Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

No Marvel superhero has been through the ordeal of Spider-Man on the big screen. Peter Parker’s first two films practically launched the modern superhero genre, but then after creative issues, Sony rebooted him, and audiences were less than enthused. Probably with much reluctance, Sony and Marvel Studios reached terms on a co- production to let Spidey play with his superfriends in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a true homecoming that turned out as good as either studio – and the fans – could have imagined.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” returns Peter Parker to his teenage roots as well. Played with a refreshing youthful energy by Tom Holland, Parker is presented as a sort of Avenger-in-training whom Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has taken under his wing. In essence, the film depicts Parker’s training wheels period, learning what it takes to be a hero and earning the bumps and bruises that come with it.

What’s notably missing from that summary is Spider-Man’s origin story; a wise decision given that retelling it seemed to cast a shadow over “The Amazing Spider-Man” films. “Homecoming” story creators and initial screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley still take elements of Spider-Man’s roots, but choose instead to focus on how a teenager might approach superheroism. Without being a slave to that spider bite and Uncle Ben storyline, which audiences were tired of anyway, the film gets a lot more time to develop the character in more innovative, meaningful ways.

“Homecoming” spends significant time on Parker’s high school life, namely his academic decathlon team, a diverse group that includes his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), his rival/bully, Flash (Tony Revolori), the odd girl that kind of stalks him, Michelle (Zendaya), and his crush, Liz (Laura Carrier). But Peter’s academic dedication is lacking thanks to his “Stark internship.” When he discovers criminals using odd/dangerous weapons in his neighborhood in Queens, he goes on a bit of a crusade for good, despite Tony Stark’s warnings, and his dual identities become more and more difficult to maintain.

The story allows director Jon Watts to pursue superhero film meets coming-of-age movie. Although John Hughes is a lofty comparison (one the film tries to literally make in one amusing sequence), Watts’ film has the right playful, loose and carefree spirit that echoes the attitudes of its hero at this stage in his journey.

In the scene with a Hughes movie reference, for example, Spider-Man is clumsily barreling through a suburban neighborhood, which is all the more funny to those who understand how suburbia is not conducive in the least to Spider-Man’s abilities. Much like how it bypassed the origin story, “Homecoming” smartly recognizes other ways the audience is familiar with Spider-Man and pushes the character’s boundaries in exciting ways.

The element of the suit coming from Stark Industries might deviate from the character’s origins, but it’s a device, literally and figuratively, that keeps us on our toes. At one point, Peter finds a way to hack the suit and activate its full capabilities, which allows for a lot of fun surprises. More importantly, however, is the humor and challenge of Spider-Man figuring out how to use them as a kid who has gotten in way over his head.

The greatest strengths of “Homecoming” are these subtle deviations from and fresh takes on the conventions of both previous “Spider- Man” movies and other superhero movies. No example is more prominent than the villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a new MCU-take on the villain Vulture. A blue-collar boss motivated by family and being cheated as the little guy, he and Spider-Man develop an interesting relationship that borrows a bit from the 2002 film’s Norman Osborn character. In today’s landscape on omnipotent, power- hungry, world domination villains, the intimacy here is a breath of fresh air.

Consequently, the action stays small scale: a truck heist, a bank robbery, a Washington Monument rescue and a Staten Island ferry fiasco. Rather than resorting to city-leveling, these sequences are tightly constructed with greater ingenuity, almost a throwback to the way things were before bloated visual effects budgets. This choice also hearkens to the storytelling goals of the movie, one of which is to bring Spider-Man back to his “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” roots. One would think bringing Spider-Man into the MCU would do the opposite, but the story smartly contains it while allowing it to feel as though it’s part of that bigger universe.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” doesn’t revolutionize the genre or Spider- Man, but as the third iteration of the webslinger in 15 years, its creators understood the importance of stepping back and identifying how a new Spider-Man could both emerge and thrive in a bustling comic hero movie landscape. They figured out how to restore the character’s unique fingerprint for Spider-Man’s sake and for our sake. With Holland only 21 and the character still in high school, Spider-Man now has the chance to mature and grow both in terms of story and as the genre and box-office dominating hero he’s always been.


4/5 Stars


Spider-Man: Homecoming
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, Jon Watts & Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei


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