Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Director: Jon Watts
Writer: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori
Genre: Comedy, Sports, Action/Adventure
Rating: PG-13
Spider-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War blew all of our minds just by the sheer fact of its existence. Expectations for a new Spider-Man film woven into the fabric of the MCU were pretty much a given, and the folks at Disney and Sony (who still owns the movie rights to the character) wasted no time in fulfilling those expectations.Tom Holland’s turn as everyone’s favorite wallcrawler was too good to do just once, so giving him his own feature film is pretty much a surefire success.  Nothing could go wrong, right?  Well, that depends on who you ask…

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Much explosive deadly action and hard hitting fisticuffs. One character is disintegrated to death. Some mild blood depiction at a key scene. A few life-or-death situations.
Language/Crude Humor: A smattering of profanities and obscenities that are regular but not constant. An obscene middle-finger gesture.
Sexual Content: Some mild teen flirting. A comical verbal reference to porn. Some male topless scenes. Some suggestive remarks regarding attractive women. Girls play a round of “Marry, Eff, Kill.” Crude reference to “screwing the pooch.”
Drug/Alcohol Use: Some brief depictions of alcohol consumption.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Themes: Some unchaperoned teen partying.
Positive Content: Spider-Man’s core message has always been “With great power comes great responsibility” (a line that is absent from the film). Peter takes that seriously, looking for ways to help his community and putting himself in danger to save others. Friends and family are always there for you, but you shouldn’t do the wrong thing in their name. Your true character/measure of worth is who you are on the inside, not what you wear/use on the outside. Communication is important to avoid misunderstanding and even danger. Courage and perseverance are themes.

Review

I’m just gonna go ahead and say it:
Sorry, Mr. Maguire, but Tom Holland is both the best Peter Parker and the best Spider-Man on screen to date.
Bringing just the right amount of youthful energy and awkwardness to a role that constantly demands both was no small feat, and Holland does so as if it were second nature. He often seems just as thrilled with being Spider-Man as we are in watching him be Spider-Man. It helps that the London-born actor manages to put on a Queens accent with notable grace and breezes through sharp dialogue and physical banter and stunts (he did most of his own stunts here) like he’s been doing it for years (actually he does have training in both dance and gymnastics).
But of course, as Thor: The Dark World taught us, a whole movie cannot carry itself on the shoulders of one good performance. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Homecoming has far more than a winsome lead on offer. With charming performances from a cast of ambitious young starlets as well as from seasoned veterans, we are offered a veritable cornucopia of acting greatness from all sides.
Sure, some of the casting choices will raise a few eyebrows for the purists in the crowd, or for anyone looking for some sensible characterizations. Few people are more perturbed by the growing trend among the Hollywood elites to treat ethnic “diversity” as a godsent virtue rather than an arbitrary external feature than I am. However, considering the setting, having Peter essentially be the only white kid in his circle of friends is quite fitting. What isn’t so fitting is how the alterations to the comic book counterparts is so drastic that giving them the same name turns out to be rather jolting. Here, Peter’s best friend Ned is played quite charmingly by Jacob Batalon, a Filipino-American actor raised in Hawaii. Peter’s longtime bully (and Spider-Man’s longtime groupie) Flash Thompson is portrayed by Guatemalan-American actor Tony Revolori, who’s not even depicted as a jock this time around.

It’s fine for Peter’s classmate group to be less monochromatic this time around, but why go about equating these newcomers to characters with whom they share no resemblance in either physical appearance or personality? How many brown kids is one likely to find in Queens with a name like “Flash Thompson”? If this is the direction to be taken, it would be less jarring to simply give original names to characters who are for all intents and purposes original themselves. None of this is a remark on the performances, of course. Batalon’s performance as the comical relief with a heart of gold is invaluable. Laura Harrier’s performance as Peter’s unrequited crush Liz marks her as an instant movie star. Zendaya gives a very notable turn as a socially detached intellectual prodigy whose moniker is linked to that of another popular Spider-Man character without equating the two.
Big veterans such as Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei come and deliver where it counts. There was some public backlash over the 52-year-old Tomei being far too young and attractive to play the role of Aunt May (a fact now played for gags in the film proper), but she takes charge of her place as a younger hipper version of a character who’s typically depicted as being old enough to be Peter’s grandmother.  Downey Jr. actually shows up for work here as Tony Stark, giving a performance that in no way seems phoned-in.
The real game changer is Michael Keaton (!) as a more modernized and politically motivated version of the Vulture. Keaton manages to come with a palpable screen presence of distinguished dread when milling about as a former construction hand disenfranchised from the contract work made available after the Chitauri incident from The Avengers left much of New York City in rubble. When flying about in the wingsuit like a phantasm of death and destruction, he becomes downright terrifying at times. Of course, he’s nowhere in the league of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, but Marvel’s been so weak in the villain department with their film productions that even passable ones like this ring as achievements.

