If “Spider-Man” was a modern update of your classic, campy comic book movie, and “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a brooding, angsty film aimed at the hipster demographic, then “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a light, breezy film aimed at Millennials and Gen-Zers, and delightfully that proves to be a very good thing. There are two main plot threads interwoven throughout the movie: Spider-Man’s investigation into the Vulture’s arms-dealing gang, and Peter Parker’s tumultuous school life – the latter of which feels like a cute, high school sitcom. There’s a whole subplot devoted to Peter’s friends and classmates, as well as the camaraderie they have with or without Peter’s presence, that’s always fun to return to, thanks in part to the sharpness of the screenplay. Easily one of the best things about “Homecoming” is the dialogue. It’s razor-sharp, it’s witty, and it’s always engaging. I especially love how often the characters tend to get distracted and wander off topic when they’re observing things or chastising each other – it’s classic comedy and the sort of thing someone would probably do when they’re dealing with something far out of the norm for them. It’s also a testament to how likable the supporting cast of this movie is that I’m just as invested in Peter’s bromance with Ned and his odd encounters with Michelle as I am in his vigilante sleuthing.
The overall screenplay is probably the most fresh and creative one we’ve seen in a Spider-Man film since the early days of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire; it trades in many of the tropes and cliches that one had started to expect from a Spider-Man movie (like OsCorp shenanigans, schizophrenic mutants, and on-again, off-again romances) for excitingly uncharted territory and a straightforward superhero romp. The clean, sleek nature of the story is aided nicely by the smart decision to skip Spider-Man’s origin story for once and make him a pre-established character, trusting the audience would be familiar enough with Marvel’s flagship hero (from the comics, the previous films, or Tom Holland’s earlier appearance in “Captain America: Civil War”) that it wouldn’t be necessary to drop us straight into one of Spidey’s cases.
The greatest positive about the film though is that it feels really good to see Spider-Man / Peter Parker regain his liveliness and his sense of adventure. Peter causes his fair share of damage in this movie, he gets himself into trouble and learns from the experience, but he’s also always a proactive character. He does some crime-fighting, he does some mystery-solving with his keen mind, and he goes out and has actual adventures, as opposed to sitting around and wangsting, non-stop, about how nothing is going his way for two and a half hours like Peter did in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2“. This is a superhero film, and “Homecoming” knows a superhero film should have an adventurous spirit. The movie also knows when the time for fun and games has passed. The first two acts are mostly a lighthearted romp with some fun character building, but starting with the ferry scene, it’s the sharp writing and the non-stop emotional high of the third act that elevates “Homecoming” from an enjoyable movie to a great movie.
Peter Parker, i.e. Spider-Man, is New York’s youngest resident superhero. He’s quirky, sassy, inquisitive, clever, plucky, enthusiastic, and in general a ball of energy. He keeps up a facade of being a normal teenager, but he suits up as Spider-Man at the end of every school day to fight crime and patrol the city, and he loves what he does. Unlike Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s respective Peters, who were about ready to graduate high school when they were bitten, Tom Holland’s Peter is the same age his comic book self was when he was bitten by the spider, age 15, and both he and the script excel at capturing the impulsiveness, naivety and impressionability of a younger teenager. Particularly, a superpowered teenager who’s a total nerd and a fanboy. He’s a joy to follow throughout the story.
A sad, recurring thread that the film periodically returns to is Peter’s isolation and his non-existent social life when it comes to his classmates besides Ned, and even Ned as well sometimes. Peter lives apart from the other kids his age, saddling himself with the responsibility of a superhero’s life and a sense of duty that prevents him from being popular or getting to experience the regular rituals of a high-schooler. The film never obsesses over this or bludgeons you over the head with it, but it’s very much a part of Tom Holland’s character. Even in a pretty lighthearted Spider-Man movie, being Spidey means having to make some sacrifices. While his naivety usually serves to make him more endearing, the film also doesn’t shy away from the downsides of how young this Spider-Man is. Peter is itching for some crime-fighting adventures, he has a serious hero worship for the Avengers and Tony Stark, and like most teens, he can be bratty, petulant, stubborn and impatient at times.
