action does highlight how young Peter is, and how inexperienced he is in being the superhero he desires to be. This makes for a more vulnerable Spider-Man, even though he can still hold his own in a brawl, whether between a bunch of phony Avengers robbing an ATM or Toomes’ crew during an illegal arms deal.
The set pieces, while nicely staged with decent visual effects, aren’t really all that memorable, echoing some events in other comic book movies. The best of these has Spidey struggling to hold a ferry together as it splits into two as a result of one of the Vulture’s weapons. How that’s resolved proves to be a big turning point for Peter going forward, and works nicely in showing his youthful inexperience in dealing with a dangerous world. Stark’s admonishment to Peter’s cries that he’s nothing without his suit echo back to a familiar theme from Iron Man 3, and it works in giving Peter a learning moment, in that he needs to prove his worth regardless of fancy outfits or gadgets. The film handles this nicely, and takes a satisfying yet different approach in the end towards its resolution.
The scenes where Peter struggles to balance the school life of an ordinary teenager are handled to a more comedic effect, whether he needs to keep Ned quiet about his alter ego or asking a girl out to the homecoming dance. The other students are your basic stock characters. Liz (Laura Harrier) is the beautiful but smart girl who Peter has a crush on. Michelle (Zendaya) is the confident loner, and Flash (Tony Revolovi) is your typical loudmouth antagonist. They all tie together by being on the school’s debate team, with a trip to Washington, D.C. providing another one of the film’s set pieces. Naturally there’s your typical Hollywood teenage party scene (the one that always seems to take place at the rich kid’s very large house when the parents are conveniently away) and the bit surrounding the homecoming dance where, of course, Peter has to ditch his date because bad guys are doing bad things. Watts handles these scenes nicely and while they’re often funny, they can also be a little awkward and slow things down a bit. With Holland being the first actual teenager to portray Peter in high school (both Maguire and Garfield were older) these scenes at least avoid being cringe-worthy and feel a bit more natural.
The movie throws in a couple of cameos and supporting roles worth noting. Jon Favreau returns to his role of Happy Hogan, assigned by Tony to watch over Peter and be his liaison to Stark, which provides some comic moments as well as frustrating ones when Happy seems to be more dismissive of Peter. Bokeem Woodbine (Total Recall) makes for a good side villain as Shocker, who works with Toomes and proves to be a formidable foe. Naturally we get a Stan Lee cameo and a couple by Chris Evans as Captain America doing inspirational videos for the students. The best is Jennifer Connelly providing the voice of Karen, or as Peter first calls her, “Suit Lady”. She serves as the AI who helps Peter learn about his suit’s abilities, and these scenes too provide much of the movie’s comedy.
The fact that there are so many comedic moments in Spider-Man: Homecoming makes the film very fun and entertaining, but also makes it a bit uneven. It lacks the impact of more serious comic book movies like Logan and The Dark Knight, and while fun isn’t quite as memorable as The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. Holland does make for a great Peter Parker, and a fairly good Spider-Man. Keaton makes Toomes one of the better Marvel villains, and it will be interesting if we see him in future films. Marisa Tomei was used sparsely as Peter’s Aunt May, though she gets one very outstanding moment. Batalon as Ned proved to be a winning sidekick, both geeking out and rising to the task when needed. As a love interest Liz never really clicked, and it will be interesting to see where the character of Michelle (also nicknamed MJ) goes in future installments. You have to wonder if Revolovi’s Flash will encounter a certain symbiote in upcoming installments. And the movie does have a couple of nice Easter eggs which I won’t spoil here. Make sure to stay until the end as there are two post credits scenes.
In all, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very solid, entertaining movie. It has a very nice mix of action and comedy, and the set pieces are good enough to recommend seeing this on a big screen. The cast is very good, with Holland and Keaton being the stand-outs. It lays a solid foundation for this new spin on a fan favorite character going forward, and it should be interesting to see how things are handled in the already planned sequel. Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us a look at the life of a teenage superhero, one who’s trying to find his place in both worlds. and with mentors like Tony Stark, Happy, Aunt May, and friend Ned, Peter’s journey should prove to be quite entertaining indeed.
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