Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
There is a moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is at the end of his rope. No pun intended. He’s broken, and reduced to tearfully calling for help…fearing, at last, that it’s all over—that he’s failed: at the mission, at his life, at everything.
And then…he finds himself looking into his reflection. For reasons that make sense in context, the reflection is half his “human” face…and half that of his web-slinger alter-ego. There, he remembers a vital lesson a father figure’s been trying to teach him. And so, in that moment…he finds his full strength, and the courage to pull himself back up and be the hero he is meant to be.
It’s a beautiful, powerful moment—an instance of true dramatic greatness. For most of the running time, I liked the film. For that scene, I loved it.
This seems to be a trend for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part. The films as a rule are always entertaining—and as a rule, the studios seem perfectly okay with leaving it at that, for the most part. For the most part, we’ll see moments of powerful, honest-to-goodness drama…but as a rule, they’ve been pretty much content with nice characterization and good, solid fun…and not much else.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve had a darn good time with every single one of the MCU films, with the possible exception of Iron Man 3 (even there, just because of that sorry excuse for a “twist”)…and Civil War.
I know. I suppose I’m one of the few who doesn’t think Civil War is a masterpiece. To be clear, I don’t hate it: I just happen to think it’s…okay. I’ll get into why, another time—yes, I do have plans for it, in my “Greatest Conservative Films” series. Just with a big caveat attached that I don’t particularly find it “Great”—even if nearly everyone else does. For now, I’ll just say there were honestly too many contrivances in that film for me to swallow—especially with how badly I felt the film handled Tony Stark aka Iron Man in the climax.
Suffice it to say, what happened there ruined a lot of my respect for his character. And so, when I sat down to see Spider-Man, I did so setting a mental standard:
“If Homecoming is going to have Tony as a mentor figure to Peter Parker…this film had better redeem him!”
Thank heaven, it did. Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) is all too aware of his past mistakes—and he’ll be darned if he doesn’t properly warn Peter that he’d better be responsible enough to not make the same kinds of mistakes. As he tells him early on, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and don’t do anything I would do.” And more significantly, when Peter says he wants to be a hero like him, Tony replies, “I need you to be better.”
Stark’s aware of the damage he’s done…and he’s doing his best to make up for it.
Even if he still wants to flirt with Aunt May.
As for Peter Parker, he’s excited, gung-ho, and eager to please. A bit too eager. Tony advises him to start small—patrol Queens as a “friendly neighborhood Spiderman”. Peter does so…and he’s pretty dang good at it, occasional slip-ups aside. But he is not—satisfied. In the least. And that leads to him starting to neglect his high school activities—isolating himself from his peers, bit by bit, with the exception of his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon)—a computer-tech nerd with such a love of Star Wars that he recruits Peter to help him with his Death Star Lego set. (Yep—Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm. Pure coincidence.)
To be sure, Peter’s nursing a crush on sweet and pretty popular girl Liz (Laura Harrier). Essentially she’s got all the qualities of Mary Jane Watson except the name. And…she isn’t characterized nearly as much, beyond being sweet and petty and popular, and innocent. Except that she likes Spiderman and doesn’t know who he is.
Even Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) doesn’t know, and Peter want to keep it that way—making it absolutely clear to Ned when he finds out.
(No, I’m not spoiling—the dang trailers did, for some reason. Along with the big plot point of Tony taking the suit back. You’d think they’d learn, by now….)
See, May’s dealing with Uncle Ben’s death as it is. She’ll be darned if she’ll allow Peter to get involved in anything dangerous, knowingly.
On that note, it’s very interesting how the MCU’s been handling Spiderman’s classic origin story. We all know it by heart—the spider bite, Uncle Ben’s death, Peter feeling responsible, “With great power comes great responsibility”—we know it. There’ve been five movies before this one, ingraining it into the public consciousness—and unlike for Batman, the years between them have been relatively compact. We don’t need another reboot beginning with that story.
And so, Homecoming is content to refer to it—through dialogue. Peter tells Ned about the spider and how it died soon after…so there’s no chance of Ned following suit. (Miles Morales, on the other hand—well, he’s not in this one, but apparently his uncle is, so just hang in there, Miles!) And I could be wrong, but…was Uncle Ben even referred to by name, in this one?
Personally, I wouldn’t have minded a flashback or two to Peter discovering a dying Ben—perhaps in the sequence I mentioned in the beginning of the movie?—but it is what it is. And I fully understand and support their decision, on that. And I understand and support a young-looking Aunt May who’s still quite a looker—as not only Tony but every other guy around her seem to want to prove.
