Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier
At this point, it’s understandable that people are getting sick of the Spider-Man character. Despite him being one of the longest-lasting and most interesting characters in the mainstream comic book canon, his cinematic track record isn’t the strongest. While Sam Raimi kickstarted the franchise with two monumental entries into the genre, 2002’s Spider-Man and 2004’s Spider-Man 2, the third film saw too much silly writing and studio interference. Not only that, but it just barely saw its 10-year anniversary, yet still left room for an entirely new rebooted franchise to crash and burn.
The Amazing Spider-Man films tanked so hard, in fact, that Sony had no choice but to sign a deal with Marvel Studios to integrate the character into their ever-popular cinematic universe in the hopes of keeping audiences’ interest.
And the new iteration of Spidey that was hinted at in last year’s Captain America: Civil War shows its full potential in Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, and starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker, a high schooler who doubles as Spider-Man, fighting petty crime after class. But when he happens upon a dangerous arms deal led by Adrian Tooms (Michael Keaton), Peter has trouble convincing Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) that it’s a crime worth paying attention to, and he’s left to his own devices to shut it down himself.
Despite this being the third Spider-Man series in 10 years, and the second reboot in 5, the best thing about this film is that it does its very best to carve out its own identity and distance itself from the familiar tropes that viewers have come to associate with these movies.
That means, thankfully, we don’t have to sit through yet another interpretation of the same old origin story again. We don’t have to see Peter bitten by the spider. Instead, it’s only referenced in a quick exchange between Peter and his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and it’s left at that. We don’t have to see Uncle Ben shot and killed in the streets for a third time. Instead, we have Tony Stark to fill Peter’s mentor position.
And we don’t have to see Peter testing out his new abilities again. In this movie, he’s been Spider-Man for a while, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean he’s a pro. In fact, he spends the entire movie not knowing how to control his powers. He’s inexperienced, yet easily excited over the things he can do. This sense of immaturity leads him to make hasty decisions and make huge mistakes. His innocence clashes with his strong will is what makes Peter Parker such a great character. And while we may not have seen much of that shine through Andrew Garfield’s version, that characteristic takes front and center here.
With the mask on, Spider-Man is a mysterious figure with tremendous abilities, but behind the mask, he’s just a kid who’s bit off far more than he can chew. That, along with Tom Holland’s star-making performance, is what makes him such a sympathetic character. Even though he doesn’t always make the brightest of choices, you still want him to succeed.
Speaking of Holland, although I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Tobey Maguire’s performance, objectively, I think Holland gives the best performance as Peter Parker to date. And that’s not even discussing the fact that he actually looks like he belongs in a high school. His performance is so full of heart and awkward charm that he completely embodies the character. Longtime comic book fans are sure to be pleased, and general audiences will feel refreshed with this new, and accurate, representation of the web-slinger.
Because this marks Spider-Man’s first feature-length introduction into the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is now 16 films strong, many callbacks, references, and tie-ins to the other films are definitely present. But instead of crumbling under the weight of it all, it manages to stand fairly well on its own. The references are integrated almost flawlessly, and make sense in context with the perspective from which this movie is told. Even Tony Stark’s presence is limited and is only utilized to develop Peter Parker’s character.
And it evens manages to create a villain for the MCU that isn’t a standard, throwaway, baddie-of-the-week. Michael Keaton’s Vulture feels like a human being with struggles and motivations, even if it is hastily established in a five-minute introductory scene. And Keaton himself gives a chilling performance, including the best scene in the film, which sees an ice-cold confrontation take place between himself and Peter in a car. During this scene, I held my breath for every line of dialogue, and to soak in every brilliantly-framed shot.
It’s scenes like those that this movie could have used more of. There are plenty of action sequences, and Jon Watts handles them just fine, but during them, I couldn’t help but compare them to what Sam Raimi had accomplished with his films a decade ago, particularly in his first two films. In those movies, it always felt like there was a ticking clock. There were stakes, and goals set on both sides. The action was visceral and often brutal, and it balanced out the films’ lighter moments perfectly.
This film, on the other hand, is so overloaded with comedy that it never really feels like anything’s at stake, save for that one scene between Peter and the Vulture in the car. The film coasts along at a casual pace, leaving the action sequences to feel slightly mundane.
Yes, the plot is refreshingly small-scale in comparison to other modern superhero films. Cities aren’t leveled, and the world is never at risk. The movie is simply about Spider-Man trying to bust an illegal arms deal. But there are still ways to make that exhilarating. Watts’ direction could have used more grit, and the editing could have been more creative to really make these scenes explode.
However, this movie has more in common with classic John Hughes films than a superhero film. It makes sense for the characters and setting, and provided for some standout jokes. My only major complaint is that the action sequences should have had just as much care put into them.
For future reference, here’s a new drinking game that I came up with for when this movie hits home media: take a shot every time Peter and his friends say the word “awesome”. You’ll be dead within 20 minutes.
The Verdict: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a lighthearted and refreshing take on the Spider-Man character, and the superhero genre as a whole. It forgoes world-ending devastation for nostalgic comedy and small-scale stakes, and mostly succeeds doing so. Tom Holland is instantly lovable as Spidey, and this film will surely have you looking forward to seeing more of him in the near future.