Goes without saying but there will of course be SPOILERS
Adrian Toomes runs a salvage company that’s cleaning up after the Avengers battle with the Chitauri in Avengers Assemble. He’s put out of business by Tony Stark’s new company Damage Control. Consequently he and his gang use some of the alien tech they salvaged and become criminals.
8 years later we follow Peter Parker chronicling an exuberant personal video diary during his trip to Berlin and his battle with Cap’s team from Captain America: Civil War. After he comes home Tony Stark tells him he’s not yet ready to be an Avenger but that he can keep the high tech suit he made for him.
Two months later Peter has been fighting crime in Queens as Spider-Man (reporting in to a frustrated Happy Hogan seemingly every day) and claiming he’s working under a Stark internship as cover.
During an encounter with some of Toomes’ men trying to rob an ATM Spidey notes the high tech weapons they were using. Later that night he comes home and inadvertently reveals his identity to his nerdy Lego loving best friend
The next day at school Ned blurts out to Peter’s crush (Liz Allan) that Peter knows Spidey. After being goaded by his school rival Flash Thompson, Peter agrees to bring Spider-Man along to Liz’s party. However just before he makes his grand entrance Peter spots weird lights in the distance and goes to check it out.
There he finds Toomes’ men (led by Jackson ‘Montana’ Brice/the Shocker) selling weapons to a man named Aaron Davis. Spidey distrusts the deal and give chase to the criminals but is attacked and dumped underwater by Toomes (who is sporting flight technology). However thanks to the tracking device in his suit he is saved by one of Iron Man’s suits that Tony Stark is remotely controlling. He is lectured by Stark to leave the situation alone and ‘stay on the ground’ but later Peter recovers some Chitauri tech that had been misplaced during the battle.
Toomes fires Brice for his incompetence but when Brice threatens to talk Toomes kills him and gives his ‘Shocker’ weaponry to Herman Schultz. Schultz tracks the Chitauri energy core (which Peter and Ned removed) to Peter’s high school. Peter manages to evade Schultz but tags him with a tracking device and he and Ned learn Schultz is in Washington DC.
Coincidentally this is where the school decathlon team are heading for Nationals so Peter and Ned tag along. Together the pair disable the tracking device in Peter’s suit along with enabling the full features of his suit, including his own personal A.I. (Karen). Peter fights Toomes on a Damage Control truck but (partially due to his inexperience with the new abilities of his suit) winds up imprisoned within it and consequently stuck in Damage Control’s warehouse, missing the Nationals.
Learning from Karen that the Chitauri core in Ned’s possession is unstable and dangerous he escapes from the warehouse and tracks the decathlon team (sans the silent and cynical Michelle Jones) to the Washington monument. Unfortunately the power core goes off and damages the elevator in the monument prompting Spidey to climb up it and enter through a window near the top (scouting the area out with a drone released from his chest).
He manages to save the team and back in NYC tracks down Davis in order to locate Toomes, trying (and failing) to intimidate him using the suit’s voice modulating feature. Davis is concerned about the weapons being on the street since he has a nephew in the neighbourhood (a reference to Miles Morales) so he informs Spidey that Toomes will be at the Staten Island ferry.
On the ferry Spidey identifies Toomes’ new buyer as a gangster called Mac Gargan and proceeds to intervene. However Toomes and Schultz get away whilst one of the weapons goes haywire and cuts the ferry in half. Spidey tries to save it but lacks the strength to do so. Thankfully Iron Man is on hand and manages to rescue everybody.
Stark (now in person) rakes Peter over the coals for his screw up informing him he set up an FBI sting on the ferry that Peter ruined. Peter claims he was just trying to be like him but Stark retorts that he wanted him to be better (admonishing himself for sounding like his own father) and demands the return of the Spider-Man suit. Peter protests that he is nothing without the suit to which Stark replies that if that’s true he shouldn’t have the costume at all.
Peter returns home to an angry and upset May, gets a talking to by the school faculty about cutting out on class and generally accepts his life is on a real downer. However Liz agrees to go to the Homecoming dance with him and after May helps him prepare he heads over to Liz’s home. However he is greeted by Liz’s Dad who is in fact Adrian Toomes himself. Whilst driving Peter and Liz to the dance Toomes figures out Peter is Spider-Man and threatens to kill him and his loved ones if he interferes in his business again.
