Spider-Man is, without a doubt, Marvel’s most popular superhero. Because of this, it is impossible to underestimate just how different the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have been had the studio owned the rights to the web-head from the moment they embarked on their successful venture back in 2008. Chances are it would have been Peter Parker, not Tony Stark, who kicked off this sprawling universe and became Nick Fury’s first recruit for The Avengers Initiative. Of course, Sony’s held the rights to the teenage hero, and because Marvel didn’t own the rights to two of its other most well-known brands – The Fantastic Four and the X-Men – they were forced to begin their massive undertaking by elevating B-List superheroes (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.) who only the true comic nerds followed or cared about, and elevate them to A-List status. The gamble, of course, paid off for the now Disney-owned studio, and forced them to be more creative in the way it’s told its stories. Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, on the other hand, hasn’t fared nearly as well at Sony.
Sure, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man remains a fan-favorite, and his Spider-Man 2 remains to this day one of the best superhero movies ever made, but he and the studio both dropped the ball with the critically panned Spider-Man 3. After the terrible reception garnered by that movie, Sony decided to give Peter Parker and his world a rest for a while before bringing him out of retirement a mere three years later in the too-soon reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. While it was received positively enough, its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, was so bad that it made Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 look like a masterpiece. Coupled with diminishing returns, fans began clamoring for Sony to sell the rights back to Marvel Studios, whose own cinematic universe was off and running at this point. While it’s unfortunate Sony decided not to, fans received a welcome surprise when the two studios eventually reached a deal that would allow Marvel to use old web-head within the confines of their universe.
This resulted in our third, and youngest, Spider-Man, who made his debut in Captain America: Civil War. In his limited screen time during that film, Tom Holland, who plays Peter Parker, immediately took the world by storm and was praised almost unanimously as the best incarnation of the teenage hero that we’ve received yet. Immediately afterward, excitement and hype began to build toward his first solo-outing within the MCU, despite the fact that it would mark the character’s seventh outing on the big-screen. The few cautiously optimistic naysayers that were out there all raised valid concerns that boiled down to one fundamental question: “This is our third live-action Spider-Man in three different continuities in under twenty-years; it’s getting tired now. Is there any way Marvel can do something different with the character and imbue him with new life?”
I’m happy to report that not only did Marvel and director Jon Watts do something new with Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming that audiences have not yet seen before, but Tom Holland cements his title as the best actor to ever play the part.
Before continuing further, please be aware that there are some ever-so-slight spoilers past this point.
The film begins with a flashback to the immediate aftermath of the Chitari’s invasion of New York during the first Avengers movie. Tony Stark and the federal government create the U.S. Department of Damage Control to clean up Manhattan and recover all of the alien technology left over from the fight, driving blue-collar worker Adrian Toomes’ salvaging company out of business. Enraged by this, the middle-aged man decides to keep the Chitaria weaponry he’s already recovered in order to sell it on the black market for money, starting his own criminal enterprise.
From here, we jump forward to present day. Peter Parker is still riding the high he gained fighting alongside Iron Man and his fellow Avengers in Captain America: Civil War, and is desperate to become an official member of the team. While Tony Stark refuses his request, he does allow the boy to keep the upgraded Spider-Man costume he gave him in Civil War, advising him to become a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” and take care of local crime around Queens, forcing him to make daily reports to his driver/bodyguard, Happy Hogan. Of course, it is during one of his low key patrols around the borough he calls home that allows Peter Parker to cross paths with Adrian Toomes, who has become a full-fledged arms trafficker and has developed a mechanical, winged-suit for himself from stolen Chitari technology. Dubbed the Vulture, Toomes sets his sights on Spider-Man after he tries to interfere with one of his sales, and Peter Parker finds himself entangled with a dangerous villain the type of which he’s wanted to take on since fighting alongside the Avengers, but also one he discovers he may not yet be ready to face alone.
