Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Review
A CELEBRATORY HOMECOMING
The Marvel superhero character Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker) has been done his circuit on the big screen for many years, with different iterations being brought to each installment of everyone’s favorite webslinger. Based on its comic book source material, which was created by Marvel legend Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man made his leap onto the silver screen back in 2002 in the film Spider-Man with actor Toby Maguire playing the title character as well as actress Kristen Dunst as Mary Jane, and actor James Franco as Harry Osborne. This first cinematic iteration (at the so-called “Dawn of the Superhero film” genre we all know of today), received positive reviews and was high successful at the box office (roughly making $820 million globally), which prompted the studio to churn out two more follow-up sequels with 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and 2007’s Spider-Man 3. After that, Sony / Columbia Pictures (the studio behind these films) went silent with character of Spider-Man, observing (and watching) as now popular Marvel Cinematic Universe began to grow and dominate the box office; amassing comic books rights for their films and gaining a steady incline of moviegoer fandom. It was soon decided that Sony Pictures would return to the superhero genre by “rebooting” their Spider-Man franchise from scratch and released The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, with actor Andrew Garfield playing the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man and actress Emma Stone playing his love interest of Gwen Stacey. The film did make a splash with critics and fans and amassed a very profitable return (over $750 million at the global box office), which prompted the studio make a sequel film with 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. After that, however, Sony Pictures had several ideas planning for Spider-Man, ranging from another sequel, to spin-offs, and even rebooting franchise again, but nothing ever material realized as Marvel’s MCU, which now was under the control of parent company Disney, continued to flourish and expand. Eventually, after some time and many rumors, Sony / Columbia Pictures and Disney finally came to an agreement with the rights to Spider-Man, allowing the character to appear in the MCU franchise and did so in 2016’s blockbuster juggernaut Captain America: Civil War, with actor Tom Holland playing the role of Spider-Man. Now, with this being the third iteration of the comic book superhero, Marvel Studios (along with Sony / Columbia Pictures) and director Jon Watts present the first solo Spider-Man feature under the MCU banner with the film Spider-Man: Homecoming. Does this newest Spider-Man movie deliver on launching the superhero new heights or is it time to retire everyone’s “Friendly Neighborhood” webslinger?
Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has returned to his home in Queens, New York and is back at school, under the guise of seemingly normal high school student and dealing with regular 15-year old teenage angst, including palling around with his science genius friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and crushing on senior Liz (Laura Harrier). Peter’s alter-ego of Spider-Man is very much life and the dual side of his life; now equipped with the technologically enhanced Spider-Man costume that was designed by Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) to assist Peter in carrying out his superhero deeds as a “friendly neighborhood” webslinger. However, Peter, feeling up to the task ready to leave his old life behind and join the Avengers officially. Trying to find balance between school life, superhero training, protecting New York City from crime, and trying to be on his best behavior for his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter eventually comes face-to-face with big trouble, arriving in the form of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) a disgruntled blue-collar worker seeking revenge on a society that has wronged him. Salvaging Chitauri weaponry / technology from the Avenger’s “Battle of New York” alien invasion, Toomes becomes “The Vulture”, a flying villain that’s capable of pulling off extraordinary heists, building a fortune through black market arms dealings. Eager to earn his stripes and prove to Mr. Stark that he’s ready to join the Avengers, Peter struggles to become the hero he so desperately wants to be, dealing with his own inexperience and adolescences as he tries to foil The Vulture’s latest plans.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Phew…. that was a lot of ground to cover in that opening paragraph. As I said, there’s been several incarnations of Spider-Man and everyone has a different opinion on each webslinger iteration in both character and story. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (the ones with Toby Maguire for those who don’t know) did bring this comic book character to life and did prove to have one of the better entries of superhero films with Spider-Man 2 as well as given us the best portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson by actor J.K. Simmons. However, Spider-Man 3 was riddle with problems with too many villains and Maguire’s Emo version of Peter Parker (as well as that super awkward dance number). Then came Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man movies, which I did like a bit more than Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, especially with Andrew Garfield’s performance of Peter Parker as well as Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey (their on-screen chemistry in both films did help me buy into their characters more so than Maguire and Dunst did in the previous trilogy). Unfortunately, Webb fell into the same trap that Raimi did as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 try to cram too many villains into the feature, which hindered the movie, as well as the internet leaking of the surprise twist towards the end of the film. This is probably why (amongst other reasons) that Sony / Columbia, who felt that the movie underperformed, pulled the plug on The Amazing Spider-Man series, despite its numerous spin-offs ideas and its profitable return at the box office.