Peter however cannot let Toomes walk free and after informing Ned of what he is doing heads off to stop him. He is however confronted in the school parking lot by Shocker who Ned helps take down.
Garbed in his original homemade costume, Peter (directed by Ned from the computer lab) confronts Toomes at his lair where the villain tries to persuade him to his side. He cites how guys like Tony Stark step on normal folks like them. Peter doesn’t buy it and Toomes promptly buries him in the ruins of his base. Toomes, aided by his tech guy Mason (the Tinkerer), heads over to Stark Tower where Happy Hogan is loading tech onto an automated plane headed for the new Avengers headquarters.
Meanwhile Peter buried under the rubble thinks about what Stark said after the ferry, screws up his will power and frees himself finding his way onto the automated plane mid-flight and battling Toomes. The plane crashes on Coney Island and eventually Toomes is defeated, Peter having saved his life.
Days later at the school Michelle (whose friends call her ‘MJ’) becomes leader of the decathlon team; she also stares a little too suspiciously after Peter as he leaves. Her promotion is due to Liz’s family moving away in light of Toomes’ arrest. Happy Hogan shows up at the school to thank Peter for what he did and also takes him to see Tony at the new Avengers HQ. Stark congratulates him on his efforts, tells Peter he has a press court waiting to announce him as the newest Avenger and presents him with an all new armoured Spider suit.
Peter is elated before ultimately turning the offer down and reaffirming that he should probably stick to the ground as a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man for now. He leaves Stark at a loss as to what to tell the press when Pepper Potts walks in and Happy gives them an engagement ring he’d been holding onto since 2008.
Back at the Parker residence Peter finds that Stark has returned his old suit to him. As he dons it though he doesn’t notice May behind him. She then exclaims in surprise.
In prison Toomes meets up with Gargan who asks if the rumours that he knows Spider-Man’s identity are true. Toomes affirms that they are not.
The movie wraps up with a Captain America clip that I dare not spoil because it is simply amazing.
When it comes to comic book films (or any films that adapt previously existing source material) there are three key points of view to evaluate the movie from.
- The experience of actually watching the movie.
- How the film works just as a story unto itself.
- How the film works as an adaptation of the source material.
For old dinosaur fans like myself it can be sometimes hard to divorce the third point from the second, so married are we to the source material.
However this isn’t to say it is impossible and I am going to try my best to be objective going forward. To help myself I’ve divided this review into two parts. Part 1 will cover my thoughts on the film as just a film. Part 2 my (much lengthier) thoughts on the film as an adaptation.
However, even when doing this evaluating this movie no easy task.
As an experience I’m not sure I ever walked out of a Spider-Man movie more fundamentally mixed in my feelings. Not disappointed exactly, but then I wasn’t exactly hyped when booking my tickets (by the way don’t bother seeing this in 3D like I did).
Okay to begin with let’s put things into context. This film had a Herculean job on its hands as it had to accomplish four key tasks:
- Be a good stand alone film (or as stand alone as MCU movies can be)
- Showcase new possibilities from presenting Spidey in the context of the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Lay groundwork for future Spider-Man movies
- Rehabilitate Spider-Man’s standing in the public eye following the Marc Webb Spider-Man films which left audiences fatigued and disenchanted with the character.
And it did accomplish all of those…mostly.
I could never in my heart of hearts call this a bad movie. It isn’t. It’s a good movie. It’s fun. It has action, humour, solid special effects, a perfectly serviceable story and strong performances all round.
Last year after Captain America: Civil War I felt that I’d need to see more from Holland to determine how suitable he was for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and how he measured up to Garfield or Maguire.
This film has now convinced me Holland is perfectly qualified for the role. As for how he measures up…that’s a little hard to determine.
His performance is much closer to Garfield than Maguire’s but ultimately the script is asking very different things of him than either of the two previous Spider-Men. As such it’s a little hard to compare their performances.
He absolutely sells you on everything he is doing. The problem is everything he’s doing is kind of…atypical for Spider-Man. As such how he measures up as the character is tricky. Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man in comparison to Maguire’s essentially emphasised certain traits over the other. For example his Spider-Man was the superior quipster though this wasn’t wholly devoid of Maguire’s version of the character either. Meanwhile Maguire’s Peter Parker was most assuredly more introspective and nerdy than Garfield’s even if there were less examples of him operating as a scientist. Holland’s Spider-Man is in large part just a different animal altogether.