As he grows restless and frustrated with how the other Avengers don’t take him seriously, Peter leaps at the chance to solve the Vulture mystery so he can prove himself to the older heroes. As Peter becomes more fixated on this, he becomes reckless and destructive, losing sight of his original goal, ignoring his friends’ warnings and blowing off his responsibilities. This eventually comes to a head when he unwittingly puts innocent people in danger of being killed and gets chewed out by Tony Stark, being verbally knocked down to Earth. Up until this point, I thought Peter was getting off too easily for his screw-ups. Almost sinking the ferry was one consequence, albeit one paid by other people, and losing his suit was another one, albeit still fairly light. The real consequence comes when Peter visits Liz’s house.
All of Peter’s impulsiveness and his bad decisions catch up to him in this scene, where they put him in the perfect position to be outed, blackmailed and eventually almost killed by the Vulture. In his reckless desire to live out a fantasy, Peter got too close to things and wound up paying the price, a mistake he won’t ever be making again. Buried in the Vulture’s trap, Peter has to tap into his true identity, strengthen his resolve, and rely on himself and only himself to get free, which is easily the most badass thing Spider-Man has done on film since he stopped a runaway train in 2004. With new determination and a clearer focus, Peter hunts the Vulture down and brings him in. Impressively, he saves Toomes’ life despite the man trying to kill him earlier, and even more impressively, he manages to take a few good things away from the Vulture’s mentality. Peter decides he should remain New York’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man instead of an Avenger, staying true to himself and helping out all the little guys of the world.
Adrian Toomes, i.e. the Vulture, is a welcome departure from your usual Spider-Man cinematic villains. Before now, Spidey’s villains have almost always been mutants created as a result of mad science gone wrong. This formula for antagonists worked well enough in the Raimi trilogy, but it started to feel pretty forced and worn out by the “Amazing” series (for example, Electro gained his powers by falling into a tank of electric eels). A guy in a Vulture suit might not be as physically imposing as Green Goblin, Doc Ock or Sandman, but it felt like it was time to take a break from mutants, and Michael Keaton more than makes up for his lack of powers with pure charisma, grit and menace.
Toomes starts out as a gruff, streetwise construction worker and your usual working-class man, who’s driven out of business by the events of “The Avengers” and decides to start selling alien technology on the black market partly to get by and partly to spite the law of the land. Toomes is very cynical and jaded; he hates the rich and powerful like Tony Stark because he thinks they have an easy ride through life and they never have to be held accountable for their destructive actions. He’s done a very good job over the years of ignoring the cognitive dissonance of selling dangerous weapons to criminals that could level the city and kill lots of people, so he can provide for himself, his family and his crew. He doesn’t have to see the damage after all, and he most likely doesn’t care. At his most delusional, Vulture likes to consider himself a crusader for weak, down-trodded, hard-working, regular men, something Spider-Man actually is, though Peter’s been losing sight of his original goal lately.
The fact that Vulture isn’t afflicted in any way with sanity-affecting super powers actually helps to make his character more disturbing at times. Unlike Green Goblin, Doc Ock or the Lizard, Toomes is acting of sound mind and body when he’s pretending to be a normal, outgoing family man, while moonlighting behind everyone’s back as a gang leader and arms dealer. To say nothing of the times he tries to kill a teenage Peter. While he’s at work on his real business, treating it much the way he would a construction gig, Toomes is gritty, tough, ruthless, and pragmatic. The Vulture is thuggish, vicious and implacable, but Toomes is clever, methodical and crafty. What makes Toomes dangerous is the massive difference in experience between him and Peter, demonstrated several times throughout the movie. Toomes can take advantage of Peter’s rookie status to escape him, and even lay traps for him.
