So, Spider-Man has come back home to Marvel. Well, sort of. Sony have gone halves on Spider-Man with Marvel Studios after their first reboot of the franchise flopped. We first saw Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Now, he’s got his own movie, Marvel Studios style! The critical reaction is fairly positive, with most critics comparing it to a John Hughes movie with glued in action scenes (I’ve even read a review that calls it the best Marvel film in years). I’d rate it as the best Spider-Man since Spider-Man 2, but that’s no hard feat, is it? In fact, I left the cinema disappointed.
(By the way, let me admit, I am a huge fan of Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films. They caught the essence of the Spider-Man that I grew up with in the 90s. But I’ve tried my best not to compare and contrast. Each film should be judged on its own merit).
We meet Peter Parker shortly before the events of Civil War, and humorously join him on a mobile phone recorded video of those events. After Civil War, he’s dumped back in Queens by Tony Stark/Iron Man, where he continues to web sling and stop crime. And help old ladies with directions. Of course, being a 15/16 year old, there are high school crushes and social issues to address. But he stumbles upon bad guys using alien weapons (constructed using alien technology scavenged from the aftermath of The Avengers), and decides to delve further. Here, he meets the villain of the piece, Vulture (played by Michael Keaton). Oh, and Tony Stark pops up and gives Parker confusing and contradictory advice. Another oh, and Tony Stark also is partly responsible for the Vulture. He co-financed Damage Control, who snatched New York recovering operations from small companies like the one Adrian Toomes owned. He became the Vulture in response and started stealing alien technology.
So, the usual Spider-Man plot. Parker struggles to balance school/social life and being a superhero, fights a bad guy who’s full of shades of grey, fancies a girl who’s out of his league (but it isn’t MJ or Gwen Stacy this time. This time its…Liz!). Oh, and Aunt May is hot now, as the movie often reminds us. I hate to compare and contrast, but Raimi’s Spider-Man juggled the high school antics of Peter Parker and the superhero life pretty well. It wasn’t perfect, but they felt like parts of the same whole.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, they don’t. The action sequences simply don’t have the same care and attention that the high school scenes do. The fights between Spider-Man and Vulture are hard to decipher, with frantic cuts, close ups and darkness preventing the eyes from making sense of it all. They become a blur of CGI (especially the last fight). It’s as if director Jon Watts felt that the action scenes were superfluous to the film, so filmed them on the hoof. The only action sequence I felt worked was the Washington Memorial scene. One out of many.
The knock-on effect is that the high school shenanigans are either curtailed or skimmed past, inadvertently. Yes, the references to the high school films of the 1980s are worn on this film’s sleeve (we even see a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Spider-Man is imitating said scene, in a very unnecessary sequence). But it doesn’t mean by referencing films, you capture their spirit. I never felt that Peter Parker existed in a real high school. I never felt I was watching something like The Breakfast Club. I felt I was watching something that thought it was like The Breakfast Club, but never quite caught the same vibes.
Some of the high school parts are entertaining, don’t get me wrong. Parker’s friendship with Ned is portrayed as genuine and raises some of the best laughs in the film. But some of it falls flat, such as Flash Thompson’s “bullying” of Penis Parker. You read that last name correctly. But thankfully, Tom Holland’s performance manages to pull the movie above the mediocrity that surrounds him. He’s great as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man (although his quippage levels have dipped since Captain America: Civil War). He conveys innocence and wonder at the world of superheroes that he lives in that is adorable. Tobey Maguire used to blubber a lot, Andre Garfield…did something. But Tom Holland is a great piece of casting (especially after the misstep that was Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange).
Of course, being a film about a Marvel Cinematic Universe hero means that the villain gets short-changed. Michael Keaton is as good as Toomes/Vulture as Holland is as Parker/Spider-Man. He’s a villain born out of The Avengers destruction. Yes, that’s something we’ve seen before, but he’s greyer than we’re used to in Marvel Cinematic Universe films. He was pushed out by a bigger company and had to resort to crime to feed his family. Or, at least, we are told than, rather than shown that. Keaton impresses in every scene, but unfortunately they are few and far between. His last big speech to Spider-Man is gripping and topical, about the divisions between the rich and the poor, but feels like it should have been elaborated upon more during the film. He’s in the second tier of MCU villains. He just needed more screen time!
Toomes also brings me to the absolute tonne of references to the MCU. Yes, we are in the MCU, and this film won’t let you forget it. Whether it be Happy Hogan popping up, or Tony Stark on the phone, or talking about the events of The Avengers for the tenth time, this is a film wrapped up in the MCU. Every reference seems to be begging you to watch the MCU’s back catalogue if you haven’t already. I’ve read some reviews that feel that this is liberating and welcoming to newcomers. I’d say it is the complete opposite. It strains at the seams to tell you that it isn’t merely a Sony film, but a MCU film!
There’s more I need to get off my chest, but I daren’t go on. I did enjoy the film, even with the number of flaws I thought it possessed. I just didn’t feel as involved with the characters and situations as I did with Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films. I said I wasn’t going to compare and contrast, but I feel I had to at some point. The lightness and breeziness of Spider-Man: Homecoming gives it a veil of meaninglessness. It’s forgettable, to put it bluntly. It’s perfectly functional and not a terrible movie by any means, but the definition of average. Holland carries the film on his back, and carries it to a higher level. But he can only carry it so far.
VERDICT: 6/10. Spider-Man: Homecoming is not a celebration of Spider-Man coming to Marvel Studios, but a boast about it. It’s loud and funny, but ultimately full of hot air. Did I tell you Spider-Man is part of the MCU? Because this film will tell you, over and over again.
What did you think of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)? Leave your thoughts below!
(Click here for my review of Captain America: Civil War)
(Click here for my review of Spider-Man (2002))
(Click here for my review of Spider-Man 2 (2004))