‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Review: The Joy of Being Spider-Man
[Spider-Man: Homecoming is now in theaters. In case you missed it, here’s my review from last week.]
Spider-Man: Homecoming presents the third solo iteration of Spider-Man in the last 15 years, but it’s arguably the best one yet. While Sam Raimi’s movies have their merits, and the less said about The Amazing Spider-Man films the better, Homecoming takes Peter Parker in a fresh direction not only by making him a teenager (and actually investing in that world rather than using it as a backdrop), but by letting him run towards being Spider-Man rather than wrestle with the weight of his responsibilities. Raimi’s movies couldn’t resist Peter seeing his powers as both a blessing and a curse, and the Marc Webb films are too busy weaving a conspiracy plot, but Jon Watts’ picture features a young hero desperate to prove himself and having a blast while doing it.
After quickly recapping the events of Captain America: Civil War from the POV of young Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who clearly had relished being part of the action, he’s dropped off back home in Queens and told that he should keep in touch with the cantankerous Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). After two months of expecting Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to call, an antsy Peter comes across some dangerous high-powered weapons, which leads him to tracking down the scavenger Adrian Toomes a.k.a. Vulture (Michael Keaton). As Peter tries to maintain his friendship with pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), pursue crush Liz (Laura Harrier), and keep his identity secret from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he also starts taking greater risks to bring down Toomes and his crew.
The best word to describe Spider-Man: Homecoming is “fun.” It’s a joyous, effervescent picture that may not have the thematic heft of darker pictures like Logan and The Dark Knight, but nevertheless forges its own identity within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a hefty helping of the MCU’s primary virtue: humor. It’s a movie that will have you laughing throughout even though it’s not technically a comedy. Other Marvel films are busy spinning epic yarns, but Homecoming is very comfortable keeping its hero close to the ground.
While the Marvel Netflix series have touted their identity as “street-level heroes,” the Spider-Man of Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a better realization of that promise. He’s still got superpowers, and he’s working against a powerful villain that can wreak havoc, but Watts always wants us to know that this Spider-Man lives among us. He’s not a billionaire or a demigod or a super soldier. He has superpowers, but he’s also visiting his local bodega and swinging through the suburbs. Homecoming is a movie that emphasizes the “neighborhood” part of “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
For some, that may sound like the movie has lower stakes, but if anything, it gives this Spider-Man a unique identity to the point where his struggle feels far more character driven. Other Spider-Man movies are about the angst of being Peter Parker, but Homecoming is about the desire to grow-up and be a part of something bigger. Civil War gave Peter a taste of something greater than himself, and now he desperately wants to stay at that level even though he’s not ready for it. You also kind of feel for the kid because he could desperately use a mentor, and Tony Stark is rarely around.
As a side note, Tony has always been one of the more nefarious personalities of the MCU, but Homecoming really piles it on. The movie notes that he basically gave a teeanger a super-powered suit, no guidance, and barely any supervision. When Peter repeatedly tries to tell Happy and Tony that there’s a guy dealing superpowered weapons, Tony’s response is that Toomes is too small-time for The Avengers but too big for Spidey. Later, when Tony gets frustrated with Peter, he says he wishes Peter could have been better than him, but never does anything to make that happen. In a weird way, Tony is the epitome of what Peter should never be—great power with no responsibility.
Thankfully, Tony isn’t around too much to sour up the joint and the movie trusts that Holland can carry the picture. He was immensely likable in Civil War, but Homecoming shows why he’s been entrusted with the franchise. It’s not just that he’s young or enthusiastic; it’s that he has an eagerness to jump into danger. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both good Spider-Men, but Holland makes the role his own, not only by virtue of his age or being in the MCU, but through his personality. In its best moments, Homecoming shows the weight of this responsibility on a 15-year-old kid. He never runs from it, but he doesn’t always know what to do.
In a way, Homecoming functions as a new origin story even though there’s no murder of Uncle Ben or training montage. The origin is in Spider-Man learning that he’s swinging by the seat of his pants and doesn’t always know how he’s going to save the day. It’s heavy stuff that never feels heavy thanks to Watts’ light touch (although there are a couple of dramatic scenes that really hit hard) and an investment in the character of Peter Parker and his world. It’s great seeing the diversity among Peter’s classmates, to finally take him out of New York City, and to see how he tries to balance being a teenager with being a superhero.
Homecoming is drastically different than the other Spider-Man movies, but it’s for the better. You care more about his relationships (the relationship between Peter and Ned is just the best), his classmates (Zendaya is a scene stealer as deadpan friend Michelle), and even the villain. Keaton is legitimately terrifying as Toomes but his goals are remarkably relatable. He feels jilted by the system, and he’s taken up a life of crime to support his family. That may not be on the level of “Try to destroy the world,” but I’ve found that the MCU villains with more modest goals tend to be more compelling.
The movie also never misses a beat to really make Spider-Man not only feel like part of the MCU, but also that the MCU’s history has grown up around Spider-Man. Captain America does instructional videos; there’s a photo of Bruce Banner alongside other great scientists in Peter Parker’s classroom; Toomes and his crew salvage the wreckage from the Avengers’ battles. For most of the MCU, we’ve been in the middle of what’s happening, but Homecoming is the first film that’s able to take a step back and provide an outsider’s view of how these superheroes have changed the world. While the movie could have gone a bit deeper with a critique of superheroes being around, it’s still a welcome POV that we haven’t really gotten before.
As one would expect after seeing Civil War, Spider-Man is right at home in the MCU. The franchise’s sense of humor jibes with Spidey’s attitude, and the lighthearted tone makes the character feel fresh even though we’re on our third version. Weighty notions of responsibility can come later. The tragedy that follows Peter Parker around has been done. This new Spider-Man is swinging high and fancy free, and he finally feels right at home.