Of course, things changed (for the better) and when Disney finally acquired the rights to use Spider-Man in the MCU I was completely overjoyed, especially after Tom Holland’s small supporting role in Captain America: Civil War. To see Spider-Man alongside already established MCU character like Iron Man, Captain America, and Falcon was amazing and Holland’s performance of Peter Parker / Spider-Man was definitely a highlight and scene stealer of the entire film. This, of course, bring us to my review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first solo movie of the title character within the MCU. From the trailers, the movie looked pretty interesting, especially with the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark / Iron Man being incorporated into the movie as well as seeing actor Michael Keaton as the film’s villain. Being a huge fan of the MCU movies, I was super excited to see this, hoping that this iteration of the webslinger would the best. So, what did I think of the movie? To simply put it…. I loved it. Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds on several levels acting as a standalone MCU movie, a high school coming-of-ag story, and a terrific remake film to the title character.
In the director’s chair for Spider-Man: Homecoming is Jon Watts, whose known for his previous directorial work includes several short films (The Invisible Dog and Clown), a couple of TV shows (The Onion News Network and Onion SportsDome), and the feature film Cop Car. Unlike past film installments of Spider-Man, Watts takes a different approach in helming this newest iteration of the famed NYC costumed superhero. While both Raimi’s trilogy and Webb’s two Amazing movies were more your stereotypical comic book superhero drama endeavors that pushed Peter Parker’s high school life to the background (or went beyond that), Watts makes sure that Homecoming takes the opposite direction, making the aspect of high school in the foreground for most of the movie and the MCU fanfare nuances second. Yes, there’s still plenty of Marvel superhero fun in the movie, but Watts carefully weaves the classic high school trails of being a teenager (i.e. school work, crushes, best friends, and enemies, etc.) throughout the feature and makes that particular aspect important in the movie. Watts also, along with the film’s many writers who crafted its story and screenplay, finds a narrative that feels appropriate for this character of Peter Parker (and his Spider-Man alter-ego), interjecting plenty of comical light-hearted moments that’s mixed together with superhero action and drama. Basically, Homecoming is about how a young and inexperienced Peter Parker must balance his regular 15-year old daily teenage life as well as his desire to become a fully-fledged superhero.
With this more focus on “teenage high school” life playing a large role in the movie, Homecoming (as a whole) is one of the more grounded installments within the MCU. As I said, there’s plenty of Marvel superhero frivolities and nuances to make feel a part of this cinematic universe, but Watts doesn’t indulge or overkill in that aspect too much; always returning the trials of Peter Parker, who’s ambition and superhero experience are not on the same level. To be truthfully, the film is set on a more smaller scale than other MCU films, but that doesn’t take away from the overall entertainment and well-received execution of the film’s likeabily, disproving the age of old saying “bigger is better”. Homecoming also works great as a standalone feature. To be truthfully, the film is set on a more smaller scale than other MCU films, but that doesn’t take away from the overall entertainment and well-received execution of the film’s likeability, disproving the age of old saying “bigger is better”. Again, there’s plenty of MCU crossover references to bring a sense of continuity to the film’s proceedings (including a hilarious home video of Peter’s journey to Berlin during the events of Civil War), but it doesn’t become too bothersome that it takes away from the story being currently told. If you can recall, Homecoming wasn’t originally part of the MCU Phase III saga lineup when it was first announced and was added after the studio acquired the rights to use Spider-Man within this franchise. Thus, Homecoming can stand on its own and not tied to its world-building overarching narrative of the MCU (i.e no finding / talk of Infinity Stones or any shadowy appearance of Thanos) as the movie is structurally earthbound and grounded.
In truth, one of the best things that Watts does with this portrayal of Spider-Man is that he jumps right into the movie (Homecoming) without having an elongated first act of displaying Peter’s origin story. Since these comic book characters have been around for quite some time and have taken root within other media outlets (rebooted / reissued comic books, animated cartoons series, TV, and film, etc.), many know of these origins for these superheroes and becomes a bit monotonous when each iteration for these characters keeping showing origin backstory development. How many times must be watch Krypton explode in Superman? How many times do we have to see Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down in Batman? How many times do we have to see the Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben get blasted with cosmic rays and get bestowed their “fantastic” abilities in Fantastic Four? How many times do we have to see Peter Parker get bit by a radioactive spider and see Uncle Ben get killed? I can go on, but you get the general idea. Thankfully, Watts, along with Marvel’s decision to have Spider-Man’s first appearance in Civil War, doesn’t rehash that particular origin element in Homecoming, which is different and sort of a breath of fresh air for a superhero movie, especially in his first character-based feature film.
