On May 3, 2002, I rushed with a friend to the closest movie theater to my hometown, 30 miles away, immediately after school. There was no time for popcorn or drinks, but we made it just in time to get perfect seats and to see the film that many attribute to be the true modern birth of the comic-book superhero genre, Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi. My closeness to the character didn’t begin with a mad dash trip to the cinema; I had read his comics, watched his cartoons, and lived waiting to see a true rendition of the character that was up to that point impossible. I loved it. Tobey Maguire played the role of Peter Parker a bit more earnestly than typical comic portrayals, but the film had a gravitas that gave comic book movies immediate legitimacy. From that point on, I can tell you where I was on June 30, 2004 & May 4, 2007. There was nowhere else I was going to be. With the movie news sites I followed religiously in those days, I heard a promise of at least six total films in that series, but after the widespread disappointment felt with the third installment (a sentiment shared by myself), the series was done.
Flash forward to July 3, 2012: a new “rebooted” series begins with The Amazing Spider-Man premiere, directed by Marc Webb, and immediately, it lives in the shadow of its predecessors. Sure, we get mechanical web shooters, more wisecracking, and a focus on Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson, but without wanting to be a note-by-note retread of previous material, it made some bold changes to core ideas in the Spider-Man mythos. As a fan, I still appreciated the film, mainly because of Andrew Garfield, but due to film rights being held by Sony, I made myself become accustomed to the reality that I would most likely never see Spider-Man (or the Fox-owned X-Men & Fantastic Four) in the developing and interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was content with that, as long as these Spidey films were good. On May 2, 2014, I lost some of my enthusiasm. That second film in the series was a tonal mess, and word developed quickly that things didn’t look good for more films starring Andrew Garfield.
A few announcements later, the impossible happened: Spider-Man came home. While really only Disney and Sony know the ins-and-outs of how this all came to be, fans were going to see their favorite web-slinger alongside the titans of the MCU. Last year, I was there Day One again (notice a pattern here) for Captain America: Civil War on May 6, 2016, and while his time there was brief, let’s just say that Spidey made an impressive debut immediately. Young, fun, funny, and visually expressive in ways that only ever seemed like a comic could get right, Tom Holland brought the character to life in a few short scenes, and I left waiting for more.
Well, here we are: on premiere night, I sat down to see what is now the sixth Spider-Man solo film and first entry for what looks to be a new wave for both Disney and Sony: Spider-Man Homecoming. How was it? In a word: SPECTACULAR; in another: AMAZING! Alright, puns aside: the crazy heavy lifting this film had to do was impossibly well handled from a film perspective, but also in a business sense and in relation to the saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s a reason I chose the picture of Spider-Man holding together a split ferry from the film as the featured image: it’s exactly the task this film had to handle. It does it beautifully.
While the GEEKS, ASSEMBLE! podcast episode my co-host and I recorded is spoiler-laden, I won’t try to go there here. If you’ve followed this film’s marketing, you probably know everything I will say here. Post-Civil War, Spider-Man is trying to find his way. The teenage life doesn’t hold a candle to Peter Parker (Tom Holland), as compared to his airport escapades against the members of the Avengers. Tony Stark (the always brilliant, Robert Downey, Jr.) has handed “kid duties” to Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and Peter never gets his calls or texts responded to. What’s a kid with superpowers to do? His restlessness and sense of duty gets him wrapped up in against the very dangerous world of arms dealing, as Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a.k.a. The Vulture, and his former construction crew have shifted into peddling Chitauri tech left in the shambles of the battle of New York in the original Avengers film. School work, school trips, and school dances can only hold so much importance when they’re up against the responsibility to act on what is right…and maybe get the attention of Iron Man in the meantime. Obviously, there are more twists than that (and some are truly incredible), but that’s the plot in a nutshell.
It’s worth noting in the strengths of this film that we have never witnessed the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” like we see in the comics…until now. Both previous film series always seemed more concerned with building to the biggest conflict possible, but this film isn’t, to its credit. We have a real focus on him in school and the problems of that time in life that are common. Peter here is relatable, and that’s always been the original intention of the character, as has been expressed many times by the character’s creator, Stan Lee. I believe him as a real kid, and there is no reason to rush things into cataclysmic circumstances and take the battle to Manhattan yet. While all of that imagery has been thrilling for years, this is a more focused take on him and his villain; that’s not to say that there aren’t multiple villains, as I can’t think of any comic book film having more than here. Still, every one of them here serves a purpose, and Toomes serves as the center. I personally loved Michael Keaton here. I grew up hearing that it was the top-billing of the villains in his Batman films that caused him to ultimately exit (but who knows?). Still, here, we see him be the bad guy, and Toomes is immediately the most interesting villain in the MCU since Loki…maybe even more so. Without spoiling things, there are reasons for Toomes and Parker to clash, and it’s great stuff.
A quick view of the high school shows that diversity is the keyword in casting, and that brings some bold choices to key roles. Flash Thompson, in particular, is completely revised as a bully to Peter, and while I don’t think it’s the fault of the actor, it’s one of the major missteps in this film. Flash just doesn’t work here. Aunt May is now “younger” and “hotter” than any comic fan would say she could be, but Marisa Tomei does well in the limited scenes she gets. There are other long-time roles tweaked here and there, but taken on its own terms as a revised take on things, I’d say that the film works well. Oddly enough, there are major points involving the origin of Spider-Man that are never even mentioned, and while this was never meant to be an “origin” film, not bringing them up even in conversation feels off.
But what works well here? Iron Man never overstays his welcome on-screen; in fact, you could say that this may be the best Iron Man installment for RDJ yet. Yeah, he puts WAY TOO MUCH tech in Spider-Man‘s suit, but much of the fun comes from it in the film. You’ll see other MCU cameos that are fun, if nothing else. Humor is huge here, and you’ve likely not laughed this hard at a Marvel movie outside of Guardians of the Galaxy. Personally, I love Peter’s “guy in the chair”, Ned, and he brought the funny. There are moments like cell-phone footage and YouTube videos that make this film looser than the others in a good way, and it brings some new things to the table for the MCU. An end-credits sequence teases interesting things for Spidey moving forward, and recent comments show that he will play the key role in things beyond Avengers: Infinity War. The other end-credit sequence brought probably the biggest laughs of all; you must stick around for it.
To wrap things up, the music felt like a missed opportunity, especially after a new rendition of the classic Spider-Man theme over the Marvel logo which is never heard again in the film. From a content perspective, I didn’t really like a lot of the language used here, especially one long-standing joke renaming Peter after male anatomy. I know this is PG-13, but there is one scene where a teenage girl says she would love, marry, or eff…just didn’t think it was appropriate. I know there are some who draw issue with a joke involving mention of porn, but I say all of this to highlight things parents should be aware of before taking their kids to a film they most likely will want to see. Aside from language and a scene that really feels thrillingly dangerous in an uncomfortable way, there isn’t much content that parents wouldn’t expect to see and hear.
Overall, I’m thrilled with this Spider-Man. I can’t wait to see him pop-up in future films beyond his own series. Tom Holland brings us a great rendition of the character, and with a rogues gallery like Spider-Man has, we haven’t seen the end of this series!
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