Spider-Man: Homecoming offers a completely new cinematic take on the character of Peter Parker. Not only is he the youngest he’s ever been, at a mere fifteen-years old, but he’s also a Spider-Man who’s making it up as he goes along when it comes to being a hero. This Spider-Man isn’t swinging around the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but rather the bodegas of Queens, stopping bicycle thieves, bank robberies, and giving directions to little old ladies. He’s a hero whose main focus is on helping the people of his neighborhood by stopping petty crimes, which is a return to how the hero is portrayed in the best comic books that have his name in the title.
Tom Holland plays this incarnation perfectly. Not only does he exude childlike enthusiasm and naivety, but he balances the duel nature of Peter Parker perfectly. While out of costume, Peter is a stuttering, unapologetic nerd who gets nervous around girls, and doesn’t have many friends at school. He’s a genius who excels at math and science, and is even part of his school’s decathlon team. As Spider-Man, though clumsy, he exudes more confidence. He’s wisecracking, quick, and – most importantly – is having fun as the web-slinging hero. He likes the job, even if he wants to tackle bigger fish than car thieves, and views it as the most important aspect of his life. This is how Spider-Man should be portrayed. As good as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were in the role, both played up the tortured side of the character that is never a prevalent part of Peter Parker’s character in the comics, outside of select story arcs and specific moments.
Indeed, Jon Watts seems to have a better handle of the character than either Sam Raimi or Marc Webb seemed to have. He crafted a much more personal story for our hero. It has neither “end of the world” stakes, nor “destruction of the city” stakes, and that’s what makes this movie feel uniquely different and right. He nailed the perfect tone between Spider-Man the hero and Peter Parker the child, striking the perfect balance between the character’s abilities to easily dispatch of thugs, while feeling nervous in social situations at school. Again, this Peter Parker is a mere kid, and Watts really plays up the youth aspect of Spider-Man while juxtaposing him against Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Going into this film, many people feared that Downey’s Tony Stark would hijack the movie from Holland’s Peter Parker. This was a legitimate concern, as the trailers released in advance of the picture showcased Iron Man nearly as much as they did Spider-Man. Thankfully, it appears as though it was only done for marketing, as a way to let audiences know that this Spider-Man movie would be different, for this incarnation would be set in the same world as The Avengers. Although Stark’s presence is felt throughout the film, and his inclusion is crucial to the story, he never becomes the focus nor is he given as much screen time as one might expect. If he was in the movie for twenty-minutes of the two-hours-and-twelve-minutes runtime, that’s a lot. Of course, Downey Jr. has a gift for making the most of limited screen time, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is his best performance as the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”, it was definitely his most different. It was nice to see Watts give the actor new material, this time shoving his character into the role of exasperated mentor/father-figure to Peter Parker. Because Stark recruited Parker and gave him an upgraded costume in Civil War, he now feels a responsibility to look after the young teenager, who has idolized the armored avenger ever since he saved him when he was a small child during the World’s Fair in Iron Man 2. (A brilliant retcon courtesy of Watts and Marvel.) And like any parental figure, Stark’s feelings for the boy run a gauntlet of emotions, from anger and frustration to pride. Similarly, Peter’s feelings toward Tony are complex as well, and audiences are given the impression that he’s just in awe to have somebody so famous as his new father-figure, something he hasn’t had in his life in a long time.
Indeed, the absence of Uncle Ben and the absence of Peter’s parents aren’t even addressed in this film, nor should they have been. This is the third incarnation of Spider-Man; audiences are already familiar enough with the character’s origin, and the dying words of his uncle: “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” We didn’t need to be reminded of them yet again, nor once again see the spider bite that gave Peter Parker with his powers. The decision by Watts to gloss over all of this, and to refrain from even showing a flashback, was a smart one. The only blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the tragedy that befell Peter’s uncle was in a throwaway line our hero said to Ned, about how his aunt worries so much because she’s been through a lot.
