Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Directed by Jon Watts

Contains spoilers.

Comic films are the primal expression of something I call the James Bond Phenomenon, where different actors play different versions of the same character. Batman did the same thing very successfully; the Fantastic Four weren't so successful. Spider-Man has also been largely unsuccessful but, luckily, Tom Holland's portrayal has reenergized the character.

After a brief catch-up and prologue, Homecoming picks up several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Peter's back in school and trying to live his dual life as a student and Spider-Man. He's helping out his neighborhood but waiting impatiently for a bigger situation when he stumbles on the criminal organization run by the Vulture. The Vulture's group salvages, commandeers, and sells Chitauri technology to anyone willing to pay. Their tech includes a flight suit complete with massive wings, powered by a Chitauri battery, which Vulture uses to steal more materials. Peter juggles his two lives while investigating the Vulture and simultaneously being brushed off by Tony Stark who claims he's too young for all of this.

While previous entries certainly had their moments, Holland shines as Spider-Man with the light and authenticity that this character truly deserves. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield certainly play their roles well, but their characters never really felt like Spider-Man. Holland does. For once, he feels like a young high schooler dealing with both high school drama and criminals. He feels young and impressionable and idealistic and hopeful and for once, the high school scenes actually feel like high school. We're not watching a ~30-year-old stumble around lockers looking like a 20-year-old high school senior. He dresses like a high schooler. He walks like a high schooler. He talks to pretty girls like a high schooler and not like a ~30-year-old trying to look like one.

That's probably rude to Maguire and Garfield but... that's just how it is. You don't get to be 26-28 playing an iconic high school teenager and get to act like it works perfectly. It doesn't. And no amount of shaving, makeup, and dorky haircuts is going to change that.

 

Keaton similarly brought gravitas to the Vulture. He was a real criminal, not really a villain, per se, but he did some bad things and felt dangerous doing them. One scene in particular, where he talks to Peter, is one of the most creepily, beautifully tense scenes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel has officially kicked the popular view that their villains are unmemorable.

Keaton's Vulture is meant to be an understandable character, not trying to rule the world or kill all the Avengers. All he really wants is to take care of his family. In that regard he's one of the better Marvel villains. The fact that the scope of Homecoming is so small and personal works incredibly well to that affect, even if the character building of Vulture is largely wasted. Watts never takes any time to make Vulture relatable beyond a couple generic lines and a couple scenes about having a family; we really only ever see him doing bad stuff, like he's on the road to being a bigger bad than he is. So while he's realistic and dangerous and I have no doubt that he's a loving father and husband, we pretty much never get to see that side of him until he threatens Peter and, by then, it's too late to see him as anything except the bad guy, regardless of any good intentions to care for his family.

Beyond Vulture's wasted character building, the story's intimate nature is otherwise perfect. Peter's struggle feels real. He's a moral young man who's still trying to find his place in the world. He's still learning the extent of his abilities. He's still learning how to use his suit. He's still learning how to fight crime effectively. All of these things get explored because Homecoming is very much the superhero equivalent of a coming of age story. And while there's certainly action it's actually the writing which is center stage. The humor, the dialogue, the interactions, the scenarios. It's all built up perfectly, thought out, with the right things in focus and never feels farfetched or unrealistic. No screen time is wasted.

In general, the world-building is finally paying off. When Favreau gave roots to the MCU with the first Iron Man film it was with a promise that we'd have the superhero world that we deserved and made sense, not standalone superhero movies. The cameos give a huge sense of satisfaction about the world and, even better, they make sense. The detailed production is such that it makes me want more.

But beyond that, the movie's fun because it's supposed to be fun and not as a mistake from too much or stuck out comic relief. That's one of the primal aspects that these studios and producers can get wrong. Josh Trank's Fantastic Four is not fun because it tried to be dark but is boring. The Incredible Hulk was not fun because it tried to be dramatic and action-packed but feels generic. Homecoming tries to be fun and is fun; it tries to be dramatic and is dramatic; it tries to be tense and is tense. We get to see Spider-Man really learning what it means to be a hero, which is not just following orders or taking down the bad guy but doing the right thing, even when that means saving the bad guy once in a while.

We'll see what happens from here on out, but Peter seems to be in safe hands. Maybe he'll end up fighting two or three bad guys at once again or maybe he'll just keep getting better.

 
 

TL;DR: Spider-Man as a character has never felt quite right. We got a little taste of proper Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War but, here, finally we get to see a true portrayal. Holland brings an earnestness to the role that it's never had before. His fellow cast members and their chemistry, combined with good writing, good humor, and small doses of good action (instead of huge scenes of web-slinging extravaganzas and acrobatic festivals through the air) make Homecoming a successful resurgence of a character who deserves it.

  • Acting – 17 / 20
  • Story – 16 / 20
  • Cinematography – 15 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 7 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 8 / 10
  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy – 7 / 10
  • Other – 10 / 10
 

Grade B = 80 / 100