Review: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is an Exciting Return to Form for the Hero

Saturday, 08 July 2017 - 11:15AM
Marvel
Spider-Man
Spider-Man: Homecoming
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Saturday, 08 July 2017 - 11:15AM
Review: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is an Exciting Return to Form for the Hero
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Marvel/Sony
Ignore all of the talk about endless Spider-Man reboots, and how this newest movie gives us the hero's second reboot within ten years. Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Homecoming is easily the most fun Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2 way back in 2004, and that's what matters.

There's no radioactive spiders or Uncle Bens here, though the movie starts with a short but entertaining recap of Spidey's role in Captain America: Civil War, narrated with breathless excitement by Tom Holland as Peter Parker. As a high-schooler, he's still young and inexperienced, and he looks at big shot Avengers like Iron Man with the same wide eyes as the kids in the audience. In a Marvel Cinematic Universe filled with grown men, having a teenager in high school makes for a fresh story the MCU hasn't told yet, and when Peter's mask is off, the focus is usually on his terrible social life in school, which could make for a charming high school comedy on its own.

While some moments are easy to see coming, especially if you've seen all the trailers, there are plenty of surprises that the marketing steered clear of, especially toward the end. In particular, the ads plastered Robert Downey Jr. in his Iron Man armor nearly everywhere, and while he's certainly an important presence for Peter Parker - after all, he gave Peter a fancy new suit and planted the seed in his head that he might become an Avenger  - Iron Man's actual screen time isn't too significant. Where Tony Stark had a big enough role in Civil War that it was basically an Avengers movie and not a Captain America movie, this is still very much Spider-Man's adventure and Stark only appears when he's needed.

As you may have seen in Civil War, Holland is having the time of his life playing this role, using that wide-eyed enthusiasm to be the skilled-but-undeniably-dorky hero that Peter/Spider-Man is meant to be. Or, mostly skilled: this Spider-Man is still new to crimefighting, being the kind of hero who can chase down a bike thief but be clueless about where to return the bike, and when he tries to swing from a web, sometimes it misses that rooftop and he faceplants. The idea seems to be that he's making mistakes any teenager would make here, because dammit, they're new to this.

It helps that Holland's young enough to believably look like a teenager (he's currently 21), an area where previous actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield didn't shine so brightly. And where Maguire was a great Peter Parker but not always charming enough to play Spidey, while Garfield played a great Spidey but couldn't look nerdy as Peter no matter how hard he tried, Holland nails both aspects of the character. If there's one thing the character was missing, Spider-Man's nervousness meant there were precious few wisecracks throughout the movie, which seems like a notable oversight - one reason villains hate Spider-Man so much is because he never shuts up.



The rest of that cast is also great: Peter's best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) is just as lovable of a dork as Peter is, stealing several scenes with his even greater enthusiasm over Peter's "internship" with Stark Industries. Some odd new takes on characters end up working well, like Marisa Tomei as a younger Aunt May who wants to be a "cool mom" figure in Peter's life, and even if Flash Thompson is less bulky this time (played by Tony Revolori from Grand Budapest Hotel), he's still a huge jerk. A special shoutout goes to Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan, who's been suffering as Tony's assistant since Iron Man in 2008 (which Favreau directed).

In fact, for all the talent Marvel and Sony found, some of that talent got inexplicably pushed aside. Celebrities like Zendaya and Donald Glover did what they could with the few minutes they were given, and the various teachers (played by comedians like Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr) made good use of their few lines of dialogue. It's a shame, since some other characters with lots of dialogue, mostly Spider-Man's AI assistant (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), felt completely unnecessary and sucked up a bit too much of the movie's two hour runtime.

 
Homecoming does fix one thing, however, that nearly every Marvel movie has struggled with - the villain, who has a nasty tendency to be boring and forgettable. Even if you loved Guardians of the Galaxy or Doctor Strange, can you even remember the villains' names? But Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes, "The Vulture," feels like the first villain in ages that Marvel even attempted to make sympathetic, and it pays off. Here, Vulture is a blue-collar family man whose salvaging business is destroyed by rich hotshots like Stark - much like Spider-Man is just an unlucky kid, Vulture is just an unlucky guy, and it makes both of their stories that much more personal. Turns out, giving the villain a motivation that isn't "destroy/conquer the world" is a decent way to make that villain more relatable.

As the title suggests, Spider-Man: Homecoming has no plots involving world-ending threats, just a kid with dreams of being an Avenger and dreams of getting a date for his school dance. But it also has plenty of web-swinging and acrobatics alongside the high school drama, and while nobody ever says "With great power comes great responsibility," that theme is still present the whole time. Even if some "great responsibility" talk comes from Tony, who admits that he's the least responsible person ever - but he hopes Peter can be better, which he'll need to be if he's the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is currently in theaters.

via GIPHY

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