Return of the Webslinger
The character of Spider-Man is a huge part of the Marvel universe in the comics, but because his film rights were held by Sony and not Marvel Studios, he could not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe shared by the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. But after Sony’s last two Spider-Man films performed poorly, the studio executives there decided to make a deal with Marvel to share the character. This latest version of the character, now played by actor Tom Holland, made his MCU debut to great acclaim in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Now the rebooted Spider-Man is back to make his solo debut in this summer’s delightful Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The best thing the creators of this movie have done is to give absolutely no screentime to the origin story that audiences have already seen multiple times on the big screen. The filmmakers respect that their audience is well aware of the character by this time and how he came to develop spider-related super powers. The closest this movie gets to telling the origin story is to have a character who has discovered his identity ask “so you were bit by a radioactive spider?” There isn’t even any mention of Uncle Ben. Instead, Peter Parker’s father figure in this film is none other than Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.
At the beginning of this movie, Peter is still buzzing from his experience with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers at the Berlin airport in Captain America: Civil War and is having trouble adjusting back to being a high school student. Each afternoon after school he hits the rooftops of New York City looking to stop crooks and give little old ladies directions while he waits for Tony to call him for the next mission.
Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes, the owner of a salvage company who managed to get a hold of some alien technology while cleaning up the streets after the events of 2012’s The Avengers, has his crew creating high-tech weapons and selling them on the black market. Toomes used the technology to create a weapon for himself in a giant set of metallic wings with claws that are helpful in breaking into secure storage areas to steal more of the alien tech and keep his lucrative business going. Although he is never expressly named in the film, comic book fans will recognize this flying scavenger as the classic Spider-Man villain Vulture.
Toomes is played by Michael Keaton, which is perfect casting for multiple reasons. First and foremost, he is a terrific actor who completely owns the character from frame one. And when he shows up in the vulture suit for the first time, the character looks immediately like a combination of the actor’s Batman and his Oscar-nominated role in Birdman. It is fun to see an actor like Keaton do a one-eighty and play a supervillian, after having already played the superhero.
Keaton is great, but where this movie really shines is in Peter’s efforts to balance his role as Spider-Man with his responsibilities at a prestigious high school. One of the things that made the original Spider-Man comics appealing was that they featured a character that was close in age to many of its readers. Homecoming is the first Spider-Man movie to place the character in high school and keep him there for the entire movie. Not only is Peter still in high school, but he’s only a sophomore and it seems likely that we will see him in school for at least one more movie: Spider-Man: Prom?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is perhaps the first superhero movie in which the action scenes are not the draw. In fact, whenever this movie transitioned to one of its inevitable action scenes, I felt myself wishing they would get back to the character elements of the story. The movie wears its John Hughes-inspirations on its sleeve (Ferris Bueller even makes a cameo) and some of the best moments in the movie are the interactions between Peter and his classmates. It is also one of the most diverse casts you will find in any superhero movie. The diverse casting adds to the authenticity of the Queens high school and to the characters in general.
Tom Holland makes good on the promise he showed as the character in Captain America: Civil War. His take on Spider-Man as a well-meaning, but still wet-behind-the-ears superhero in training is a wonderful twist on the character and helps it feel fresh, which is important considering this is the sixth Spider-Man movie we have gotten in the past fifteen years and the third different version of the character. This is a Spider-Man that could stick around for a while.
As enjoyable as the movie is, it does stumble in some places. There is an entire sequence involving Peter interacting with his new “suit lady” that stalls the movie and feels unnecessary. This sequence also makes the character feel less unique and more like an Iron Man Jr. which I do not think benefits either character. The action scenes, while serviceable, also felt lesser in comparison to other recent set pieces in the Marvel franchise. It also felt strange that one of these key action scenes took place in Washington D.C. rather than Spidey’s hometown of New York City.
Those are minor quibbles, though, in a movie that manages to feel fresh and new even while being not only the sixth Spider-Man movie in the past fifteen years, but also the sixteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in the past ten. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a whole lot of fun and it seems clear that Marvel and Sony both have another giant hit on their hands.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is rated PG-13 for “sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.” This “action violence” in this movie is actually probably tamer than even the rest of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is designed for a wide audience and doesn’t feature much objectionable material.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Spider-Man: Homecoming.