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Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Directed by: Jon Watts

Premise: Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, fifteen year old high school student Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) fights crime on the streets of New York City while Vulture (Michael Keaton) runs a black market of superweapons.

What Works: Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third feature film version of this character in fifteen years. It’s incumbent upon the moviemakers to provide a fresh take on Spider-Man and they mostly succeed at that. The character was reintroduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) giving the young Peter Parker his suit and thereby allowing this version of Spider-Man to bypass the origin story. This edition also reimagines Peter Parker as a high school student. Both of those choices are to the film’s benefit. Homecoming gets a head start on its story that allows the filmmakers to dig into the kind of character development usually reserved for middle chapters of a series. The premise also provides a conflict that is different from other Spider-Man films. Having had a taste of what it means to be an Avenger, Spider-Man is anxious for more serious missions than foiling petty street crime. Instead of realizing the extent of his power, Homecoming is about Spider-Man learning the limits of his abilities and recognizing his own inexperience. Making the character a high school student also allows the movie to present a character who is distinctly different from the grownups of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This Spider-Man is not cynical like Iron Man nor is he as self-righteous as Captain America but he does have Iron Man’s humor and Captain America’s earnestness and that makes him very likeable. Spider-Man’s youthfulness allows for an irreverent attitude and Homecoming is both fun and funny. Spider-Man: Homecoming benefits from some good casting. Tom Holland plays Spider-Man/Peter Parker and he brings a youthful energy to the role. The cast also includes Jacob Batalon as Ned, a friend and confidante of Peter. Batalon is quite funny and their relationship is credibly adolescent in a way that lends reality to the film’s youthful take on Spider-Man. The villain of Homecoming is Vulture played by Michael Keaton. He’s a more interesting heavy than is usually found in the MCU and Keaton’s character is an interesting counterpoint to both Peter Parker and to Tony Stark.  

What Doesn’t: The Peter Parker of this incarnation of Spider-Man is fifteen years old but actor Tom Holland was twenty years old when the movie was shot. Casting adult actors to play teenagers is nothing new (and it’s entirely understandable given the work restrictions on underage players) but Holland is not convincing as a fifteen-year-old and the movie never quite captures the full implications of what it would mean for someone this young to be a superhero. The plotting of this film gets sketchy. The story leans on coincidences; more than once Iron Man is used as a deus ex machina device to get Spider-Man out of a dangerous situation. Also, the high school hijinks of Homecoming are generic. The story includes a school dance, parties, and extracurricular activities but there’s not much imagination to it. The movie is clearly influenced by John Hughes pictures of the 1980s but it doesn’t have any of the insight into the adolescent experience that Hughes did so well. The female characters of Homecoming don’t do much. To be fair, Mary Jane of 2002’s Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t do much either but all the female characters of Spider-Man: Homecoming—from love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) to mother figure Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—are marginalized and lack autonomy.

Bottom Line: Spider-Man: Homecoming is among the best titles in the canon of Spider-Man films. It’s a promising start for what is already announced to be an ongoing series and it’s a fun piece of popcorn entertainment.

Episode: #656 (July 16, 2017)