The aunt in question is, of course, Peter’s Aunt May, with Marisa Tomei reprising the role that she played in Civil War. Far from the elderly, frail interpretations of the character that fans have gotten used to over the years, Watts further differentiates his Spider-Man movie from the ones that came before by making Aunt May not only young, cool, and hip, but hot too. Of course, the sex appeal aspect comes naturally via Tomei, but Watts plays up this angle of the character with hilarious results in the film, having multiple people that Peter deals with in Queens comment about how attractive his aunt is. Though it’s not explicitly stated in the movie, given the fact that she and Peter share a tiny apartment, it’s clear that this incarnation of the character is still struggling financially, and the worry she harbors for her nephew whenever he “goes missing” or returns home late is still present as well. Sadly, the character is not given much screen time in the film. In fact, I’d say she’s almost completely inconsequential to the movie, and apart from one redeeming scene in the third-act in which she’s helping Peter get ready for Homecoming – teaching him how to tie a tie, and dance – she could have been cut out entirely. This is by no means a knock against Tomei, who is a brilliant actress, but the script itself. I can only hope that in sequels, she’s given more to do and the relationship between her and Peter is delved into deeper. Given how the film ends, I’d say it’s inevitable she’ll have a larger role in the next installment.
Of course, superhero movies tend to live or die on the strength of its villain, and Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is one of Marvel’s best yet. In my opinion, he’s second only to Loki within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Keaton’s portrayal is absolutely chilling – made all the more frightening at times by the creepy aesthetic of his costume (a magnificent redesign from the campy outfit the character dons in the comics) – but never does he cross the line and become cartoonish or one-dimensional. In fact, Toomes’ motivations for his crimes are not only clearly defined within the first minutes of the film, but are also extremely relatable as well – he’s doing what he needs to do to provide for his family. Indeed, the character’s impetuses offer an interesting, albeit shallow, commentary on the sociopolitical debate about class warfare that are happening in real-life at the moment. Given the fact that he’s left alive at the end of movie, another Marvel trend this movie bucks, we can only hope that Toomes reappears again down the line – perhaps even in a sequel featuring the Sinister Six.
The supporting cast in this film all shine as well. Jon Favreau is great in the role of Happy Hogan, who returns as grumpy as ever and who is given more to do in this movie than in any of his previous appearances in other Marvel installments combined. Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, and Tony Revolori all make the best of their perfunctory roles as Peter’s classmates, Ned, Michelle, Liz, and Flash Thompson respectfully. And while Donald Glover, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine, and Michael Chernus are all good as Aaron Davis (who comic book fans will recognize as the uncle of Miles Morales), Jackson Brice (Shocker #1), Herman Schultz (Shocker #2), and Phineas Mason (the Tinkerer), one can’t help but feel their talent, in addition to their characters, were wasted on such small roles. Jennifer Connelly, meanwhile, though only the voice of Karen – the A.I. in Peter Parker’s Spider-Man suite – manages to do spectacular voice work, eliciting some of the biggest laughs in the film.
Watts’ work as director is stellar. Besides putting together a spectacular cast, and crafting a smaller, intimate, more personal and cinematically unique story for Peter Parker, technically speaking, the movie is beautiful. The staging and the choreography, in terms of the physics of how Spider-Man moves and how his web-shooters work, are extremely well thought out. Even all the way down to the music chosen for the film, more timeless songs were chosen than in the previous incarnations of the franchise, and they supplement Michael Giacchino’s score perfectly. Giacchino’s score is incredible, and creates a unique, adventurous, playful theme for the youthful superhero, which includes strains of the original Spider-Man theme song from the 1960’s. Indeed, an updated, orchestral version of said theme song plays during Marvel’s opening credits before the film, prompting spontaneous, raucous applause in the theater, and which perceptibly increased excitement in the audience tenfold. It was a magical moment.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great film, and features the best incarnation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man that’s ever been featured on the big screen. However, I’m hesitant to say whether or not it’s the best Spider-Man film.
