Spider-Man: Homecoming Review
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Film Review, a movie directed by Jon Watts, and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Battalion, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Tyne Daly, Abraham Attah, and Hannibal Buress.
People my age are just old enough to remember a time when Spider-Man, not Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America, was the character most associated with Marvel. Coming of age as the Avengers franchise was still early in its infancy, superhero-digging millennials were treated instead to a couple comic-based trilogies over the course of the 2000’s, including a decidedly uneven Spider-Man trilogy that started off strong but ended in disaster with the shockingly bad Spider-Man 3. Having had the misfortune of seeing that movie back to back with Shrek 3, another headache-inducing threequel, when they both first came out, I was disinclined to see anything featuring the wallcrawler, leading me to skip the aborted Amazing Spider-Man series of films when they rolled around.
This may also account for why it took me as long as it did to get around to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest attempt at a reboot and the first to actually boast the involvement of Marvel. Yet despite the bad taste the old Sony trilogy left in my mouth and Marvel’s own mixed movie record, Jon Watts’ take on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man steers well clear of any of its predecessors’ mistakes and reaches a greatness that has been sorely lacking from the superhero genre as of late.
With a movie that gets as much right as Homecoming does, it’s best to start with the first thing it does right, which also happens to be the very first thing in the movie. A short prologue set in the wake of the first Avengers movie introduces us not to Spider-Man but to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), an average Joe whose livelihood is jeopardized when bureaucrats of the Tony Stark-run Department of Damage Control take over the salvaging operation his company was originally contracted to carry out. The scene might have been even stronger if it was just a little bit longer, but even so it manages to credibly establish the villain’s motivation, something that nearly every Marvel Cinematic Universe film released to date has failed to do.
The film follows its effective intro up with an equally effective “film by Peter Parker” (Tom Holland). Shot over the course of several days on Peter’s phone, this shake-heavy sequence quickly recaps his involvement in Captain America: Civil War and, more saliently, captures the excitement and confusion that Peter must be feeling at this critical stage of his life. With its vague vantage points and found footage feel, this segment indicates that how the story is told is just as important as what it tells, further imbuing the film with a cinematic quality largely unseen in its formulaic, risk-averse predecessors.
At this point, you’d think that the film is solid enough as it is, but Holland elevates it to a whole other level with his unparalleled performance as the eponymous wallcrawler. Having doubts about the inarguably cool Holland’s ability to play the physically and emotionally-awkward Peter or his arachnoid alter ego since I saw the first trailer, my reservations melted away the moment he first donned the spider-suit. Cracking a joke in his sarcastic, boyish voice as he gets the drop in on some petty crooks, Holland makes it impossible for viewers to think the man (or the CGI sprite, as it may be) on screen is anything less than Spider-Man in the flesh. Indeed, Holland’s ability to carry extended FX-laden scenes with nothing more than his voice and physical mannerisms (to say nothing of the non-mocap CGI scenes, where he uses only his voice) speaks to the strength of his connection to the character and the depth of his performance.
This depth extends to Holland’s take on Peter as well, which has to be the most convincing interpretation of the character by an actor on the big screen. Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Peter was basically a nerd by virtue of being written as a nerd, Holland’s Peter is a nerd because his interactions with other students mark him as such. There’s no scene like that in the original Spider-Man trilogy where Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane helpfully identifies Maguire as “such a nerd”: Holland’s indecisiveness towards his crush Liz (Laura Harrier) and the moniker of “Penis Parker” thrown at him by Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) make it very clear where he lands on the social hierarchy. By refusing to fall back on stereotype, the film gives Holland a lot of room to move around and make Peter Parker live and breathe like a real person.
Holland isn’t the only one to keep an eye out for though. Indeed, it’s hard to find fault with any casting here as virtually everyone onscreen has something to offer. Supporting roles like Peter’s loyal and only friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Michelle (Zendaya) keep the story from descending into Peter-focused navel-gazing and even bit parts like apathetic gym teacher Coach Wilson (Hannibal Buress) and small-time hood Aaron Davis (Donald Glover) help flesh out the movie’s world. This doesn’t even take into account Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr.‘s performances as MCU anchors Happy Hogan and Tony Stark respectively, with the former getting in some of the film’s funniest lines and moments and the latter appearing sparingly enough to give the scenes in which he does appear the weight they need.
But it’s Keaton who gives this mostly light-hearted romp a much-needed edge. As the Vulture, that most villainous of birdmen, the Birdman star takes one of the most embarrassingly gimmicky enemies from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery and makes him an armor-winged Everyman, bent on nothing more than supporting his family and living life like he always did before the world around him changed. Leagues away from the crazy, megalomaniacal villains we’re so used to seeing in Marvel films, Toomes is unsettlingly composed and disturbingly convincing with his appeals to Peter (and indirectly, the audience’s) sense of disenfranchisement at the hands of the political and business elites who send us “to fight their wars” and flout the laws that give them power in the first place. Toomes’ populist rhetoric will remind many viewers of a certain 45th president of the United States, but the film avoids cheap political potshots and grants Toomes a consideration not often shown to his fellow Marvel villains.
The theme of change is a recurring one throughout Homecoming, with Toomes hardly being the only one feeling the bum end of it. Glover’s Davis is unimpressed by the Chitauri knock-off weaponry Toomes’ henchmen offer him, expressing a preference for simpler, more robbery-friendly tools and later admitting to Spider-Man that he doesn’t want their high-tech armaments on the streets, reflecting the concern of petty thugs like Davis that there might not be a place for them in a world where costumed madmen can vaporize the neighborhoods they lord over. The motif of change needn’t always be so literal however, with Peter’s racially diverse school and even the casting of the Hispanic Revolori as the traditionally white Flash implicitly invoking the subjects of multiculturalism and integration. This change is pronounced even in Peter’s life, as he adjusts to not only being a superhero but a high schooler as well, working to balance the power and responsibility that famously come with being Spider-Man with his regular commitments to school and friends. The MCU, with its cosmic conflicts and ensuing social disruptions, may be terrifying to desperate souls like Toomes and Davis, but to those determined to face it head on like Peter Parker, it’s full of potential and promise.
That being said, it’s a superhero movie first and foremost, and it prudently leaves it to the viewer to reach their own conclusions regarding any commentary it offers. Its chief concerns are delivering an entertaining experience and injecting much-needed life into the franchise and genre it’s part of, accomplishing both with a fitting sense of panache. They’re obviously very different films, but it’s no exaggeration to say that Spider-Man: Homecoming is the greatest superhero film since The Dark Knight.
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