What I don’t understand—OR approve of, let alone support—is how the film breaks from the MCU tradition and essentially screws up the characterization of two important characters in the Spidey lore. One is Flash Thompson. Mind you, the film does get the “school bully harassing Peter” part right, absolutely! But part of the point of Flash is that he’s a big boisterous jock who would be able to beat the tar out of Peter were it not for the powers. (And speaking of powers, the comics eventually have him become Venom 2.0.)
Here, he’s a scrawny DJ who frankly looks shorter than Peter and no physical threat whatsoever, spider or no spider. Hopefully, we’ll see some future changes to that. Perhaps…Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock (Venom 1.0) will train him and help him “bulk up”…?
One can hope.
The other character the film screws up I won’t spoil. For some strange reason, it’s supposed to be a big “reveal” who the character is. They’ve changed the name, technically. And they’ve changed the personality, completely. Supposedly it’s all to set up the surprise. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t worth it. Frankly, I spent the film’s pre-release publicity tour hoping that X would not turn out to be Y, precisely because of the characterization…and the fact that they did frankly caused me to sigh in frustration.
Maybe there’s a way out. After all, they did change the name…technically. Maybe I’m just clinging to false hope for a save. After all, the MCU did re-make Baron Zemo into…Just Some Guy.
Maybe they thought because a young Aunt May was a cool idea, they could get away with…this.
Whatever. Let’s focus on what the movie did right.
Tom Holland is excellent as a young, eager, enthusiastic, vulnerable, barely-sure-of-himself, desperate-to-prove-himself Peter Parker. And as Spiderman, we see his classic persona of “Fighting!—JOKING!—Daring!” taking root, as Peter crafts and tries to perfect it over the course of the film. One really gets the idea that he’s using his alter ego to be the confident, brazen man he wants to be, under the guise of anonymity. It’s hard for him to be so confident out of the suit—something many of us “outsiders” in our school days can identify with so readily, needing good “covers” (like, say, costume parties) to find our inner boldness.
That’s part of the lesson Tony’s trying to teach him—to be something without the suit, so he can truly deserve it.
RDJ is great as Stark. There’s something very sad in his eyes, when he confronts Peter over the latter’s gung-ho prove-myself attitude having near-disastrous consequences. In a way, to invoke a rather annoying cliché…it really does “hurt me more than it hurts you”. But it has to be done—Peter keeps missing the point, and the value of “starting small”. He even, earlier, congratulated the kid on a job well done over a big heroic act that did go public.
(By the way…Iron Man doesn’t really appear much, in-armor. This is Spidey’s film, not Iron Man 3 ½. Incidentally, the great “money shot” in the trailers of Spidey and Iron Man “flying” through the city side-by-side is NOT in the movie. Maybe it was the original ending?)
The point is, Peter has an issue with accepting that he still, well, a kid—powers or no, he has to learn that with great power…well, etc. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, he’s “got to know his limitations.” To achieve his true strength, he has to acknowledge his weaknesses. In order to do grown-up work, he still has to grow up.
John Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, who’s trying his best not to break down in frustrated tears over Peter’s eagerness annoying the heck out of him. And Favreau’s master of deadpan humor leads to a truly hilarious moment or two that I will not spoil. One joke is particular takes full advantage of the virtue of patience, taking its time to milk the moment beautifully. And that’s all I’ll say on that.
Marissa Tomei’s young Aunt May is good, solid, and convincing—again, it’s a character change I am willing to accept, because they handle it well.
Jennifer Connelly voices “Karen”, the A.I. in Spidey’s suit. She and Tom form a nice chemistry, almost like she’s a nice big sister for him.
There’s a certain character we know and (for some) love whose return should be a spoiler—but the cast list ruined it. Basically, if you want to preserve a certain nice surprise that happens at the end, stay away from the IMDB cast list. I’ll just say: Civil War seemed to imply said character was “moving on” and was gone for good. Homecoming fixes that, along with all the other things. And there’s a lot of hope for the future, with it.
Tyne Daly, she of The Enforcer and Cagney & Lacy, has a nice cameo. So does Chris Evans as Captain America…in a bunch of school videos clearly made before the events of Civil War and for some reason are still being used despite Steve’s current “fugitive” status….
Now, the best for last, before I briefly move on to politics: Michael Keaton as the Vulture.
I gotta say, folks: Marvel is finally starting to get its act together over its “villain problem”—that is, aside from Loki, Red Skull, and maybe Ultron…the villains in the MCU just haven’t been that well-developed. They’re mostly just there as faceless forces for the heroes to fight against—not much charisma per se, not much presence other than as straightforward, run-of-the-mill “threats”.
