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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

July 7, 2017 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Spider-Man: Homecoming
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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review  

Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers; Based on the Marvel comics and characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Runtime: 133 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments

Tom Holland – Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Michael Keaton – Adrian Toomes/The Vulture
Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark/Iron Man
Jacob Batalon – Ned
Marisa Tomei – Aunt May Parker
Zendaya – Michelle
Laura Harrier – Liz
Tony Revolori – Flash
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Michael Chernus – Phineas Mason
Logan Marshall-Green – Jackson Brice
Tyne Daly – Anne Marie Hoag
Angourie Rice – Betty Brant
Hannibal Buress – Coach Wilson

Spider-Man is back for a new cinematic adventure. The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s greatly maligned sequel failed to draw the acclaim and success of the previous live-action film trilogy for the Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler, starring Tobey Maguire in the titular role and directed by Sam Raimi; and now, Sony Pictures teams up with Marvel Studios in a landmark creative deal to bring Spider-Man: Homecoming to the screen. After the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s own unique iteration of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, in Captain America: Civil War, Holland now gets to star in his own solo-adventure as he looks to prove himself a hero and graduate into a role as a full-fledged member of the Avengers.

Homecoming begins with a look at the aftermath of the Battle of New York. Blue collar salvage worker Adrian Toomes and his team are contracted to do cleanup and salvage on the Chitauri wreckage, but Toomes’ authority is soon overturned by Anne Marie Hoag (Daly) and Damage Control. Frustrated with their treatment by the wealthy, corporate elite, Toomes and his team manage to steal some of the Chitauri technology. With his new deadly flight suit, Toomes becomes the Vulture who seeks to sell modified, illegal weapons salvaged from the Battle of New York and from stolen Damage Control caravans, apparently operating without issue for eight years. From there, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker vlogs the audience through his perspective of the events of Civil War, ultimately picking up right after Tony Stark (Downey) drops Peter off at his Queens, New York home. Peter is eager to go on more missions and officially join the Avengers, but Tony wants Peter to keep a low profile and stick to New York. However, Stark does allow Peter to keep the upgraded suit he designed for Peter. Stark’s employee, Happy Hogan (Favreau), is also reluctantly assigned the role of Peter’s “internship” supervisor.

Peter soon uncovers some two-bit bank crooks who try to rob ATMs using some of the jacked-up alien weaponry that was purchased from Toomes and his crew. While he struggles to get Stark and Happy to take him seriously, Peter takes it upon himself to bring down the Vulture guy and his crew and get their high-tech weapons off the streets. Unfortunately, Peter must balance that with his hectic school life. He’s a member of his high school’s decathlon team, captained by the object of Peter’s affection, senior student Liz (Harrier). Additionally, Peter unwittingly reveals his superhero alter-ego to his best friend Ned, who is overjoyed to discover his friend is a superhero and wants to be Peter’s “man in the chair.” This is Peter in his formative years as Spider-Man, still looking to discover his identity as he ascends to the greatness we all know he will eventually achieve.

The Amazing Spider-Man suffered in retelling Spider-Man’s origin, which was something Sam Raimi’s 2002 film already did quite exceptionally. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 instead became an over-stuffed slog that made a great deal of execrable choices and smacked of Sony’s desperation to make a pathetic shared “Spider-Man Cinematic Universe.” Everyone saw how all that failed to pan out at least several years ago. And so, audiences are treated to the second cinematic reboot of Spider-Man in less than five years.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is far from perfect. It doesn’t even achieve the earlier excellence of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but it is an entertaining, fairly enjoyable and crowd-pleasing superhero adventure. Director Jon Watts wears his 1980s John Hughes’ teen movie influences on his sleeve here. That approach for a Spider-Man movie works very well. For far too often, Peter’s life as a high school student in the previous films has come off as only incidental. It’s an element the previous movies barely serviced. In the 2002 movie, Peter was already out of high school when he finally assumes the role of Spider-Man. In the sequel for The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter graduated in the first act. What is refreshing about Homecoming is that the film focuses on a younger Peter firmly entrenched in juggling his life as a working superhero and a high school student, rather than whirlwind romances that border on bad soap opera territory.

