Let me begin by saying I’m a lifelong fan of Spider-Man. That said, I feel somewhat protective of the character. Since the announcement of his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, I’ve been apprehensive yet optimistic about Marvel Studio’s approach to one of their most beloved characters. So in the lead up to Spider-Man: Homecoming I have been watching with rapt attention every trailer as it hits, analyzing every scene and moment and hoping they represent both Spidey and Peter Parker accurately. Because, if you aren’t going to make a Spider-Man movie that’s faithful to the character, then what’s the point? Needless to say, I went into the film really wanting to Marvel Studio’s to deliver the best on-screen depiction of Spider-Man yet.
SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Tom Holland turns in a charming and endearing performance as Peter Parker, with parts both dramatic and comedic executed well. Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker is endearing and likeable as he struggles with finding a balance between his social life and superhero activities. Any shortcomings with Marvel Studio’s depiction of Spider-Man should not be leveled at Tom. His Peter isn’t simply referred to as nerd while looking super cool and hip on his skate board as in the previous Amazing film franchise. Peter looks, talks and behaves like an actually nerdy kid. Peter’s intelligence is put on display in various small scenes throughout the film which helps sell the idea that he is, in fact, smart.
I did find myself wishing Holland would get to play a really meaty emotional scene but sadly the lack of any reference to Uncle Ben, nor any similarly hefty emotional lifting materialized in the film. The closest we get to this was a scene after Peter is given a verbally dressing down by Tony Stark, wherein Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May confronts Peter about his recent actions. It’s thankfully not undercut but a comic moment as there are possibly a few too many jokey endings to scenes in a movie that presumably wants it’s characters taken seriously. Hopefully Tom Holland gets more to work with next time around because he’s a good fit for Peter.
Despite the film throwing several fairly minor villains at us in brief cameos, Michael Keaton easily rises to the top in the role of Adrian Toomes. I’d go so far as to say Keaton’s Vulture is the most menacing and frankly chilling villain to face Spider-Man on film since Willem DaFoe. His presence onscreen is one of the highlights of the film. While he is the main antagonist, Keaton also manages to make Toomes a three dimensional character, one you can at least understand and perhaps relate to with his working-class mentality. The whole undercurrent of the wealthy taking what they like from the poor and leaving nothing but the scraps was an interesting perspective but I feel it could have been explored further. Adrian Toomes even rebuffs Spider-Man’s claim that selling weapons makes him the bad guy by pointing out that Peter’s own mentor, Tony Stark made billions by doing exactly the same thing. The stand-out scene between Michael Keaton and Tom Holland has to be Toomes slowly piecing together that Peter is Spider-Man. Michael Keaton’s threat to Peter will send shivers down your spine.
The supporting cast do a serviceable job given the material. Jon Favreau makes a welcome return the MCU but does little more than set up a few jokes, in spite of what could have been a brief but moving moment toward the film’s end. Donald Glover is wasted as little more than a glorified cameo who spouts exposition and potentially sets up Miles Morales for the MCU. Jacob Batalon fills the ‘guy in the chair’ role as Ned while also providing Peter with a comic foil throughout the film. Laura Harrier did a surprisingly good job as Liz Allan, presenting a fairly well rounded and likeable love interest in addition to being an inspirational leader. Tony Revolori was a very different incarnation of Flash Thompson, but managed to needle Peter throughout the film in a manner that seemed appropriate for a bully in a school for the gifted.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room. Michelle, portrayed by Zendaya, seemed to have no discernible function in the plot. The character spends the entirety of the film being awkward, sullen and snarky until the end of the film where she reveals her friends call her ‘MJ’. Considering the script for this film has Zendaya turning in her best Daria impression, it escapes me why anyone thought this was a good representation of the Mary Jane character. In fairness, almost none of the supporting characters bare much resemblance to their comic counterparts, but none of the other characters are as monumentally important to the Spider-Man mythology and they all at least add something to the narrative. It baffles the mind to think that, going forward, this Michelle character could inform this generation’s view of the character. Even if you prefer the party girl persona to the hidden-depths that were later explored in the comics, there is nothing like that on display in this film. Why not simply make Michelle a brand new or lesser-known character? I honestly can’t understand the thought process. In fairness to Zendaya, her Daria-style moments were very enjoyable when separated from the identity of the character and she does seem to have acting ability yet untapped.
I’ve done my best to be positive or at least fair throughout, but this next part will cover some of the major issues I had with the film. Robert Downey Jr essentially remade the character of Tony Stark back in 2008 when the Marvel Cinematic Universe first began. I, and many others, owe him a great debt for making Stark such a wonderfully rich character (pun intended). However, beyond his character arc in the first film, the only time Tony Stark has grown or progressed was in Captain America: Civil War. Homecoming gives Downey Jr a chance to play out the mentor role he started in with Peter in Civil War. What we actually get is a few brief scenes (most of which you’ll find in the various trailers for the film) of Tony Stark trying and failing to be a father figure to Peter in what I can only describe as a misjudged. It treads all over the absent Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben served the purpose of reminding Peter of his responsibilities. Tony’s reckless, absent father routine of telling Peter to ‘do as I say and not as I do’ left we wondering when the big blow up between the two would occur. Sadly when the two did exchange harsh words, Peter is meekly shut down by the all-knowing Tony telling him he wants him to be better. It would be nice if it didn’t ring so false.
