Spider-Man in the Marvel CInematic Universe (MCU) was always going to be problematic. When Marvel started the MCU, Spider-Man was owned by Sony ever since the 90s as a way to stave off bankruptcy and Spidey had already made a trilogy of very financially successful movies under director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, A Simple Plan). To this day, those movies are still looked back upon fondly as great blockbuster entertainment (with exception to the third film, though it is not without elements of quality). A recent reboot series has its fans, but is mostly derided, especially the second film, very much despised by yours truly. The Wall Street Journal put it best, “This franchise needs more than a reset. It’s ripe for retirement.”
Meanwhile, since 2008, Marvel has established itself a filmmaking and box office powerhouse with its widely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2015, having branched to network television with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD and a partnership with streaming service Netflix, you’d think that Marvel has more than enough on its plate. (Marvel and ABC are both subsidiaries of the Walt Disney Corporation. Netflix is its own company.)
By 2015, the general feeling here in New York, where Spider-Man is seen as a proud cultural icon of our city, was that enough was enough. Too much of a good thing. There had been five movies already and the most recent one at that time, Amazing Spider-Man 2, had made me and my friends sick of our favorite fictional hero. Then came what the world had believed to be impossible! Sony and Marvel had come to a joint agreement over the use of the wall-crawler! The reaction here was mixed. All were happy that the “Amazing” world was effectively dead, but while many were excited to see the MCU version, I was among those who didn’t care. I was just sick of Spidey either way at that point. How could I possibly care about the third iteration in just under a decade?
In hindsight, introducing the MCU version via a 10-15 minute extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War was brilliant. People got a little, but not too much. Marvel had more control over his character than Sony. Thankfully this Spidey was fun to watch! By offering an appetizer, it ensured even skeptics like me would want to see more in his own solo film!
Now it is here. The promise that it would feel like “Spider-Man, if written by John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles)” made me even more intrigued as a fan of Hughes’ classic comedy movies! Now that Homecoming has arrived, how does the MCU’s Spidey fare when given his own movie to play in?
Homecoming offers an exhilarating, fun, ground level-perspective of the MCU with a nice coming-of-age story mixed in. While not reaching the emotional or dramatic heights of Spider-Man 2, still widely regarded the best Spider-Man movie and one of the best comic book movies ever made (including by myself), Homecoming offers an experience establishing itself as unlike the previous reboot’s namesake. Amazing! A truly amazing movie!
Whoever had the final casting call for Spider-Man deserves an immediate promotion or at least substantial pay raise if they have not received one already! Tom Holland is textbook perfect casting as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, as we finally receive an actor who can truly portray both sides! Just like in Civil War, Holland effortlessly portrays Spidey’s combat prowess and humor and Peter Parker’s vulnerability. Hot off his Avengers mission in Germany, Parker struggles to balance his normal life with his superhero life, constantly getting in over his head and risking near-certain death just as his superhero career is taking off.
This causes constant stress for Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), doubling as a surrogate mother, as Peter disappearances at night cause her to worry, for obvious reasons. Something refreshing however, is that they do not show Uncle Ben’s death! I was worried they would do a flashback to it but his name isn’t even mentioned. Of course Ben’s murder is alluded to, but we don’t see it since we don’t need to after previous movies have shown it. Just enough breathing room is left however so that it’s subtly implied that perhaps an interesting new backstory is to be explained in later movies. The downside is that one of Parker’s driving motivations, guilt, is not truly present, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.
Instead Parker’s motivation is more about trying to impress his new father figure, Tony Stark. Stark is hesitant to include Parker in big, globe-trotting adventures, preferring Parker “stay close to the ground, be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. When Parker tries to inform Stark of the Vulture’s weapons smuggling, Stark seems to not pay attention.
Tomei’s casting is also a stroke of genius. For the first time in literally the entire history of the Spider-Man franchise, Aunt May actually looks like an aunt to a young adult! Tomei’s casting has been controversial for being “too young and attractive” but actually Tomei is the perfect age! This might be just me, but the first time I saw Aunt May in the comics, I said, “is that his aunt or his grandmother? Or great grandmother?” I am one of the most fortunate people on earth for having met and known three(!) of my great-grandparents growing up. One is still alive as of this review. May always looked like my great nonna (grandmother) and it was a little distracting when reading the comics or even watching the previous movies. Tomei (as of this review 52 years old) is about or around the same age as my aunts.
There is a noticeable effort to make Tomei appear older than she is. Tomei appeared just the way she looks in real life in Civil War, but now has glasses and older person makeup. I guess this is meant to be a way to either nod to the comics or subtly insult the people who criticized the casting. If the former, why even bother? If the latter, that’s lame.