On a technically filmmaking level, Watt’s Homecoming is a solid entry within the MCU. Like past Spider–Man movies, the webslinger’s home of New York City plays the central backdrop of the film for most of the film’s setting. However, Watt also takes Parker “on the road” with the film traveling to Washington DC. Of course, and thanks to cinematographer Salvatore Totino, there’s plenty of nifty angles and camera swoops that the movie employs in both of these settings. Everything else from production design (Oliver Schooll), to costume designs (Louise Frogley), to film editing (Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental) all good great work in their respective field, collectively adding to the technical sides of Homecoming in both in front and behind the camera. Even popular musical composer Michael Giacchino score for Homecoming is pretty good and is a great addition to his growing catalogue of film’s score.
For all the positives that this film has, there are a few minor nitpicks I have about this movie. As one can imagine, the past Spider-Man entries try to appeal to its fans and blockbuster moviegoers by showcasing a lot of visual style and flair throughout the movie. Homecoming doesn’t quite reach that same level as its action sequences, while good and entertaining, are more lighter and restraining in comparison. I’m sure that was part of the movie’s concept plan, especially since this iteration of Spider-Man is going to play a larger role within the MCU (more future installments). Also, some of the elements of the narrative are a bit problematic, especially those surrounding The Vulture and why no one except Spider-Man is after him and his gang. Yes, I understand that Homecoming takes place after Civil War, so the Avengers team roster has diminished since then, but if a bad guy, who has salvage alien tech from the Chitauri invasion from The Avengers and advance weaponry that was salvaged battle in Sokovia during Avengers: Age of Ultron, is on the loose, one would expect powerful team (such as the Avengers) would try to stop them. Heck, even Coulson’s team from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D could’ve tackled that. Again, I know it had to be like this to fit the movie’s narrative, but still…. you know what I mean.
The cast in Homecoming is a solid one, with plenty to like about them, especially with the film’s lead being young British actor Tom Holland who plays the film’s main protagonist character of Peter Parker / Spider-Man. Holland, known for his roles in Locke, In the Heart of the Sea, and the TV mini-series Wolf Hall, already made his big screen debut as Peter in Civil War (a real scene stealer of the feature), but Homecoming allows the actor to take center stage and fully develop the character in his own right rather than a glorified fan-favorite cameo in a superhero team up feature. Hollands’s young age and charismatic performance of Peter Parker is a fun spin on the iconic superhero (the most youthful version of the character in comparison to the other film versions of Spider-Man), which makes for a more convincing good-natured high school kid who’s in way over his head. In addition, the film’s narrative of making Peter inexperience as a superhero is a great plot point to run throughout the film, which makes the character more human and gives Holland (as both actor and his character) more room to grow and evolve from onset to conclusion. What also helps is that, despite all the characters that I mention below, Watts keeps returning to the character of Peter Parker as a fixed spotlight on the feature. Personally, while I liked Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man movies, I can now say that I like Tom Holland’s version of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is better and the best iteration of the character on-screen. Can’t wait to see him continue playing the roles in future MCU films (both solo features and superhero “Avenger” team films).
Alongside Holland is the other young co-stars of Homecoming who are equally both believable and likeable in their respective high school roles. For starters, actor Jacob Batalon (North Woods) does a humorous and solid job as Peter’s nerd BFF Ned, with several moments for him to shine in the spotlight with his comic angst. Likewise, actress Zendaya (from the Disney channel shows Shake It Up! and K.C. Undercover) is effectively great (and hilarious) as the smart but anti-social loner Michelle. He screen is limited in Homecoming, but I have feeling that she’s gonna be around for the future Spider-Man installments (hopefully Zendaya returns in those features). Keeping up with the high school aesthetic, Peter finds that awkward school crush angle, with the Type-A driven yet friendly disposition character Liz, who is played by Laura Harrier (One Life to Live). It’s not the classic Peter Parker love interest found in Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy, but the character of Liz works for the film and as a high school “first crush” love interest. The only character that I didn’t like in the movie was Flash Thompson, Peter’s infamous enemy, who is played by Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Dope). Granted that Revolori’s acting is not in question and I understand that Watts and the screenplay writers are trying to put a different spin on the character, but it’s exactly how I pictured Flash to be like. I picture more like how actor Chris Zylka portrayed him (look and personality) in The Amazing Spider-Man rather than a wise-cracking “preppy” kid in Homecoming.
