Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds in giving fans a fresh and charming take on the iconic webslinger, now fully at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
When the first trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped back in December, my biggest complaint was that so much of what I saw felt like it was lifted from the still-new Spider-Man of the comics, a/k/a Miles Morales. It didn’t take long into the film to realize just how much of a jackass I was for doubting producer Kevin Feige’s devotion to what is widely believed to be the crown jewel of the Marvel Universe.
While there are some parallels to the story of the Morales Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming is absolutely a Peter Parker story, and the big winner here is Tom Holland, who portrays Parker with a joyful exuberance that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield virtually ignored.
Not that their performances somehow betrayed the character, but while Maguire focused on the sad sack Parker and Garfield gave us an angsty, dickish Parker — both facets of who Peter Parker is as a character — Holland’s take is hopeful and unburdened by the “with great power comes great responsibility” trope that may well be the most ponderous aspect of Parker, who at times treated being Spider-Man as an act of masochism.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we’re spared the origin story that ends as usual with the death of Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben, instead we catch up with the wallcrawler fresh from his coming out party as depicted in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
Here, Peter Parker is every bit the high-school kid who is still trying to figure out his powers after less than a year on the job, but he not only loves every minute of it, he’s champing at the bit to help out even more.
Some might be put off by a still green-behind-the-gills version of Spider-Man, but that may be the one aspect of the film that works above all else. Holland does a deft job of displaying overeagerness, just like any 15-year-old would in a similar position.
Parker just wants to help, even though the adults in his life, like perpetual manchild Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr. in more of a cameo role than the advertising would suggest) and his assistant / driver / not really sure anymore Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) try to do as they act as a virtual leash for a spider who simply wants to swing.
Marisa Tomei as a hot version of the otherwise matronly Aunt May still needs some getting used to, and it doesn’t help that her screen time is limited. Unlike the previous film iterations of the character, Tomei’s May seems a bit more aloof, and if we’re being honest, not all that fazed by the death of the usually ubiquitous Uncle Ben.
That, however, isn’t really a bad thing, given that since the first Spider-Man premiered less than 20 years ago, audiences have been beat over the head with it throughout each film, and if the worst aspect of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the missing Uncle Ben baggage, I think we might be all the better for it.
Outside of Holland’s superior performance, the film also wins on director Jon Watt’s (Cop Car) ability to stage scenes between only a couple characters to maximum effect.
For all the whiz bang action, and there’s plenty of that, Spider-Man: Homecoming excels in its quieter moments, where dialogue doesn’t feel like exposition, but rather fleshed out humanity. Whether it’s Parker and his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) geeking out over being a superhero, or Adrian Toomes / The Vulture (Michael Keaton) talking his crew into a different type of life, there’s a sense of grounded reality that works outside of the heroics.
Speaking of Keaton, his turn as the villainous Vulture has little to do with mustache-twirling evil, but more to do with simply feeding his family. While serendipitously turning to a life a crime after having his construction cleanup contract cancelled in the wake of the Battle of New York (as featured in The Avengers) seems like a bit of a stretch, Keaton makes it work, balancing a deadly serious veneer with a subtle sense of humor.
For all the things that make Spider-Man: Homecoming work really well, there are a few areas that tarnish an otherwise special experience, even if they’re more nitpicks than anything else.
Getting a Michael Giacchino score should’ve been a solid check in the plus column, and after he leaked a studio session as he conducted what sounded like his take on the classic Spider-Man theme from the 60’s cartoon, the promise of a great score was all but certain.
Unfortunately beyond the familiar coda, which appears at the beginning of the film as part of the Marvel Studios fanfare, the what remains is a limp and completely unmemorable score, something that’s largely been par for the course more often than not for Feige’s films.
In addition to the lack of screen time for Tomei, pretty much every other woman in the film is also marginalized to bit roles where they’re either comic relief, as in the case of Zendaya’s turn as the gruff and semi-mysterious Michelle, or as the object of male gaze in the case of Laura Harring’s Liz Allen. While Liz’s story certainly takes an interesting turn, when it’s all said and done, she’s little more than a plot device.
Women have always been a hallmark of Spider-Man comics over the years as fully fleshed-out characters, but here they’re dealt with more as chess pieces and exposition than anywhere near their male counterparts. While the focus should be on Peter Parker, in a film that is so hellbent on providing visual diversity in its cast, it could do better with and for the women in the film itself.
That said, Sony made a bold and shrewd decision to let Marvel Studios play with its most valuable character, and the end result of Spider-Man: Homecoming gives fans possibly the best version of the character to date.
It would’ve been simple to just let Robert Downey, Jr. drive the boat on this, making the film little more than an Iron Man sub-sequel, but this is a film that works best operating under its own steam, and the decision to recast Peter Parker once more with Holland only solidifies the film as one of the best from Marvel Studios in a stable full of gems.
We finally have a Spider-Man for this generation, right where he belongs, and at least for now, everything’s coming up Peter Parker.
Hashim R. Hathaway (Shimbo) is the host of the Never Daunted Radio Network, and proud father to NeverDaunted.Net. You can reach him on Twitter @NeverDauntedNet