Michael Keaton (Batman (1989), The Founder) portrays Adrian Toomes, the Vulture, a blue-collar salvage worker who, presumably along with numerous other small companies, previously had a contract with the city of New York, to clean up debris after the climax of The Avengers. This was nullified by a joint venture between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the federal government known as Damage Control, which effectively means Stark is receiving a paycheck for the mess he made in the first place, while those actually living in the lands where the fighting took place are being denied the opportunity to clean and repair their home and squeezed out of a job because Uncle Sam them so. As a result, Toomes and his crew decide, having been effectively forced out of a job by the people who made the mess in the first place, they’re going to make their own luck and use/sell the recovered alien tech they haven’t given to the feds.
Keaton’s natural charm and menace shines here perfectly, as he is menacing without even trying! It was refreshing having a villain who was not about taking over the world. Just a guy who wants to sell guns and make money. Spider-Man villains, with a few exceptions, mostly exist to generate action scenes. Spider-Man having to stop a guy from stealing things and selling guns instead of taking over the world or destroy Manhattan was one of the best things about the movie. Toomes wasn’t even really a villain, but to reveal exactly why beyond “the feds took his job” is on the verge of spoilers, but it resulted in one of the first surprises in film I’ve had in a long time. Between Keaton’s Toomes and Kurt Russell’s Ego, I think this is a promising sign that Marvel is finally making much more memorable villains in their movies!
Parker’s classmates are not particularly noteworthy. That’s not to say they are bad characters, it’s just that they are not as interesting as the situations they engineer for Parker to be involved in. If you’ve seen The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, or any John Hughes movie, you’ve seen at least two or three of these characters. You may have even attended school with them. Two of them, Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Michelle (Zendaya, who IS NOT playing Mary Jane Watson, they confirmed that a year ago, calm down internet), do not exist in the comics as far as I am aware. The last time I read a new comic book was in 2006b though and I’m more a fan of the older comics, so they might exist now.
Donald Glover (30 Rock, The Martian) appears as the Aaron Davis incarnation of The Prowler, who comic book fans will know as the uncle to a certain fan-favorite character. Glover mentions a nephew, but not a name, and I won’t reveal the name of said nephew because even though I know who he is, I don’t know where to start because he didn’t exist until long after I stopped caring for new comic books.
Spidey’s suit being a work of technology didn’t sit well with me at first. It felt at first like a desperate attempt at “modernization.” But then we see the suit actually serves as a plot device. To show he’s not ready to be this advanced fighter. Jennifer Connelly portrays the voice of the suit’s AI, Karen, who serves as a guide for Peter, and exhibits more personality than Jarvis did before becoming Vision (both played by Paul Bettany).
Connelly is Bettany’s wife so I’m calling it now. Connelly’s AI character, Karen, is going to develop feelings for Vision, and creates a body for herself to become Jocasta. Jocasta will be rejected by Vision because of the latter’s growing feelings for Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Jocasta will grow mad, turn evil, and attempt to destroy the world, or at least kill Wanda, and force Vision to love her. At the end of that Avengers movie, Jocasta will either die, or see the error of her ways and die, or she’ll see the error of her ways, survive, and become an Avenger to protect the world.
The only true criticism I have is towards the action scenes. They’re competent, entertaining enough, but Spider-Man has one of the most visually interesting power sets in comic books, so it was a shame that there are not more memorable action scenes. The only action scene that stands out is when Parker is in the suburbs and chasing a pair of criminals working for Toomes. The chase scene proceeds as a very funny segment showing the open secret that Spidey’s power set is almost useless outside of a heavily urbanized environment like Lower Manhattan. You can’t swing from houses.
There’s also a scene in the movie depicting an iconic scene from the fan-favorite “Master Planner” arc. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in all of Spider-Man lore and of comic books in general. Previously depicted in the Spider-Man 2, the scene had more weight there because of fit the gravity and threat of the moment. The scene doesn’t truly work in this movie because the threat is relatively minimal. You’ll know it when you see it.
In spite of these, Homecoming is a welcome incarnation of the wall-crawler! The best incarnation of the Spider-Man character ever to arrive on the big screen! The movie feels like Marvel and director Jon Watts (Cop Car) wrote a list of things that have already been done in Spider-Man movies and set out to avoid those as much as possible. The stakes are small, not too much time is devoted to setting up future movies, and the connections to the MCU are shown, but not distracting to the point it makes you frown. This movie comes out amazing to the point of being almost tied to Spider-Man 2 as the best Spidey film, and the best, funniest franchise addition to the MCU since Guardians of the Galaxy!
*Image Source: rottentomatoes.com