He hates Spider-Man for getting in his way and threatening his way of life, but he also sort of respects him for being a credible threat and for saving his daughter’s life. Vulture’s mixed feelings on Peter stem from the fact that while he’s a selfish villain, he’s not fully evil or irredeemable. When he learns Spider-Man’s secret identity, he starts to view him as being an annoying, dumb kid. He tries to intimidate him into backing down and he tries to talk him over to his way of thinking, and when neither of those attempts work, he just tries to get rid of him. In the end, after everything Vulture did to him, Peter still chooses to save his life when Toomes’ greed nearly gets him killed. And since Peter has done him a solid twice now, Toomes chooses to protect his identity while he’s in prison – a move that could mean several different things, and leaves the future of this character and his rivalry with Spider-Man up in the air for the sequels.
Ned Leeds is Peter’s nerdy, ditzy best friend. “Homecoming’s” incarnation of Ned has a very different personality than he did in the comics and a much larger role, and I’m pretty satisfied with that. Despite how often I reference the comics in these reviews, I’m completely okay with comic book movies diverging wildly from their source material so long as it results in a good story. In this instance, I’m glad to see Peter has a best friend in this continuity who isn’t Harry Osborn, since the last two series have shown that things with Harry never work out (“I protected you in high school, now I’m gonna kick your little ass!” “AUGH! YOU’RE A FRAUD, SPIDER-MAN!”). Peter and Ned are both quirky, nerdy fanboys and the designated losers of the school, but Ned is the more excitable of the two. Hilariously, he can talk a mile a minute non-stop, to Peter’s annoyance sometimes, and once he learns Peter’s secret early in the film, he quickly gets swept up in the glamour of a superhero’s escapades.
Ned is initially shown to quite superficial and it’s suggested that he might not be the best influence on Peter, though he does grow out of this. Ned hopes to be Peter’s mission control, his ‘guy in the chair’ as he puts it who gets to help him on missions and do cool stuff, and as the movie progresses he slots nicely into the role of Peter’s sidekick. Ned’s character development stems from him gaining perspective over time that fighting crime is really not a game and becoming more level-headed and mature, while Peter ironically becomes more short-sighted and obsessive. Ned starts to notice Peter losing focus and acting out-of-character, and becomes increasingly worried about him. In the last act, Ned saves Peter’s life from the Vulture’s goons and gets to live out his dream of helping Spider-Man crack a case, which fully seals the deal on endearing me to his character and his bromance with Peter.
Michelle Jones is the school oddball. Michelle is basically an artsy, emo chick who draws sketch art, does what she likes and keeps mostly to herself. She’s snarky, bluntly honest and sardonic, but she also has her share of hidden layers. She’s clever and perceptive, and she helps her debate team to score a huge win in Peter’s absence. She seems to have a crush on Peter that she tries to play off as nothing, and it’s implied that while she enjoys being a non-conforming individualist she doesn’t enjoy being a loner and still craves having friends like everyone else. Michelle has a small but very satisfying arc in the background of the movie – she grows to enjoy the companionship of Peter, Ned and the debate team and feels a lot more fulfilled and accepted by the movie’s end than she was before. From the nickname she drops at the end, Michelle seems to be the MCU’s equivalent of Mary Jane Watson, and I am onboard with Peter x Michelle being endgame in this continuity. Michelle is a nice enough character, and she has more personality than the girl Peter was interested in for much of this movie.
Flash Thompson is another character who feels quite different in this movie, but at his core very much the same. Flash isn’t a sports star this time around and is instead a smarmy, antagonistic member of Peter’s debate team, who hates Peter for a being a loser and for being smarter than him. However, he’s still athletic, quite dumb, a bully, a blowhard and a cowardly weasel. Flash’s mostly one-sided rivalry with Peter is a running gag throughout the film, and while he doesn’t display the intriguing redeeming qualities that his counterpart from “The Amazing Spider-Man” did, he is significantly funnier. There’s also a gloriously karmic pay-off to Flash vs Peter, where Peter commandeers Flash’s car for the climax and totally trashes it in the name of justice.