Without making too many comparisons to previous performers, Holland is a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He has undeniable affable qualities and he definitely brings a solid charisma to the role. Holland exhibits that energy and sense of humor you want Peter to have when he’s inside the suit, overcompensating to hide his nerves and fears. Yes, Peter does have a massive attraction to the star senior, Liz, but their potential attraction or romance is not the focus of the plot. Homecoming is more about Peter trying to discover his own independence and find his way in a post-Avengers world.

Another interesting idea showcased in Homecoming is the suggestion that the existence of the Avengers is creating a trickle-down effect in the criminal underworld. The Avengers wage battle and protect the world from planet-breaking threats. However, those battles leave rubble and wreckage, and criminals acquire new teeth that endangers innocent civilians. And the Avengers aren’t exactly performing patrols and hitting the streets, making sure people are safe from street-level threats. Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix probably serviced this idea a little better. The Avengers’ actions gave rise to the likes of Wilson Fisk and his ilk, affording them opportunities to profit and exploit the activities of superheroes. Even Tony Stark’s actions inadvertently emboldened the blue-collar construction worker, Adrian Toomes, to form a crew of illegal weapons arms thieves and dealers. There could have been a bit more underscoring of this point, but at least there’s some recognition of the idea that Peter serves a purpose in defense of average civilians. That’s something the Avengers aren’t doing on a regular basis.

The film is decidedly lacking in that it feels like Peter is given far too many shortcuts. There has been a lot of controversy ahead of the release that Robert Downey Jr. is essentially stealing the show as Iron Man and is basically hogging the spotlight. That’s not really the case. Downey’s role is really not overdone at all here. However, his influence as a mentor and spiritual guide for Peter is too belabored. There’s a particularly solid, emotional and major turning point moment for Peter in the film, and it seems wrong that the source of Peter’s strength comes from words of the great Tony Stark. After there have already been two movies that comprehensively covered Spider-Man’s backstory, it’s understandable why producer Kevin Feige wanted to move on from Uncle Ben Parker. However, Uncle Ben Parker isn’t even referenced or treated as barely an after-thought in the film. There is no longer any sense that Peter is driven by his need to do good. Say what you will about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film, but it treated the near cliche turn of phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility,” with earnest reverence. It seems in an effort to move so far away from Spider-Man’s origin, Homecoming has lost any sense of influence for Uncle Ben in Peter’s life; and that’s rather disappointing. The film didn’t need some massive flashback or cry-a-thon, but some mention of Peter’s loss would have really made a good movie about Spider-Man that much better. If longtime fans can accept Iron Man essentially replacing Uncle Ben as Peter’s main father figure, they will probably still enjoy the film.

However, the influence of Tony Stark enables Peter to take a lot of short cuts. Other than his homemade web fluid, most of Peter’s tech and equipment is all made by Stark. He’s even given a fancy, quippy AI subsystem in his suit like JARVIS, which Ned helps Peter unlock. It takes away a bit of the thrill of Peter learning and discovering things for himself. For example, there’s no hint that there is a Spider-Sense for the MCU Spider-Man. But why does he even need a Spider-Sense when he has a computer AI to tell him any and everything he should do? Maybe it’s there, and the audience simply cannot see it. Regardless, the lack of establishing the idea that Peter has this ability is woefully underwhelming.