While I understand that this is a teenage Peter Parker who is intended to be an inexperienced rookie, it feels rather underwhelming to see Peter constantly having his butt handed to him throughout the film, especially considering he easily held his own and even bested various characters in Captain America: Civil War. More to the point, it’s frustrating watching the title character and lead actor be upstaged by a glorified cameo appearance that comes across as phoned in. Even Downey’s last scene seemed like a step back for the character, with it’s almost pantomime ‘let’s get married’ bit. The core of the issue isn’t that Peter didn’t need to prove himself, it’s that Peter has never needed the approval of others. What Homecoming does get right about Peter’s character is that he doesn’t give up and that sometimes he does have to take a moment to lick his wounds when he’s down, but eventually he always swings back into action and does the right thing even when he suffers as a result. What the film doesn’t get right is that Peter isn’t always the butt of the joke. Several scenes play out like an issue of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, with Peter getting thoroughly beaten in manner that seems to want the audience to laugh at him. I’d almost go so far as to call it mean spirited on a level of Dan Slott’s Peter-torturing, but luckily the film has Peter win the day without Iron Man’s help.
But Peter still ends up getting Tony’s approval and by the films conclusion I didn’t have the impression that Peter was really questioning his hero-worship of Tony Stark. Perhaps a more fitting conclusion to film would have shown Peter rejecting Tony and his high-tech suit in favour of being his own man. Maybe even show Pete working on the traditional Spider-Man costume at the films conclusion as a nod to his intellect. As I said, Spider-Man wins in the end but the resolution doesn’t really land with any emotional impact.
Another less aggravating quibble was the constant use of the Stark-tech Spider-Man suit. It seemed like every fight scene was trying to show off yet another of Tony Stark’s inventions. Look, I get it. It’s fun to show a bunch of new feature for the plethora of Spidey action figures but sometimes less is more. Despite showing Peter create his own web fluid, I think the movie missed a trick by not showcasing Peter developing even one of these snazzy gadgets. I was genuinely frustrated when Spider-Man began talking to his suit’s A.I. When the film was first announced, Marvel Studio’s was quick to point out that they wanted to go back to basics with Spider-Man. A movie-version of the Iron Spider suit in all but name is not back to basics.
Last major negative? The running joke throughout the film that Marisa Tomei is hot. Yes, we get it. But why in god’s name is she playing Aunt May? It seems almost like an intentional jab at fans on the internet who’ve complained about Tomei being cast in the role. Aside from that, I think Marisa could have been given a few more scenes highlighting why her Aunt May is present in the film, because as I mentioned above, the film needed more grounding in the heartfelt and dramatic to balance the comedy aspects throughout.
When the comedy worked, it worked well. But when it didn’t I could audibly hear the audience in my screening groan or shift in their seats. I think it’s become common practice at this point for Marvel Studios to sprinkle liberal amounts of quips and jokes into their films to hid any shortcomings. Sadly, I think the overuse of humor in scenes where it wasn’t needed may have undercut the films gravitas a little too much.
As for the fight scenes and action, they aren’t quite as clearly presented nor as well choreographed as the airport scene from Civil War. While I realize not every fight in a film needs to be choreographed like a well rehearsed ballet, the goal is to ensure the audience can discern what is happening on the screen so they can follow the action. The most visually interesting action scenes for me were the Washington Monument rescue scene and the final fight with Toomes, though even these aren’t particularly memorable. There’s no iconic Spider-Man versus Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. The action is serviceable if forgettable, which considering Spider-Man’s unique powers and mode of transport is slightly disappointing. The fact that Spider-Man seemed to be able to web-swing with precision in Civil War makes me question the decision to have him crash into objects at various times in the film. It’s fine to have one or two jokes at Pete’s expense, but we also have to buy that this kid can hold his own against the Vulture.That said, the scenes with Spider-Man desperately trying to give chase while stranded in the suburbs were certainly reminiscent of the Peter David penned story ‘The Commuter Cometh’ and all the better for it.
Hopefully I haven’t been overly negative with this review as I did find the film a fine addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if I feel it didn’t quite capture what makes Spider-Man so great. Spider-Man: Homecoming has much the same problems as another recent MCU film, Doctor Strange. Perfectly enjoyable entertainment for the masses, but deviates heavily from the source material unnecessarily in some places, to the films detriment. The role of Peter Parker is safe in the capable hands of Tom Holland. Providing he gets better material to work with in the future I feel he could be a great Spider-Man, but right now he’s a Spider-Boy in Iron Man’s shadow. Some solid acting and lots of fun scenes, but not a lot beneath the surface. I recommend you check the movie out and make up your own mind, but I didn’t love Marvel Studio’s Spider-Man Homecoming like I had hoped.
2 ½ out 5