In a movie filled with fun, interesting characters, one of them has to be the weakest link, and unfortunately that someone is Liz. Liz Allan is a popular and beautiful senior girl who Peter has a crush on, and one who he tries to work up the nerve to talk to throughout the movie. To be honest, Liz’s personality is pretty bland and dull. She has a few personality traits – such as she’s sociable, she’s overly forgiving when it comes to Peter, she sneaks out to pool parties, and she’s something of a daddy’s girl – but none of them make her that interesting or unique. She’s basically there so Peter can have a love interest, and to tie together the two main strands of the plot when it turns out the Vulture is her dad. Thankfully, the movie never devotes that much time to Peter crushing on her, and the film ends with her being a romantic false lead – breaking up with Peter and moving away to Oregon, leaving Peter single to date other girls in the sequels (you know, like Michelle).
The Vulture has a few notable goons in his gang, including two men who take up the mantle of the Shocker. The first guy is a brash, unfettered slacker who often seems more like a bratty, whiny teenager than a grown man (which makes sense in a way. If he’s not going to put in the effort to be a law-abiding citizen, why even bother trying be a mature adult either?), which amusingly enough, gets him killed when he pushes his boss too far. The second guy, Toomes’ right hand man, is much colder, competent and significantly more menacing due to how efficient he is, and how apathetic he often is about anything other than survival.
Tony Stark is kind of irritating in this movie, though to be fair, this is Iron-Man we’re talking about here. ‘Tony Stark’ and ‘kind of irritating’ often go hand in hand. For most of his scenes in this film, Tony comes off as distant, dismissive, and somewhat classicist, recruiting Spider-Man and getting his hopes up about being a big leagues hero only to spend the next six months ignoring him (and belittling his rogues gallery). Tony is busy running his company and working with the Avengers, and it’s implied that he’s starting to regret recruiting someone as young as Peter into Avengers business, but he still wants Peter to be trained properly and he still listens to Happy’s reports about Peter’s progress. Tony tries to be Peter’s mentor, even if it’s from a distance, and one of the most satisfying scenes in the movie is when he rips Peter a new one for causing the ferry catastrophe. By the end of the film, Tony’s estimation of Peter has risen and he’s all set to welcome him into the Avengers, only for Peter to turn him down because he feels like he’s not ready for that yet. The rejection catches Tony off guard and is also cathartic to watch for a number of reasons.
Aunt May continues to get younger in the Spider-Man movies with each new reinvention, but I really like her portrayal in this film. May is, as always, such a mom in this film. She tries to get Peter to open up to her about his problems, she’s fiercely protective of him, and she encourages him to try to have a social life. We’ve seen these traits from May before, in other Spider-Man films, but they’re particularly down-to-earth and understated here, and I appreciate that.
The direction and cinematography by Jon Watts and Salvatore Totino is impressively on point and consistently engaging for the viewer, making it the best work we’ve seen in a Spider-Man film in a while. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” looks and feels like a comic book movie and a high school movie at the same time, with an overall bright, wide and colorful aesthetic, a thrillingly large sense of scale whenever Peter leaps into action as Spider-Man (especially during his save at the Washington monument), and just the right amount of soft, personal shots lended to the scenes where Peter has to deal with problems in his personal relationships. The CGI is handled well, especially for a Marvel film. “Homecoming” understands that CGI is a helpful tool, but it shouldn’t be the main attraction of a movie. It’s used sparingly, it’s usually integrated seamlessly into the film, and most of the scenes that call for a large amount of CGI are set at night, making any rendering problems the movie might have had a lot more difficult to notice.
Michael Giacchino’s score for the film is great fun to listen to and a perfect fit for the film. Considering the sort of hero he is, Spider-Man should have a theme that convinces you that he’ll never give up and he can do the impossible, and Michael Giacchino pens just that – a diehard, triumphant and determined leitmotif that feels like a call to action in several scenes, and also a few peppy and minute variations scattered throughout the movie. Michael also composes a bombastic and intimidating villain theme for the Vulture that heightens several scenes, but isn’t quite as memorable as Spidey’s. The Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” is picked as the signature song of this film, which is a pleasant surprise since I’d heard this song several times before and would never have associated it with Spider-Man before now (and now I probably always will).
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a great start to Spider-Man’s own series in the MCU, and an enjoyable romp from start to finish. Now that I’ve grown fond of Tom Holland’s Peter, I look forward to seeing where Peter, Ned and Michelle go next in the upcoming sequel.
