There is probably a complicated writerly way to say this but I’m going to keep it simple: Spider-Man: Homecoming is an absolute blast. The third iteration of this cinematic franchise finds Peter Parker in surprisingly healthy form, proving that good execution can beat public fatigue for the character.
Spider-Man is unquestionably Marvel Comics most famous character, despite the MCU promoting second-tier heroes like Iron-Man to the mainstream. As for many fans of Spidey, it was Sam Raimi and Tobey McGuire’s first two movies that consolidated my love for the character that began with the brilliant 1994 animated series. Sure, McGuire’s Peter often resembled a puppy that the world never tired of kicking, but he brought a level of emotional depth that was relatable to still. The less said about Spider-Man 3 the better. Then there was Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in Sony’s attempt to reboot the character in The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Looking at the success of the MCU these movies became a cynical attempt to create a shared universe around Spider-Man himself, which would have been fine if Webb and Sony realized that they had to give a shit about the story they were trying to tell more than all of the references and clumsily cameos. After The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it was felt by many, myself included, that Sony should leave Peter alone for at least another decade – that is until the MCU had an idea.
The MCU promised a version of Spider-Man not seen on the big screen before, which it kind of delivers on. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was introduced in Captain America: Civil War by a clearly desperate Tony Stark. The inclusion of a teenager in this fight against Cap is lunacy if you look at Tony’s reasoning, but that doesn’t matter because Spider-Man’s fight scenes where SO FUCKING COOL! After the overdose of mope from McGuire, and some behavior that is straight up stalking from Garfield’s version, Holland’s Peter/Spider-Man was a breath of fresh air. He was fun, quippy, and seemed to revel in being a hero.
This spirit is carried over to Spider-Man: Homecoming, which, despite a few minor flaws, is a joyous blockbuster experience. Director Jon Watts, and his five screenwriters, clearly wanted to bring back the lighter tone of Spidey’s best comic outings and the movie feels like an adaptation of about five installments of the cartoon show I loved as a kid. Peter is still a loser, although he does have people who care about him including his best friend Ned, who is infinitely more appealing that another damn Harry Ozborne, his crush Liz, and his Aunt May.
The Phase Three spirit of integration is front and center here as Peter and his nemesis Adrian Tooms are the symbols of street-level hero and criminal in a post-Avengers world. This viewpoint is a wonderful change of pace, even though the stakes are far from end-of-the-world critical, they suit Peter’s position as defender of the little guy. Tony Stark is a big, but not dominating presence in the role of Peter’s mentor, something he is woefully inexperienced as which makes for a nice dynamic, and there are also the hilarious Cap training videos. Spider-Man’s presence in the MCU adds a new dimension to the type of stories this franchise can tell, but there are some ways in which Homecoming follows to close to the Marvel formula.
Ticking the Romance Box
Homecoming isn’t the worst example of this MCU problem, but it isn’t the best either. Liz and Peter very rarely share any scenes that satisfactorily convey their mutual attraction outside of humorous circumstances. There are no scenes in which they share any pertinent or personal information about themselves. This does make sense when thinking about Peter’s priorities, as he is pulled between his real life and his alter-ego and the alter-ego wins every time, but makes for a paper-thin romance worthy of any other high school drama.
The Wasted Villain Corner
Before some people overreact, the Vulture isn’t as wasted as some MCU villains, but there is a definite sense of unrealized potential in the character. Director Jon Watts clearly cares about his villain – the movie opens on him, after all – but compared to say Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, the Vulture is another case of thin characterization propped up by a chilling performance, this time from the superb Michael Keaton.
These are still minor concerns considering that Homecoming’s main focus is Peter himself, so it makes sense. What makes this Peter so relatable, aside from Tom Holland’s effortlessly charismatic performance, is that he really is a new cinematic version of Spider-Man. Tobey McGuire’s version was driven by a sense of duty to his dead uncle, a promise that largely gets in the way of his happiness. Andrew Garfield’s version is a slight retread of this along with some nonsense about his parent’s deaths that never gets the attention the trailers suggested it would, though the real drive of those movies was his relationship with Gwen Stacey. Holland’s Peter is fresh because he genuinely wants to be Spider-Man more than Peter Parker. It’s a simple but hugely effective difference. His character arc is summed up nicely by the Vulture in the movie’s first scene: he over-extends himself. Peter wants to be an Avenger, but he learns that his place is street-level and focusing on everyday crime. Of course, he’ll get his chance to do battle on the big stage in Infinity War, but for now he is at his best as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image courtesy of CultureNL)