Here Peter Parker and Spider-Man both are defined by their youthful inexperience and desire to play in the big leagues with the grown-ups, a league they aren’t yet ready for precisely because of that youthful inexperience.
In this regard the film succeeds at most of the above points as this is undeniably something fresh and original for Spider-Man on film and it takes advantage of the possibilities of Spider-Man existing within a shared universe. Similarly Peter’s high tech suit definitely gives audiences something they’ve never seen before for the wall-crawler and it is firmly rooted in the wider MCU.
In fact the whole movie can be said to be defined by the guiding philosophy of using the MCU at large to do something different. The characters are firmly rooted in showing you the ground level of a universe that in previous films has mostly showcased much larger stakes. Though this doesn’t apply to the whole movie as the inclusion of Ned as Peter’s friend and confidant and a greater emphasis upon Peter’s school mates help give the film a different flavour to what’s come before.
And it does work…up to a point.
Confession time. Back in 2016 when BvS: Dawn of Justice was released I dismissed just about everyone who ever tried defending that train wreck with the argument that the film was refreshing because there was a formula to the MCU films that employed light hearted goofy comedy. However between Doctor Strange and this film I have to admit that I’ve changed my tune.
More than once in this movie Spider-Man is involved in slapstick comedy usually at his expense. It’s like advanced superhero clowning where the characters bumble and trip around. Now whilst this is fairly new to Spider-Man on film it’s actually not that uncommon for the MCU at large. You can see it for example in Iron Man 2008, Ant Man and Doctor Strange. That last one is particularly poignant because if there is one character who really does not lend himself to slapstick or goofy humour it is the ever enigmatic Doctor Stephen Strange.
That sort of bumbling is cranked up in this movie because the point is the lead is inexperienced and learning the ropes. And when looked at on its own its honestly not insufferable or anything but along with the rest of the winking, quippy, jovial humour of the film does kind of feel repetitive of other MCU films. I think it’s definitely time for that formula to change if not be abandoned entirely.
It doesn’t kill the movie though.
Really there are only a few really serious marks against this movie as a film I have.
To begin with the promotional material egregiously misrepresented Iron Man’s involvement (and spoilt way too much) but that’s not exactly the movie’s fault.
The climax is not that satisfying as Spider-Man doesn’t beat Vulture so much as survives against him. The romance was kind of just there and existed more to serve other plot points rather than be its own legitimate subplot (a by product of trying to be different to previous movies I suspect). And the timeline with the other MCU films makes my head hurt. Seriously Avengers Assemble was 8 years before this movie? How does that make sense?
The worst moment though is when Peter claims he is nothing without the high tech Spider suit Stark gave him. I have more problems about this when we get into part 2 but just in the context of the movie and the MCU this doesn’t really add up.
Peter was operating as Spider-Man in Queens for something like a year before Stark showed up. Before unlocking the other features of it, the Spider suit he wore amounted to giving him an easily adjustable body suit, some high tech lenses and an advanced tracer. He used that for 2 months straight and only unlocked the added abilities of the suit a few days before Stark took the suit away (abilities that he couldn’t fully control).
So he really didn’t need the suit to do what he’d been doing mostly up until then and he said it himself earlier in the movie, he was a kid who could stop a bus with his hands. He still has immense super powers and it seems illogical that he’d honestly not be able to recognize that. By extension the scene where he lifts the rubble to prove how he is more than a fancy suit doesn’t make much sense because of all the problems I just outlined.
These hardly ruin the movie though.
As for setting up future instalments, there is admittedly not too much done in this regard. The film is surprisingly self-contained for an MCU feature. There is a little tease of the Sinister Six but it’s very up in the air, it’s more likely we’ll simply be seeing the Scorpion in the next movie and maybe some more of Toomes. Other than that we have May learning Peter’s secret which may or may not turn out to be a really big source of drama going forward. We will have to wait and see.
So as a movie that’s the latest instalment of the MCU I’d award this film a solid B. It’s a good movie about Spider-Man but probably not the best, but definitely not up there with the likes of Iron Man, the First Avenger, the Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and most certainly none of the large scale team up films like Avengers Assemble, Age of Ultron or Civil War.
I’d recommend you go see it as a fun entertaining time killer.
However…as an adaptation…well, that’s a different matter entirely.
Author: Alex Evangeli
I’ve loved Spider-Man, Spider-Girl and the Clone Saga since I were but a wee lad living in the United Kingdom. Glad to be here!