Film Review | Spider-Man Homecoming
Producers: Marvel Studios, Columbia
Runtime: 133 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
EE Critic Score: 7/10
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the 16th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, due to issues of licensing, not a Disney production, but rather from Sony’s Columbia Pictures.
This iteration of Spider-Man was introduced in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, as a member of Iron Man’s faction. He wasn’t in that film for very long, but much of the audience, including me, were impressed by the MCU’s take on the character, portrayed by Tom Holland.
Unlike any of the other characters featured in the MCU, Spider-Man has already been the star of several widely-seen films. This presents both opportunity and risk for Marvel Studios: on the one hand, audiences are familiar with the character, and little-to-no time needs be spent on giving his origins or spelling out what his powers are; on the other hand, audiences are familiar with the character, and, while they are willing to see a new take on the character, the film-makers don’t have the flexibility had by the makers of Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy. There are expectations that need to be fulfilled.
That said, this film does present a Spider-Man quite a bit different than those shown in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2, at least in details. The Osborne family, The Daily Bugle, “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”: none of these make any sort of appearance. Here, Peter Parker is not a young adult but a fifteen-year-old boy. His uncle, Ben Parker, is never mentioned, whereas his death has been a major plot point in both previous movies and in the comics.
Really, the fact that so many of the trappings of Spider-Man have been stripped away and replaced with tie-ins to the MCU at large may be the reason why the essence of Spider-Man still present throughout rings so clearly.
The film opens in New York City, just after the battle against Loki and the Chitauri that served as the climax of The Avengers, with salvage crew foreman Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) guiding his men in gathering scrap from wrecked Chitauri battlecraft. Their work is interrupted by the U.S. Department of Damage Control, led by Anne Marie Hoag (Tyne Daly). Damage Control is a joint initiative between the American Government and Stark Industries, which has been granted exclusive salvage rights for any alien technology left in New York. Toomes protests that he had already obtained salvage rights, and had invested heavily in new equipment to complete the task, but he is ultimately driven off. Toomes decides to keep back any material they had already collected, and sell it on the black market.
After the opening logos, we go forward eight years to see Peter Parker (Tom Holland) making a video diary of his trip with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to Berlin, where he will work as Spider-Man with Stark’s Iron Man to take Captain America into custody, wearing a high-tech suit provided by Stark. This is essentially a retelling of the airport battle sequence of Captain America: Civil War from Spider-Man’s point of view.
After the confrontation, Stark takes Peter home, naming Hogan as his contact and telling him to wait for any further assignments. Two months pass without word from Stark or the Avengers, and Peter spends his time as Spider-Man around his neighborhood, foiling bike thefts and other petty crimes. While not Spider-Man, he is a student in a STEM-focused Magnet High School. He and his friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) are something of social outcasts, targets of wealthy bully Flash Thompson (Michael Revolori). One day, while he is out serving as Spider-Man, Parker loses his backpack, which contained his street clothes. He sneaks into his home through a window, to avoid his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who doesn’t know that he is Spider-Man. He does avoid May, but is seen by Ned, whom Peter forgot was coming over. Ned is ecstatic to learn his best friend is the superhero “from YouTube”.
Spider-Man gets a chance to fight serious crime when he encounters a bank heist in progress. The robbers, dressed in masks of the Avengers, possess high-tech weapons, and use them in fighting Spiderman, resulting in the destruction of a delicatessen across the street.
Peter investigates where the weapons could have come from, eventually finding two of Toomes’s men, Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green) and Herman Schultz (Rokeem Woodbine) attempting to sell some gear made from scavenged Chitauri tech to Aaron Davis (Donald Glover). Spider-Man breaks up the deal, grabs a small Chitauri power cell, and pursues Brice and Schultz until Toomes, wearing an winged, armored flight suit, arrives, grabbing Spider-Man and dropping him from a great height into a river. Peter is rescued by a remotely-controlled Iron Man suit, through which Tony Stark communicates instructions to leave the weapons dealers to more experienced crime fighters.
