Review: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man: Homecoming | Jon Watts | July 7th, 2017

Third time’s the charm. Possibly the most notable absent seat at the Marvel Cinematic Universe table has been our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It became a cautious subject — a balance between the fan service of Spidey fighting alongside Cap and the Avengers, and the concept of a third continuity and second reboot within just years of the last. But make no mistake, Spider-Man: Homecoming gets it right. We may not only have gotten the definitive Spider-Man, we have gotten the saving grace in the calm before Infinity War.

Let us rewind, back to the days when superhero films were a fledgling, lowbrow affair. There was a generational gap between kids who grew up with comic books, kids who grew up with screens in every room, and studios looking for money making ideas. After literally decades in development hell, Columbia Pictures (a division of Sony Pictures) finally secured full rights to Spider-Man, and made a wild bet on its budget by allocating more money for a superhero film than ever before. What we got was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), a bet that more than paid off. Both the soulful script and the next generation visual effects ignited audiences and critics alike, grossing more than $800 million at the box office and bringing forth a new era of superhero movies. Raimi’s trilogy finished with Spider-Man 3 in 2007, just before the game would, again, change. Iron Man (2008), Marvel Studios’ first independent movie, would usher in a new age of film franchises — the concept of several independent stories merging into one continuity, or in this case, “universe”.

Spider-Man: Homecoming still - Peter (Tom Holland) on a jungle gym

I’ve gone into so much detail before actually mentioning Spider-Man: Homecoming itself because the history of the character’s treatment is vital to appreciating how good Homecoming actually is. Tom Holland, the youngest actor to portray the character, has a mighty costume to fill, but manages to do so. One of the criticisms of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man was that he was too “boyish”, and Andrew Garfield’s portrayal got the exact opposite – too edgy. Holland is right in the middle, exuding enough youthful innocence while still carrying a wit about him to get the audience laughing. Homecoming is a high school, coming-of-age film as much as it is a superhero one. Peter Parker (or should I say ‘Penis Parker’) has a solid supporting cast of adolescents that really sell the idea that Peter is still a high school student, living at home with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) in Queens. His cheery, fedora-loving best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) provides great comedic quips, and really one of the funniest moments in the entire movie. With direct references to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), it’s easy to see that director Jon Watts and all of the screenwriters understood what sort of vibe the movie needed to resonate with audiences, both in their youth and those (like myself) coasting out of it.
My one criticism of Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably Michael Giacchino’s score. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. Do you like horns? Because Marvel clearly does. One piece of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) I liked was the score, particularly in one scene with Electro where visual objects on screen lit up to the time of the music. It was a cool moment that probably escaped most viewers, but I appreciated the added sentiment. The music selection is conversely solid, sporting headliners like The Ramones, reiterating Peter’s New York City roots.

Spider-Man: Homecoming still - Vulture (Michael Keaton) in action

The theme of scale and purpose not only represents Peter Parker’s journey into becoming a hero, but also provides a much-needed freshness to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Tony Stark being positioned as Parker’s mentor, Spider-Man’s own escapades are bookended by Iron Man’s larger-than-life battles with the Avengers. But I, for one, was happy that the film didn’t focus too much on Stark — I really didn’t want this to end up as Iron Man 4. That said, John Favreau’s Happy Hogan is a welcome return, as well as one of Stark’s personified robotic arms (probably one of my favorite Marvel characters).

But the instilled “limitation” in Homecoming extends to its villains, namely Michael Keaton’s Vulture. We’re not dealing with Asgardian gods or aliens, but so-called “little guys” with technology built from the rubble that these new visitors have wrought. Keaton’s almost fatherly presence and the duality of his criminal motives test Peter’s own morality and how he approaches justice. Despite these more limited circumstances, Vulture still proves to be a threatening foe, partially due to the character’s great visual design. The action sequences are well-directed, colorful, and a lot more conscious of their setting than, say, the airport fight in Civil War.

My main criticism of the MCU since Age of Ultron has been that it’s been expanding so quickly, almost exponentially, that things had begun to feel a bit “cold”. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was an obvious exception, but it was also highly compartmentalized from the rest of the continuity. I liked Doctor Strange (2016), but it once again introduced an even greater tier of vastness to this universe that seemed too briefly discussed. I think this is, at least partially, a symptom of Marvel and Disney leading up to the behemoth endeavor of Avengers: Infinity War. But our new Spider-Man fills in that void, bring things back down to the ground for a bit so that audiences can contrast the varying levels of circumstances these heroes face.

With a good script, good action, and a good leading Spider-Boy (sorry, Man), Spider-Man: Homecoming does what some thought was impossible – take a recycled character and insert them into an already crowded universe to great effect. I won’t make a comparison to DC’s Wonder Woman (2017), but Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best, most entertaining films of the year and well worth your time.

Rating: 8.5/10

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ swings into theaters on Friday, July 7th, from Sony Pictures.