You might find it odd that I’ve spent such a huge chunk of this review simply talking about the actors’ work, dear reader. That’s mainly because the actual plot of the film is simple and straightforward enough that it doesn’t offer much in the way of discussion material. That’s not really a negative remark; in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s clear that this was meant to be something of a filler arc to the larger MCU narrative, so I’m glad that it doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. I’ve been growing weary of our summer blockbusters’ fetish for citywide dilapidation, and I’m thrilled to find it largely absent from Spider-Man’s heroic escapades here. Sure there are a couple of big time climatic set pieces with a ferry and a cargo plane, but even those manage to be small enough in scope and consequence that we don’t have to think of too much being at stake.
In fact the biggest stakes that Peter seems to have to deal with are internal rather than external. Peter’s entire driving motivation throughout the entire plot is simply to prove that he’s not a loser in any respect–as a friend to Ned, as a nephew to his aunt, as a classmate, a student, a man, and a superhero. He eagerly awaits the next big mission from Tony Stark and holds high hopes of eventually becoming the newest official member of the Avengers, as many of the fans of these movies are. The way he goes about this is paved with a plethora of embarrassing failures in nearly every respect. He lets his classmates down for a decathlon event. He betrays his aunt’s trust on multiple occasions. He makes ghastly mistakes as a vigilante, reacting with exaggerated zeal to non-threats with hilarious results.
All of this is in perfect keeping with what has always made Spider-Man such a unique superhero character. He’s not a mature and seasoned crusader of justice. He’s a kid playing at being a hero and constantly trying to remind everyone–including himself–that he’s not just a kid.  Most child heroes in comic book lore are perfectly fine with their minor status even to the point that they would take it to name (Kid Flash, Aqualad, The Boy Wonder). Peter Parker has never been down for that. He refuses to even allow his title to have a stain of juvenility to it.  He’s not “Kid Spider”, “Spiderlad”, or “The Boy Spider”. He’s Spider-MAN. It is a lofty title for Peter to defend from being besmirched by his own growing pains, and he’s willing to take all the stumbles and slip-ups he needs to do just that.
The screenplay here also seems to stumble about at times in order to justify itself. With six screenwriters stirring the pot, it’s safe to assume that the writing process to Spider-Man: Homecoming was a bloodbath. The result rightly encapsulates the festering boiling plate of hormonal confusion that is high school. The internal discordance of being thrown headlong into a communal circle in which one feels not only unappreciated but maligned by those higher in the ranks is permeated throughout Peter’s life, even as a superhero. Of course, the treatment Peter gets from Stark in this regard is harsher but benevolent, whereas the bullying from Thompson and his ilk is weaker but genuinely malicious. The dynamism of these interactions rang with a token of authenticity that I’ve not seen in a while.

While Spiderman: Homecoming may not be the BEST Spider-Man movie, it is, in my judgement, the MOST Spider-Man movie. The humor and fun of the whole ride may not be necessarily the deepest and fullest MCU experience on offer, but what is on offer will provide laughs and joy aplenty with much to look forward to once the credits roll. There are some key Spider-Man elements missing, such as Uncle Ben’s death and the iconic “Great power, great responsibility” quote. Jumping into a Spider-Man movie without slogging once again through his origin story is certainly welcome to me, but the guiding principle that Uncle Ben left as a parting gift is essential to Peter’s character and should not be ignored to the point of annihilation. The ideal is not completely absent in Peter’s behavior, but I can imagine the purist feeling slighted from its absence in word. Then again, purist approaches have never really been part of the MCU recipe, so if it really troubles you here, dear reader, then maybe it is the expectation that is askew rather than the execution.

Positives

+ Sincere and wholesome depiction of adolescent awkwardness + Humble and small-scaled scope of action + Fantastic performances + Fun!

Negatives

- Nonsensical casting choices - Somewhat slapdash writing - Some key Spider-Man features are missing

The Bottom Line

I can understand some being bothered by just how “high school” this Spider-Man is, but it gets the job done well. It is tempting to call this the most faithful Spider-Man movie to date in at least some respects, even if it’s not the best one.

 

8.5

Tyrone Barnes

Leave a Reply