Well, that’s started to change, recently. The villain of Guardians vol. 2 was perhaps the best non-Loki MCU villains in a long time. And Michael Keaton’s Vulture quite possibly tops it.
For proof, look no further than the sequence where Adrian Toomes (Vulture out of the suit) and Peter Parker finally meet face-to-face, in shocking twist. This leads, bit by logical bit, into a haunting, shudder-inducing confrontation. Keaton’s calm and collected composure, as Toomes lays out the deal for Parker, underlines the threat. The stakes are raised, and the audience feels every bit of it. Keaton is legitimately scary in that sequence. The threat is for real. And frankly, every moment Keaton’s on screen, he steals the show. Toomes’s dynamic with Peter becomes quite…complicated, causing no small internal conflict—for both of them. And the film’s all the better for it.
His henchmen include such low-tier Spidey villains as the Tinker and the Shocker—and they’re put to good use, here, with a dramatic connection. See, Toomes and company used to be part of a construction/clean-up crew charged with clearing the wreckage in the aftermath of the first Avengers film. However, they eventually have that job taken away from them. Toomes isn’t one to let a good opportunity go to waste…however illegally. He rallies his crew to “change” with the world—and they retrofit the alien technology into gadgets and weapons that they used to pull some high-stakes heists.
This leads to some nice politics, in this film. See…Toomes starts off not unsympathetic; after all, he and his boys put a sizable investment into a big job that gets yanked out of their hands. And I’m sure he believes his crimes are all “for my family”.
But in the end, he’s motivated by pure, simple class warfare—and he intends to bring it to the next level. When Spiderman confronts Vulture, the latter goes on a spiel that’s basically a bare-bones cliff-notes of Left-wing class rhetoric—the “rich and powerful”, Tony Stark, etc., don’t care about the little guy—“exploiting” their labor, sending them off to war, etc. Toomes styles himself as the “working class” Iron Man, avenging “the little guy”…or so he says.
Unlike Bane, he actually seems to believe it. Maybe. But Spidey isn’t convinced—pointing out that whatever happened to Toomes, it does not justify any of his crimes.
Meanwhile, Zendaya’s character, Michelle, has an SJW moment when she sulks about the Washington Monument being “built by slaves”. But then, she sulks about everything. She sits in detention not for anything she’s done…but to gawk at the losers who are serving time. I would say she seems to like putting people down…except she doesn’t seem to enjoy anything, period.
Regardless, wherever and whenever she pops up, she goes out of her way to come off as an unlikable jerk—going grungy, hair a seemingly-deliberate mess, with a permanent chip on her shoulder the size of Montana. We’re supposed to believe that there’s a character arc in there, somewhere—that she’s a loner, that it’s her way of “reaching out”, or…something. All I know is, whatever little, tiny changes happen with her in the film seem to just happen, without much believability. She’s a one-note character, and the note’s deliberately sour.
All right, get that out of the way. That, and the aforementioned handling of two famous characters, do hurt my rating of the film. However, two truly great qualities (the scene kicking off this review, and Keaton’s performance as Vulture), and a host of very good ones, make this film worth watching—and enjoying. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Michael Giacchino’s score. If nothing else, Giacchino should be hailed for composing themes that are actually hummable, in an era where that’s apparently not “cool”.
He’s a master—a maestro. He seems to specialize in scores that delightfully blend the old and the new. (Just listen to his Star Trek score!) Here, he gives us a truly epic rendition of the classic “Spider-Man, Spider-Man” theme from the old TV show, amid the Marvel logo—and yet his “new” them for Spidey stands on its own. And listen to the music as the end credits conclude (or the end of the suite, on YouTube)…a little violin flourish rather reminiscent of…Danny Elfman.
Speaking of “credits”—there are two during/post-credits scenes. One seems to set up another classic Spiderman villain. The other basically pokes fun at those “in the know” enough to wait through the entire end credits for the very last “reward”….
And so, what we have here is a very fun, very emotional, very good Spiderman film. It’s not without flaws, but overall it’s a highly enjoyable experience you can enjoy over and over.
Oh, and yes he does have his “spider-sense”. It’s just not called attention to in dialogue—and it’s not without limitations. Hi, Ned.
By the way…go back to Iron Man 2, and look for the little kid with an Iron Man mask. According to Kevin Feige, that’s little Peter Parker. Cool, huh?
This movie certainly is.
Movie Grade: B+
Pre-order the movie here.
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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