Back at Toomes’s base, Brice is chastised for his carelessness in demonstrating the weapons to Davis in public, and cut from the team. When he threatens to tell the public what they’ve been doing in retaliation, Toomes kills him.
Peter ignores Stark’s instructions, instead working with Ned to track the scavenger’s plans. He finds that they will be headed to Maryland, hoping to capture more exotic weaponry from Damage Control. This happily coincides with Peter’s quiz team trip to a championship in Washington, D.C.
In D.C., Ned goes through the computer systems in Peter’s costume, finding that Stark has installed a “Training Wheels Protocol” to limit Spider-Man’s abilities. They turn this off before Peter leaves to pursue the scavengers; unfamiliarity with some of the suit’s abilities leads Spider-Man to being caught in a Damage Control truck Schultz was attempting to hijack, and subsequently being locked inside of Damage Control’s warehouse for some time.
He spends this time practicing with his suit’s new abilities, including taser webs and a webbed pair of wings which open beneath his arms. He also befriends the suit’s onboard AI (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), which he names Karen, telling her of his crush on his quiz team’s captain, a senior girl named Liz (Laura Harrier).
He eventually escapes the warehouse, too late to take part in the quiz tournament, but just in time to save his team from near-death. Peter had left the Chitauri device he had recovered from the scavengers with Ned, and when Ned went through the security to enter the Washington Monument, the X-Rays scanning his bag triggered an explosive reaction in the device, which destroys part of the elevator Peter’s team-mates were riding to the top of the Monument. Spider-Man arrives, saving Ned, Liz, and the others in one of the better executed action scenes of the movie.
Returning to New York, Spider-Man tracks the scavengers to the Staten Island Ferry, where Toomes is meeting with criminal Mac Gargan (Michael Mando). Spider-Man interrupts their meeting, unknowingly stepping on the toes of the FBI, who are also there to break up the deal. Toomes retrieves his Vulture suit and attacks with an experimental plasma weapon, which malfunctions and splits the ferry down the middle. Spider-Man tries to tie the two halves together with webbing, but his webs are too weak. The day is saved when Iron Man arrives, joining the ferry together with the aid of a small fleet of miniature rocket drones.
After saving the ferry, Stark berates Peter for continuing after the Vulture and for hacking the Spider-Man suit, which Stark takes back. Peter protests that he is nothing without the suit, which Stark says is the reason he shouldn’t have it.
Without the suit, Peter tries to go back to normal at school. He asks Liz to the homecoming dance, and she agrees to go with him. When Peter arrives at Liz’s house the night of the dance, he is greeted at the door by Adrian Toomes. He is Liz’s father.
Peter is dazed, recognizing Toomes from the ferry as the Vulture who has flooded New York City with alien weapons and tried to kill him on more than one occasion. Toomes, however, seems unaware of who Peter is, and is acting like a perfectly normal dad. He drives Peter and Liz to the dance.
Along the way, Liz mentions Peter’s history of sudden disappearances. Toomes listens, realizing that Peter disappears the same time and near the same place Spider-Man appears to fight Toomes’s men, and subsequently guessing that Peter is Spider-Man. He sends Liz inside, and tells Peter to forget about him and the scavengers. He is grateful to Peter for saving Liz at the Washington Monument, so he won’t kill him then and there. But if Peter continues fighting him, Toomes promises to kill Peter and anyone he cares about.
Peter goes into the dance, but soon leaves. He knows that Toomes’s next target is a plane shipping Avengers gear from the Avengers tower to the super-team’s new headquarters upstate, and he goes to stop him in his old costume, with Ned on the school computers filling in for Karen and living his dream of being a superhero’s “guy in a chair”.
Spider-Man finds Toomes in his warehouse. Toomes says that he’s no different from Stark, whose father built the family fortune as a weapons dealer. Toomes just wants to support his family, and will do anything to protect them. He brings the warehouse down on top of Peter, and flies off in his Vulture suit. Peter struggles to free himself from the rubble, but he eventually does.
Spider-Man and the Vulture have the big climactic fight on the plane, which crashes onto a beach outside of the city. This damages a crate of Stark’s arc reactors held in Vulture’s claws; they blow up and bring the villain down. Spider-Man saves him from the flames, leaving him webbed up for the police.
Toomes’s family moves to Oregon. Liz tells Peter goodbye, hoping he’ll get his schedule together.
Stark and Happy Hogan return, offering Peter a full membership in The Avengers and a new, even-more powerful suit. Peter turns down the offer, saying he wants to finish school and remain a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man”. Stark accepts this, saying the offer was a test to see if Peter had learned humility, and giving him back the Spider-Man suit he had taken after the ferry battle. After Peter leaves, however, it is revealed that Stark was sincere, and a crowd of reporters were waiting to cover the story of a new Avenger. Stark appeases them by publicly proposing to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Closing scenes show May finding Peter in his room putting on the Spider-Man costume, and Toomes running into Mac Gargan in prison. Gargan asks if Toomes ever found out who Spider-Man was, to which Toomes responds that he has no idea.
I think that a key part of the MCU is the fact that these films are superhero movies, but they aren’t just superhero movies. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a superhero spy thriller, Ant-Man was a superhero heist film, the Thor sub-franchise are fantasy films. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a superhero high-school comedy-drama sort of thing. It has a lot of very funny moments, moreso even than Ant-Man had. A lot more time is spent on Peter Parker as a high school student than we’ve really seen before in a Spider-Man film (which have been coming out every few years for about fifteen years by now).
Overall, the story flowed pretty well. Fight scenes would often just sort of happen, but that has to do with the nature of Spider-Man’s crime fighting style. Of the non-Avengers, post-Avengers MCU films, this has probably the best reason why the Avengers aren’t helping the main hero: the Vulture isn’t a global threat, he’s a local New York criminal, so the Avengers don’t need to deal with him. He is, however, enough of a threat to be a good villain for this Spider-Man, who is inexperienced and not anywhere near at the level of the Avengers.
In addition, the twist of the movie, when Toomes opens the door for Peter on prom night, was genuinely effective. Back in my review of Star Trek: Beyond I mentioned that the big twist concerning the villain of that film didn’t meaningfully affect the plot. That is not the case here. When Spider-Man and Vulture each come to realize who the other is in their private life, it changes their relationship. And while Spider-Man’s resolve to stop the Vulture’s activity doesn’t really lessen, I think his desire to destroy him does, as evidenced by his saving of Toomes from death in the ending fight. Previously in the film, Peter had shown little regard for the well-being of the criminals he fought; he hadn’t killed anybody, no, but he hadn’t gone out of his way not to harm anybody either. I’m interested to see how Peter’s experience learning that Vulture was a person with his own loved ones whom he was willing to fight for will affect his view of Captain America by the time of their inevitable meeting in Infinity War.
Before I start to break down my thoughts on Spider-Man, I’d like to say this much about the Vulture: Michael Keaton plays the best villain Marvel has put out in quite some time, possibly ever. His motivations are clear, his reasoning is sound (if morally bankrupt), and, when he needs to be, he is genuinely frightening, all the moreso because he’s a grown man facing off against a high school kid.
If this film were like many other MCU films, the villain would have been an evil businessman with a bigger, more weaponized Spider-Man suit. Toomes maintains his own identity independent of Spider-Man. It was clever to expand on the Vulture theme by making the character a scavenger by trade as a salvage worker (In the comics, Adrian Toomes was an electrical engineer.) It was also clever to feature him in this first MCU Spider-Man film as the first big threat Spider-Man faces, as he was the first traditional costumed supervillain Spider-Man faced in the comics.
I even really liked his costume design; his flight suit looked handmade-in-a-garage without looking rickety. I could believe that it would allow flight in real life. I’m not sure it would, but it looked more believable than, say, Iron Man’s suit.
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is an interesting kind of superhero: the well-meaning-but-incompetent superhero. The early scenes of the film show that, even when fighting daylight petty crime, Peter is in way over his head. He can hold himself in a fight well, due to his powers, but he has no idea how to actually stop crime, or even how to spot crime, as shown when he stops a man picking a car lock only to be angrily told that it’s the man’s own car by him and his neighbors (Hi, Stan Lee).
Overall, Peter doesn’t change much over the course of the film. The main change I did see was that he slowly comes to realize that being a superhero isn’t a game, that his actions can cause harm to himself and others, and that an important part of being a superhero is knowing when to take those risks and having the humility to not over-reach your abilities and start a fight you can’t win. That “with great power comes great responsibility”, to sum it up in a line the writers had the restraint not to use.
The problem with this honestly pretty well executed arc is that it doesn’t really line up great with the storyline about stopping the Vulture. That storyline has a defined climax, whereas Spider-Man’s personal arc doesn’t. There’s no point in the film where Peter is shown deciding to humble himself and take his role as a superhero seriously enough to put aside delusions of grandeur, it’s more of a gradual shift from “Please let me be an Avenger, please, please, please!” in the beginning to “I’ll keep helping in my neighborhood until I’m ready, thanks” in the end. It’s subtle, which is refreshing in a superhero film but winds up disappearing in the shadow of the Vulture storyline, which is much more strongly presented. And as great a villain as Vulture was, and as impactful as the twist with the character was, the overarching storyline was pretty standard: hero discovers villain’s evil machinations, attacks villain, loses, attacks again, loses again, attacks again, comes close to dying but draws on some last store of will to finally defeat villain.
As I mentioned, the MCU still hasn’t featured Peter’s Uncle Ben. Aunt May is featured, and much has been said about the character’s casting. My thoughts are this: I don’t mind a younger-than-normal May Parker; I don’t mind a more-attractive-than-normal May Parker. I do mind a May Parker who only exists as a massive in-joke. All of the supporting cast in this film are pretty flat, to be honest, but May seriously does nothing in this movie.
The other controversially-cast, do-nothing character (yes, this film has two) is Michelle Jones, played by Zendaya Coleman. The casting controversy was fostered by Marvel when they announced Zendaya would play “MJ”, which many fans assumed meant she had been cast as Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker’s eventual wife in the comics, which kicked off another changing-the-ethnicity-of-established-characters debate. Turns out that was all for nothing as Michelle Jones is nothing at all like Mary Jane Watson. She and Peter show no interest in each other, and her function is pretty limited to being the high school’s resident snarkisaurus, dispensing deadpan wisecracks whenever the film needed a comedic moment. Zendaya has done most of her acting work for Disney Channel sitcoms, and that shows quite a bit, but she was the only character like that, so it didn’t ruin her scenes. Maybe they’ll do something more with her later, I dunno.
Jacob Batalon’s character is named Ned Leeds, after a comic character who was a reporter at the Daily Bugle and (briefly) the supervillain Hobgoblin, though apparently the character is more based on (the Ultimate Universe’s Spider Man) Miles Morales’s best friend. Ned is written as being annoying, and comes pretty close the line between annoying to other characters and annoying to me, but I didn’t hate him the way it seems some people are. The worst I can say about him is that his hacking skills are unrealistic, but then again my expectations of realistic hacking skills in movies is probably more unrealistic.
The final fight scene between Spider-Man and the Vulture was confusing in its direction. Aside from the final fight scene, the action in this movie was mediocre. The web-swinging through New York was more impressive in earlier Spider-Man films, mostly because this film sees Spider-Man mostly keeping in Queens, away from the high towers of Manhattan.
Michael Giacchino wrote the film’s scrore, featuring a full orchestral version of the famous theme song for the ’80s Spider-Man cartoon series that plays over the opening logos. The rest of the music isn’t as good as that nor as good as I’m used to from Giacchino.
Recommendation & Rating
This film is a good example of why there are such things as movie stars. Amid dull and confusing elements are two very good performances by Tom Holland and Michael Keaton. I know I may have sounded harsh in my analysis, but my complaints were of only so many little problems keeping a good film from being great. Superhero fans are going to really like this, while others should also have a good time viewing.
7/10 — With some measurable negative worth, but overall a positive experience. Just above average and able to be sincerely recommended.