As for the main villain of the feature, actor Michael Keaton is given that roles to play as Adrian Toomes / The Vulture. Keaton, known for his roles in Batman, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and The Founder, is fine and respectable actor in Hollywood and was almost inevitable that his talents who one day grace a MCU film (I suspected he would be a bad guy of some sort). Keaton does have that way of acting as villain (see him as Ray Kroc in The Founder) and sure delivers at being a sizable threat to the inexperience Peter Parker. When it comes villains, the MCU movies have had fair share of problems with them, who are usually played by talented individuals, but are usually underdeveloped characters as the film is usually more focused on its protagonist rather than its antagonist. Thankfully, but still not outshine Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the character of Adrian Toomes is definitely one of the more better and fully-developed villains within the MCU. Toomes is an indeed a bad guy, but the character, like most of Homecoming, is grounded in reality. He’s not a super megalomaniac comic book villain with world domination on its mind, or loss his insanity to a “freak accident” gone wrong, or a puppet to a “behind the curtain” person, he’s just a man that was wronged and frustrated with how society treats those more privileged than him. This whole background aspect to his character as well as Keaton’s solid performance, makes Adrian Toomes a compelling and interesting baddie to watch. While other past Spider-Man movies used more bigger and more iconic bad guys (i.e Rhino, Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Electro, Lizard, Venom, etc.), it’s interesting that Homecoming decided to choose The Vulture, a lesser known Spider-Man villain. I, for one, glad that they decided to do this as it gives a more obscure bad guy to shine in the movie with the possibility of saving the more “bigger” enemies of Spidey for future installments.
Homecoming also sees the return of two MCU veterans (both major and minor characters) with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark / Iron Man and actor / director Jon Favreau as Tony’s assistant / driver Happy Hogan. Downey Jr, known for his roles in Chaplin, Sherlock Holmes, and The Soloist, continues to the one of the driving forces within the entire MCU as Tony Stark (the other, of course, being Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America) and further proves that with his involvement in Homecoming as Peter’s sort of a superhero “parental figure”. Thankfully, despite the marketing campaign for the movie heavily featuring him, Downey’s Tony Stark only appears sparsely in the film as a minor character. This is a good thing because it allows the film to rest squarely on Holland’s Spider-Man character, which it should, and gives the role of Tony Stark / Iron Man only as a large cameo appearance in the film. As for Favreau, known for directing / starring in Iron Man (and its sequel) as well as The Jungle Book and Chef, delivers probably the largest role we’ve seeing of Happy Hogan within a MCU film, which is kind of fun to see, especially with Favreau way of delivering his lines.
If Downey’s Tony Stark acts as a somewhat “parental figure” to Peter in the movie, then actress Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is the more traditional parental figure to the character. Tomei, known for her in The Wrestler, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and The Lincoln Lawyer, is, more or less, delegated to being a supporting character in the film and does a good job in the role. As a side-note, with Holland’s being the youngest actor play the role of Spider-Man, Tomei is youngest portrayal of Peter Parker’s Aunt May (a running gag on the internet). Rounding out the cast, in minor supporting roles, are Donald Glover (Community and The Martian) as low-level criminal Aaron Davis, Michael Chernus (Manhattan and Orange is the New Black) as Phineas Mason (aka The Tinkerer), Logan-Marshall Green (Prometheus and Brooklyn’s Finest) as Jackson Brice (aka The Shocker), and Jennifer Connolly (Blood Diamond and A Beautiful Mind) as Spider-Man’s voice command suit A.I. Karen (similar to Jarvis or Friday in Stark’s Iron Man suit) or known as “suit lady”.
Lastly, it won’t be a MCU movie without having something to watch at the end of the film as Homecoming as two Easter Eggs scenes (a mid-credit scene and a one at the end of the credits)..
Peter Parker’s Spider-Man swings back into action and faces the trails of becoming a fully-realized superhero as well as a typical high school teenager in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Director Jon Watts newest film brings a new iteration to the famous webslinger, working as both a high school comedy and a MCU comic book tale about a youthful, but inexperienced superhero. The movie doesn’t necessarily move the MCU’s overarching story forward, but ultimately succeeds at being more of a standalone entry in this franchise rather than being dependent on its own cinematic universe world-building and “larger story” components. While the film may not be as boisterous and high-styled action as other Spider-Man or MCU features, Homecoming does deliver on an impressive smaller scale adventure, thanks its narrative been told, Watt’s direction, and the movie’s solid performances from its cast, especially from actor Tom Holland, who is now my personal favorite iteration of Peter Parker / Spider-Man. Personally, I loved this movie. Sure, it doesn’t have the grandiose comic book feel as Captain America: Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but it shouldn’t be and all of Homecoming positive marks prove that point. It was fun, humorous, poignant, and a worthy entry in the MCU as well in the various cinematic reimagines of Spider-Man (probably the best one of the bunch). Thus, as you can expect, this movie gets my highly recommended stamp of approval. With Avengers: Infinity War (and its still untitled Avengers 4) approaching and all the rumors of characters being killed off within those installments (as well as actors who hang up their superhero costumes and call it quits), it’s clear that Marvel is gonna make Spider-Man a solid pillar for the coming “next” generation of superheroes with the MCU. Given how Homecoming turned out and with plenty of room for future installments, I certainly hope so and welcome it.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: June 7th, 2017
Reviewed On: June 8th, 2017
Spider-Man: Homecoming is 133 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments