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Spider-Man: Homecoming: A Review

Okay, first things first. I’m going to be blunt about this. 1) It’s not 1964 anymore. That should be obvious, considering that I wasn’t born yet in that year and I’m well into my forties now. 2) Peter Parker and his Aunt May live in an apartment in Queens in New York City. Why am I pointing these two very basic things out? Well, unfortunately it’s because I’m imagining some objections to the nature of the new Spider-Man reboot from people who want its supporting characters to adhere firmly to those presented in the comic book stories of the sixties through the nineties. Look, I get it. I grew up in the eighties firmly entrenched in that well-established classic Spider-Man world. If you read my ranking of the first five Spider-Man movies, you’ll know that Sam Raimi’s films were my favorites there in part due to their stylistic and character similarities with those books I read as a teenager. But if you’re going to present a teenaged webhead set in the current day, some changes are just going to have to be made. Are we on the same page with this? Great. Let’s talk about the new movie then.

It is in part due to these changes that this new Spider-Man film is easily one of the best we’ve seen yet. If you are hoping for no spoilers at all in a review I would recommend that you stop reading here and go ahead and see the movie. It has my unreserved recommendation even if it’s not absolutely perfect. If you’re okay with some very mild spoilers, then read on!

This iteration of Spider-Man smartly avoids the well-known origin story and instead spends its time on showing the fifteen year-old central character struggling with adjusting to his new super hero life. He has both outsized expectations and undersized competence. You know, sort of like a real life fifteen year-old would. It’s actually pretty frustrating sometimes watching Spider-Man stumble in situations we’ve seen him knock out of the park so many times before. But that’s actually a pretty big part of the story here. Peter’s status as a super-powered being who doesn’t yet really know how to handle himself and hasn’t matured into the role he’s destined to play is not just entirely appropriate, but central to who the character is.

Anyone who has read any of the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics (I caught many of them in reprints when I was a comics reader back in the eighties) knows that this is actually pretty accurate to that early iteration of the character. He had a tendency to make some pretty stupid or foolish mistakes sometimes and he pretty much always got his head handed to him the first time he faced one of his growing cadre of super villains. It was only with experience and maturation that Spider-Man grew into the confident and ultra-competent hero he had become by the time I was reading his books. There was always a suggestion that his powers were growing as he learned life lessons – and there is a version of an iconic Spider-Man moment from 1966 that drives this point home here in this movie.

You’ll also notice that the movie spends a significant amount of time establishing Peter’s life in high school. Yet again, this is an element that was also present in the earliest Spider-Man books which were almost as concerned with Peter Parker’s love life as they were with his exploits as Spider-Man.

In this version of Spider-Man, Peter’s best friend is Ned Leeds as played by Jacob Batalon. If you’re one of those readers of the classic books, you’ll notice that the character is pretty different on first glance. As one of those readers I’m going to argue that this version of Ned is far superior to the boring character from the early books and also preferable to the rage-filled jerk he became later on. As presented here, Ned supplies Peter with a confidant his own age who serves the story as the voice of his more immature impulses while still being a dependable, smart, and loyal friend. He pokes and prods, but ultimately respects his friend’s boundaries. That’s pretty refreshing in the current age of comedy films that seem to think an utter lack of couth or respect for others is always super funny (it’s really really not).

And make no mistake, Spider-Man: Homecoming is at times one of the funniest films in the entire Marvel universe. Word is that the head honchos at Marvel saw this reboot of the wall-crawler as their chance to make a John Hughes style teen dramedy. Sony, on the other hand, was keen to focus on the action elements it felt were key to attracting audiences and sending them out satisfied. The resulting movie does a very good job at integrating these two approaches to the character and giving you a pretty well-rounded take on the character and his world. While the big picture stakes of the action are relatively small in comparison to the Avengers films, the ease with which Tom Holland’s Peter/Spider-Man can be related to manages to keep us fully invested in the action scenes and uncertain of how they will turn out.

Adding to this uncertainty is the wonderful adaptation of the classic, but ultimately second-tier villain The Vulture. By the time I was reading in the eighties, the Vulture was one of the villains Spider-Man had graduated past. This was true to the point that he actually only had any trouble with Vulture when there were other distractions or villains around. Writers of the comics seemed to always need to arrange for something else to be going on in order to prolong any Vulture story. If it was a simple one-on-one melee, Spider-Man tended to wipe the floor with the winged senior citizen pretty easily.

That is most decidedly not the case here. Peter’s neophyte status and the Vulture’s strength, wide range of weapons, and utter ruthlessness combine to make him more than a match for Spider-Man. Michael Keaton’s presence in the role sure doesn’t hurt either. His Vulture is a small businessman picking over the remains from the Chitauri attack on New York in the first Avengers movie and a man with his own understandable point of view on his own motivations and the implications of Spider-Man’s interference. He is both relatable as a character and terrifying as an adversary for Peter.

So, what were the movie’s weaknesses? Well, I must admit to being a little confused by the timeline. The Chitauri invasion was presented in The Avengers in 2012, and I don’t remember any indication that the events of that film took place in any year other than 2012. But Spider-Man: Homecoming very clearly indicates that the attack happened eight years prior to the primary events it presents. Are we looking at stuff going on in the year 2020? What’s going on with that? I also have to admit that I found some of the execution of the final battle between Spider-Man and The Vulture to be a little unsatisfying. I won’t go into detail here about why I feel that way other than to say that it could have been easily fixed.

My one disappointment about how the character is presented has to do with how this version of Spider-Man was introduced. The mentor role Tony Stark plays in Peter’s life means that pretty much all of the technology he employs as Spider-Man is not of his own invention. One of the satisfying elements of the classic books was that Peter would use his scientific know-how to concoct solutions for the problems his foes were presenting him with. Often this meant that his tech was both experimental and sometimes of low quality at first. But I do have to remind myself that the Spider-Man of the sixties lived in a world in which any sort of advanced tech was a little unusual, whereas this one is very used to a world in which every teenager carries around a doodad far more sophisticated than most of the stuff Peter ever invented. Still, I’m hoping to see more of Peter’s own adeptness as an inventor in appropriate super hero problem solving.

Apart from those three things, any other weaknesses would be quibbles on my part. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a wildly entertaining super hero movie with engaging characters, fun action, and lots of laughs.

Oh, and be sure to hang around at the end for two different post-credits scenes, the second of which is perhaps the funniest and most self-aware scene of its type concocted yet.

Excelsior!

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Posted on July 7, 2017, in Movies, Nostalgia, reviews, Super Heroes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I had some quibbles with the film – some big, some small – but overall, I liked it, found it fun and entertaining, and I rank it third among all solo Spider-Man movies. If you throw in non-solo CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, it falls to fourth.

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  2. I am going to remain unspoiled until I see the movie. Hopefully I will catch it tomorrow morning. Once I have seen it, I will be back to discuss.

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  3. “That’s pretty refreshing in the current age of comedy films that seem to think an utter lack of couth or respect for others is super funny (it’s really really not)”. Well, I’m glad that was said.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked Spider-man: Homecoming. Is it the best Spider-Man movie? I don’t know. I’m going to have to see how it holds up over repeat viewings. My favorite parts were generally the high school scenes. Marvel made a good coming-of-age dramedy. John Hughes and Amy Heckerling would be proud.

    The superhero elements were well-done, but not exceptional. After watching Spidey jump and swing through five films worth of CGI cityscapes, I actually found myself a little bored by the action scenes. I don’t suppose there was much to be done about it. The computer effects were certainly slicker and less noticeable than they were during the Raimi days, but I didn’t get the same thrill out of seeing Spidey cut loose that I did earlier this summer when Wonder Woman stepped onto the battlefield. Maybe that’s because we’ve never seen Wonder Woman in action before (excluding her BVS cameo) or maybe it reflects my preference for DC Comics over Marvel. I couldn’t say for sure. But I was missing a bit of “wow” factor.

    I’m not a big enough Spider-Man fan to complain about the alterations from the source material. I applaud the decision to cast the supporting roles with diversity which reflects what a real high school would look like. I didn’t love the high tech Spider-suit. I was prepared for some of that (the story borrows elements from Spider-Man’s part of the Civil War crossover) but I felt like they went a bit too far. Tony giving a 15 year old kid access to a suit with an insta-kill mode is among his more questionable decisions. But mostly, he didn’t feel like Spider-Man when he has all these Stark weapons at his fingertips. (More on that to come.)

    I did find the 8-year time jump puzzling for a second. I guess either this movie takes place in the year 2020 or Avengers takes place in 2009. It was an odd choice, but not something I’m going to get hung up on. In five or ten years, no one is going to be doing that math anyway. I was a bit confused about the move from Avengers tower to the team’s new headquarters. The tower was damaged in Age of Ultron, then we saw a facility upstate in Ant-Man which obviously took place in between AoU and Civil War because that’s when Falcon met Ant-Man. Was this a different upstate facility from the one Happy is moving into in Homecoming? I assume it must be. Also, why is Tony developing a prototype for Cap’s new shield after taking his old shield back in the last movie? Is he making a crappier shield that he thinks Cap is worthy of? I’m over-thinking a throw away line, I know.

    I did enjoy Keaton as Toomes. He couldn’t really do much when he was in the CGI armor, but when he was playing a flesh-and-blood character I thought he brought a lot of menace and relatability to the part. To some degree, I thought Toomes worked better as an enemy for Tony Stark than Peter Parker, but given Tony’r role as Peter’s mentor, it worked. Tony sure was a terrible mentor, though.

    Which brings me back to the point I was going to make about Civil War. I have said before that I really hated the Civil War comic book. But hey, it’s kind of interesting to see how they incorporated elements of it into this movie. In the book, we were dealing with an older Peter Parker. He was married to MJ and I would estimate in his late 20s or early 30s. Tony bonded with Pete over their shared interest in science and built him a high tech suit which was referred to as the Iron Spider suit because of it’s similarities to the Iron Man armor.

    One of the story’s big plot points was a press conference Tony held. He convinced Peter to show his support for the Superhero Registration Act by revealing his secret identity to the world. (Yeah, it’s one of the most out-of-character moments in Spider-Man’s comic book history.) So I chuckled a bit when Tony threw a big press conference to make a Spidey-related announcement and Peter backed out of it. And then even Tony had to admit that was the mature call.

    In the book, Peter suffered dire consequences for unmasking. (D’uh) Eventually, he turned on Tony and started fighting for Cap’s side. Tony reacted by shutting down the Iron Spider suit much as he takes the high tech suit back in this movie. I’ll be interested to see if any of this comes into play in future Avengers movies or if the conflict between Cap and Iron Man is quickly pushed aside in favor of the intergalactic plot line.

    Anyway, all in all I liked the movie and I’m looking forward to seeing more. Hopefully Sony won’t mess it up too badly with their spin-offs.

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    • daffystardust

      My impression of the move was that it was sort of the final step in getting out of Stark Tower completely. The Avengers compound upstate which we saw even at the end of Age of Ultron was clearly upgraded in comparison in this movie.

      I agree that mostly the action sequences were not as thrilling as in some of the other movies, but some of that is due to Spider-Man’s relatively lower level of competence. I’m hoping that as his skills improve the action scenes we get will as well. I know that’s not entirely an excuse for the movie, though.

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    • I dread the spinoffs.

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  5. All The Marvel Studios Movies Ranked From Worst to Best

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/adambvary/marvel-studios-movies-ranked-from-best-to-worst?utm_term=.qqVnnAg2ml#.yy1KKx3m7X

    Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

    Director: Jon Watts

    Screenwriters: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers (with story by Goldstein and Daley)

    The most immediately striking thing about the third version of Spider-Man in 10 years is how deeply embedded it is within the MCU. In a miracle of cross-corporate dealmaking, Sony Pictures agreed to let the folks at the Disney-owned Marvel Studios bring its crown jewel superhero into their sprawling — could we say web-like? — cinematic universe, and good golly, did they ever. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark swoops in now and again as a genial, if not distant father figure to Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who’s desperately trying to be a good enough superhero to join the Avengers full-time. At least three other MCU actors pop up too in delightful cameos, and Homecoming directly references events in Civil War, The Avengers, and Age of Ultron, with throwaway nods to several others (woe betide the casual Spidey fans who show up to this movie unfamiliar with the 15 movies that have come before it).

    There is so much that this Spidey movie gets right, but what it does best is making Peter a teenage nerd and surrounding him with other teenage nerds. Holland actually looks and acts like a high school sophomore instead of an emo twentysomething with a conveniently high register, and his diverse crew of academic decathlon buddies embrace their braininess with such gusto that my heart began to soar.

    Ironically, that infectious youthful spirit drains from the movie the moment Peter shows up to the titular homecoming dance and the frenetic final act kicks into gear. Homecoming benefits enormously from Michael Keaton’s central villain Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture) who feel like a real person instead of an arch caricature, and his unexpected connection to Peter’s life makes for a great twist. But their final battle is under-lit and over-edited, lacking the ingenuity and dazzle of the movie’s crackerjack mid-story action sequence at the Washington Monument. And for all of Holland’s winning charm, the movie seems almost afraid to let his Peter feel anything other than really, really eager to finally be a hero. Still, I left Homecoming high on the potential hiding inside Peter’s adolescent heart, and I can’t wait to see where he swings to next.

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    • Spider-Man: Homecoming Vs Spider-Man 2 – Which Is Better?

      http://whatculture.com/film/spider-man-homecoming-vs-spider-man-2-which-is-better?rf=homepage

      Tobey or Tom? It’s time to decide.

      Spider-Man: Homecoming has enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success since its recent release, and most importantly, it’s restored audience confidence in the web-slinger after his last three solo movies were, well, not so great.

      Opinion seems somewhat divided, however, on exactly where the movie stands, some deeming it the best Spider-Man movie to date, while others attest it’s not quite as good as what’s commonly regarded as the best Spidey movie, 2004’s excellent Spider-Man 2.

      By examining every aspect by which these films can be judged, from direction to acting and even the music, it’s time to figure out which one truly is the king of the Spidey movies.

      Does Sam Raimi’s superhero classic still stand tall, or has Homecoming’s witty update made it feel thoroughly old-hat? Is Tobey Maguire still the definitive Spider-Man, or has Tom Holland managed to wrestle it away from him?

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