* “Maybe next time, don’t overextend yourself” Oh, snap!
* “We should probably stop staring before this gets creepy” “Too late. You guys are losers” “Then why do you sit with us?” “Because I don’t have any friends” Honesty.
* I get the impression that Happy is starting to get a bit tired of Peter’s constant messaging.
* Mr. Delmar, you hypocrite.
* “Why would I tell him about the churro?”
* Can we talk about how terrible Spider-Man is at keeping his secret identity an actual secret, especially in the movies? All six Spider-Man movies involve multiple people discovering Peter’s secret identity, including a whole subway train full of people in “Spider-Man 2“. By this point, “Homecoming” largely plays it for laughs.
* “Okay, okay, okay. I’m gonna level with you, Peter, I don’t think I can’t keep this a secret”.
* “Wow… do you lay eggs?”
* “So how far can you shoot your webs?” “It’s unknown” “Well, if I was you, I’d stand on the edge of a building and just shoot them as far as they would go-” It’s already been done, Ned. It didn’t end well.
* Well, that was a nice subversion of an evil villain cliche. Toomes only intended to beat Brice up with the anti-gravity gun but he winds up disintegrating him instead.
* “They stopped in Maryland. What’s there?” I don’t know, evil lair?” “They have a lair?” “A gang with aliens guns, run by a guy with wings? Yeah, dude, they have a lair” “Badass“.
* “There’s a ton of other sub-systems here, but they’re all disabled by the… ‘training wheels protocol‘.
* “Suit lady, what was that?!” “You jumped off the sign and landed on your face”.
* For Tom Holland’s Peter, literally everything is awesome (except being condescended to by Tony Stark).
* “Taking it all in, Michelle? “Oh, yeah, I just don’t want to celebrate something that was built by slaves” I’m sure the Washington Monument wasn’t built by-” *Guard does iffy, uncertain gesture” “Okay. Enjoy your book” “Thanks”.
* Of course, it would be Flash who almost got everyone killed.
* “Are you really friends with Peter Parker?!” I love this movie.
* “As you know, we made it out alive, and that’s the important thing. I couldn’t bear to lose a student on a school trip. Not again“.
* Out of all the many comedic scenes in this movie, the interrogation scene is my favorite. Peter wanted to be cool so badly, but Batman he ain’t.
* “You know Delmar’s?” “Yeah, best sandwich in Queens” “Sub Haven’s pretty good” “It has too much bread” “I like bread”.
* “That’s gonna dissolve in two hours” “No, no, no. Come fix this” “Two hours. You deserve that!” “I got ice cream in here” “You deserve that. You’re a criminal. Bye, Mr. Criminal!”
* “Would you like me to activate Instant Kill?” “No, Karen, stop it with the Instant Kill already!” She’s so bloodthirsty.
* “I tried to tell you about it… but you didn’t listen! None of this would’ve happened if you had just listened to me! If you even cared, you’d actually be here” *Tony Stark steps out of the armor to glare at Peter* It was then, Peter knew he was screwed.
* “I just wanted to be like you!” “And I wanted you to be better” Doesn’t that nicely sum up Steven Universe’s relationship with Rose Quartz?
* I always laugh at how Peter just can’t stop staring at Toomes when he realizes he’s Liz’s dad. Inwardly, he’s freaking out and he’s probably wondering if Liz is in on it all. I also always laugh at that glare Toomes shoots a terrified Peter in the rear-view mirror – his ‘I see you, boy‘ face.
* “Good old Spider-Man”.
* Imagine if Toomes’ hunch had been wrong and he outed himself as some criminal loony to a totally random teen (“I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you and everyone you love”).
* So Toomes just discovered Peter is Spider-Man, and two minutes later the Shocker is behind Peter’s school, all filled-in and waiting to kill Peter as a trap. What the hell? Did Shocker get teleporting powers at some point off-screen?
* “Guy in the chair!”
* Toomes disrespecting Tony’s mask is a nice reminder that these two characters never met in this movie, and that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
* This is cute.
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