While the core tents of the character are all present, it still feels like something is missing. Besides Peter Parker and, to a lesser extent, Adriane Toomes, the rest of the characters are almost unrecognizable as their comic book counterparts. It’s clear that they’ve been updated and modernized for the big screen, and while some updates work – such as revamping Aunt May to make her younger (let’s face it, when we were fifteen, how many of our direct aunts were frail and elderly?) and diversifying Peter’s classmates given the fact they live in modern day Queens – some did not. One need only look at Flash Thompson for evidence of this, who is reimagined here as a rich, physically unintimidating snob. It’s clear the filmmakers wanted to make him a more modern day bully, similar to how Zack Snyder reimagined Lex Luthor as what a modern day tech guru would look, dress, and act like, but it doesn’t feel right. It’s not just about the way the character looks, but it changes his whole demeanor too – I can hardly imagine him becoming Venom at some point down the line. There’s also no mention here of Peter’s best friend from the comics, Harry Osborne; no Mary Jane Watson, no Gwen Stacy, no J. Jonah Jameson, and while Betty Brant is in the film, the role is hardly more than a cameo. In addition, there’s no mention of Oscorp or The Daily Bugle in the film either. And I get it – Marvel and Webb wanted to differentiate this movie from the ones that’ve come before, and there’s always time to introduce these elements in sequels, but even still, they’re such iconic staples of Spider-Man’s world in the comics that their absence was noticeable while watching this movie.
It’s not just the absence of characters nor redesigns of the ones present that make the film feel slightly off, but also the technology utilized by Spider-Man himself in the story. In the comics, I don’t ever recall Spider-Man’s classic costume ever being this high-tech, nor having an entire A.I. system installed within it. I understand that Peter Parker is poor, and one of the quibbles people have always had with the premise is that it would be near impossible for somebody in his financial situation to create his costume, so I’m completely fine with this version of the character having a crappy one that is essentially a hoodie before being gifted the real deal by Tony Stark. But did it have to be so high-tech? I get that it’s Tony’s M.O., but it’s not Peter’s. Peter is a genius – he designs his web-fluid himself – he doesn’t need a voice in the suit giving him directions, or telling him how to shoot his webbing. Relying on the intelligence of the suit so much takes away from Peter’s own childhood genius, though I did appreciate how Webb made the final confrontation happen in the homemade suit so that Parker had to rely more on his own abilities. As Tony Stark tells him, “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” In future installments, hopefully Peter downgrades the system within it as a way to assert his independence and become his own hero, that way he’s less “Iron Man Jr.” and more “Spider-Man.” Perhaps the screenwriters could even write it so that the suit Tony Stark gives back to Peter Parker at the end of the movie has none of the A.I. additions to it.
These are minor quibbles that don’t take away from the fact the film is great overall, but do detract from it and makes it fall short of being a great Spider-Man film because it’s missing such core elements to the mythos. My one major complaint about the movie on a technical level comes from the editing. Spider-Man is a humorous character, so of course the movie was going to funny. There were, however, such long stretches of nothing but humor, that when a dramatic scene emerged it seemed almost jarring. Indeed, the third act felt almost disparate in tone from the rest of the film. Webb should have found a better balance of fun and dramatics throughout to make it more of a balanced movie.
Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a spectacular vehicle for the web-head to return to his proper place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if I personally wouldn’t rank it as the best MCU film or even in the top five. (I’d probably place it somewhere smack-dab in the middle.) Spider-Man himself has never been more amazing nor truer to his comic book counterpart. Hopefully in future sequels, Jon Watts can return the rest of Peter Parker’s world to as faithful a form, and incorporate more of the mainstays of his universe. In the meantime, fans don’t have to wait much longer to see Spider-Man again, for he’ll be suiting up and fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters on May 4th, 2018.
What did you think of Spider-Man: Homecoming? Do you agree that Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man yet? Let me know in the comments below!