As a tremendously well paced and executed summer blockbuster, Homecoming gives its wall-crawling hero a fresh look, a vivaciously (over)confident personality, and a simple but compelling story that does a great job of fitting within existing Marvel cinema canon.
A film by Peter Parker
The prologue is paced much more quickly than in Spider-Man or Amazing–Peter is already an established superhero and is well acquainted with Iron Man/Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers following the events of Civil War. There’s no spider bite, Uncle Ben, “with great power,” suit-building per se, or criminal who gets away–the story gets up to speed without a delay, suitable for a fanbase who’s probably already seen at least 15 years’ worth of superhero films, and with plenty of toy and meme gags, Homecoming feels like it’s marketed as a love letter to geek culture, not to a boardroom, despite not being bogged down by the sorts of obscure canon details that this year’s fantastic Lego Batman Movie twisted into goofiness.
Before fast-forwarding several years, the story sets its roots in what looks like the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion from the first Avengers, with shady people harvesting alien technology for use in weapons. Their motives and that of the villain are straightforward and without pretense, giving Homecoming a none-too-subtle means of shouting, “Remember this film from years ago? This stuff still matters and wasn’t just a throwaway plot setup!” Regardless, it’s not the emphasis: Peter Parker is a comfortable if excessively zealous crime-fighter, with his apprehension of a ‘car thief’ being played for laughs. As its predecessors did, much of the film focuses on the inherent drama of Peter’s go-to-school/save-the-world balance, but appropriately for a talented but unmotivated student, the movie’s tone is usually much more cavalier and gag-friendly here instead of lecturing the protagonist and thus the audience. This adds sincerity and poignancy to the later scenes where Parker is forced to seriously consider his future–what does he want to study? Where does he want to work, and what should he do for a living? Spider-Man’s story feels relatable without becoming mundane, and while the basics of the narrative haven’t hugely changed, the presentation acknowledges that its target audience has gotten older. (In an inversion, Tom Holland–who wasn’t yet six when the 2002 Spider-Man movie released–is arguably much more convincing as a high-school student than Tobey Maguire was fifteen years ago, when he was 26 at the time. Also, the “Homecoming” aspect of the movie gets a really cute title shot and is important to the story.)
Spider-Man feels sympathetic without becoming boring.
The characterization in the film feels mostly one-note, but it works well with so many fun personalities: Parker quickly falls in love with “Liz” (Laura Harrier), effortlessly avoiding Mary Jane/Gwen Stacy repetition. Liz is well suited for him, treating him much more kindly than some of their common friends do and being much more forgiving of his repeated disappearances, up to a fairly realistic point. The film thankfully disposes of the overwrought romantic melodrama found in the Sam Raimi-directed franchise entries, making Liz’s and Peter’s interactions fun and relaxing–despite his central dilemma–instead of feeling tense or stressful. Parker’s goofball friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) embraces his absurd role and does his part to help keep the first half of the film as a largely uninterrupted giggle-fest, even if this and the film’s embrace of an aging, genre-savvy demographic have its own drawbacks for certain audiences: The film’s humor, though it generally fits in context and never feels mood-wrecking, is often very inappropriate for the younger viewers I commonly see attending these films, not in the sense of subtle innuendo but rather of overt crudities, such as Peter’s friends calling him another five-letter “P-word” Parker after he bails on a social gathering.
Other notable personalities include Parker’s supervisor “Happy” (Jon Favreau!), who is anything but, and Michelle (played by Zendaya), a talented artist with an interest in people but with a lack of social skills; unlike the supporting cast of Civil War, who often came from their own respective movie and story lines, few of these people have anywhere near enough story basis to get any significant character development, but they do a splendid job of keeping the film not only moving but also resembling the sort of goofiness that actual superpower-less teens would be expected to be involved in, without becoming too out of control or obnoxious. Tony Stark, who has clearly grown as a person from his adventures and experiences, serves as a strict mentor utterly unwilling to let Peter sacrifice his own future or overlook the importance even of his seemingly mundane life and duties. His inevitable and gravely serious “talks” with Peter try their hardest to avoid feeling like the well-worn lines of the Raimi films, even if the importance of responsibility to the main story is impossible to avoid. Stark never comes close to hijacking or overshadowing Parker’s own film or performance, however, and there’s never a time when Spider-Man doesn’t feel like it’s about Spider-Man. Parker, too, learns and grows as a person–though not as quickly or smoothly as I would have preferred, it’s still fast enough to where I expect him to bring many important lessons into any future sequels–and the moments where Peter knows he’s in way over his head and that his problems are his own fault lead to some startlingly dramatic opportunities for Holland to show off his acting abilities instead of cracking jokes.
Michael Keaton turns in a ruthless and chilling performance as the main villain despite the story’s occasionally silly treatment of his character (“the vulture bird-wings guy”), and his schemes yield some amazing-looking set pieces, including the one from the trailers featuring a crowded passenger ferry. The special effects of another late-film, large-vehicle set piece are to be commended–because of the specific context, that particular scene could have come across as corny or silly-looking but remains intense. The story is adept at maintaining suspense even during the quieter or comedic scenes, because the film never really lets the audience forget about Peter Parker’s duties as Spider-Man or vice versa (even when he himself does), regardless of which is more important. Marisa Tomei performed well as Peter’s aunt May in Civil War and makes excellent work of her screen time here, from her calm and even motherly encouragements in a quiet restaurant to her tear-stricken demeanor after Parker suddenly shows up in his room after being out of contact for hours.
Conclusion: Hot dawg
There’s a scene early in the film where Peter has to quickly navigate between hundreds of complex web configurations, where despite his cool toys, he quickly learns that “more” isn’t necessarily better. That’s a lesson this movie takes to heart, keeping its scale reasonable to the betterment of the film as a whole. Gone are Spider-Man 3’s three villains, or any pretenses of romantic rivalry or love triangles. Peter’s heroics extend beyond New York, but the story never asks him to combat a world-ending or universe-altering entity on his own when he isn’t even finished with high school.
Though the 3D adds little to the proceedings, it doesn’t get in the way except when certain characters are pushed too far into the foreground of some scenes, and the expected special effects do their job as well as should be expected from the genre, albeit with few surprises. (There is a funny gag involving Spider-Man’s webs realistically being unable to simply hang from the sky.) The film’s selfie-like approach to other entries’ first-person swinging scenes is a neat trick, even if the relentlessly fast-paced camera editing makes a few of the otherwise solidly choreographed fight scenes slightly hard to follow. The film’s use and reinterpretation of the Spider-Man animated series’ theme makes for a likable motif that fits the character without feeling too generic or unrecognizable, and there’s also a quick musical reference to Marvel’s Avengers.
Despite the fact that some story elements would probably have proceeded more smoothly if Parker were more forthright with the people in his life most genuinely concerned for his well-being, he demonstrates remarkable maturity in a number of crucial decisions as the story nears its finish, and Homecoming truly satisfies in all of the ways I would have wanted from a Spider-Man movie fifteen years ago. It really does feel like an understanding and a fulfillment of the potential of a classic story, without ever shoehorning in complexity for the sake of doing so, and as such, it comes as a tremendous, near-thorough recommendation for adults and (very) mature teens looking for a work that’s as silly and entertaining as it is inspiring.
I like bread.
Image sources (property of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, and Pascal Pictures)
This post was originally written and published for my movie review blog, Projected Realities.