This next subject is a bit difficult to openly discuss because lately a lot of critics and reviewers have gone out of their way to point out the ethnically diverse supporting cast, and how extraordinary that diversity makes the film. It’s almost like everyone has to pat themselves on the back for mentioning how progressive and amazing this is. Yet this is despite the fact that the main star of the film, Spider-Man, is still played by a white male actor, when in fact an African American version of Spider-Man exists in Miles Morales. Peter Parker is the iconic, classic version of the character. He’s the character originally created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. That’s the character who is connected to the childhood of many throughout history, and he’s traditionally a white male. But is the problem that there were not enough ethnically diverse members of Peter’s supporting cast in the previous Spider-Man films, or that there were not enough ethnically diverse characters in the main marquee roles for comic book superhero films as a whole? I bring this up because although Peter is still a white male character, he does have an ethnically diverse set of supporting players around him in Homecoming. But that’s not much different from Marvel’s previous practices with its film releases over the last eight years; except that now, the ideas of gender, identity, and racial politics constitute a major issue and talking point with regard to these films.

Of the supporting cast, the best addition is Jacob Batalon as Peter’s friend and confidante, Ned. Ned shares a great deal of visual similarities to Ganke Lee from the Ultimate comics, but his name appears to be taken from Ned Leeds; a longtime villain the comics. In the film, Ned and Peter have a great relationship that provides some of the film’s best and most genuine moments, along with some of the best laughs. Since Feige, Watts and his writers have reformatted the circle of characters around Peter Parker, the best executed is undeniably Ned. The rest of the changes to the familiar names who appear in the film seem rather undeveloped and undercooked. There is a “Flash” character here, played by Tony Revolori. But rather than some type of athletic meathead jock, who would later go on to become one of Peter’s closest friends, he’s Peter’s yuppie academic rival. In one of the film’s more uncharacteristically ridiculous moments, an endangered Flash is desperate to protect a team trophy that’s in no way convincing. Angourie Rice has a brief appearance in the film as a teenaged Betty Brant, who now looks like Gwen Stacy for some reason. There was recently a great deal of controversy regarding Zendaya’s character and who she is, and who she isn’t. Overall, Zendaya’s Michelle isn’t particularly impressive, and her character adds little to the plot other than playing a tertiary presence to a few scenes. These examples demonstrate how Marvel Studios will nail certain characters, be it Chris Evans as Captain America, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, or Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk; but when they are off the mark, they are way off the mark. See Daniel Brühl as Zemo for further reference.

Michael Keaton does well as the blue collar super-villain, Adrian Toomes. Vulture is characterized here as a working class baddie who is simply trying to provide for his friends and family. He’s a guy who was royally screwed by the system after trying to go the straight and narrow path, with no help from the likes of Tony Stark, and is just trying to get by in the world. These are some of the film’s more interesting ideas, and it’s something Homecoming could have explored a little more. But Keaton hits all those moments in convincing fashion. There is also an underwhelming reveal for his character that came off a bit contrived and shoehorned. And yes, it’s even contrived for a live-action comic book superhero movie about Spider-Man. This illustrates that having six credited writers for the film probably didn’t serve the narrative’s best interests.

In terms of the film’s visual presentation and execution of Spider-Man, Watts definitely services the visual thrills and wonder of Spider-Man. However, he also gets creative by staging sequences where Peter is not in a position to web-sling his way out of a jam, and instead he has to improvise. Those are some of most endearing and energetic moments in the film’s generally breakneck action. Thankfully, Watts wisely doesn’t over-edit everything, so the impressive visuals effects are always discernible.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. It could eventually lead to something even greater. It's a good start for Spider-Man's reintroduction to his own live-action movie franchise, but it has its flaws. Watts imbues his film with a lot of energy, high school angst and obvious John Hughes influences. Some interesting ideas are presented, including the point that the world needs heroes like Spider-Man who are going to do the job the Avengers aren't doing. However, it's unfortunate that Homecoming, in trying to separate itself from past origin stories, has completely erased elements such as Uncle Ben and the Spider-Sense. Spider-Man: Homecoming does make a few missteps, but it's still a crowd-pleasing, and generally satisfying, comic book superhero cinematic adventure.