SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING excels at the small things
Tom Holland (Peter Parker, Spider-Man) and Director John Watts bring the MCU back down to Earth in the franchise juggernaut’s most light-hearted and meaningful episode in the Avengers storyline. Spider-Man: Homecoming is rough around the edges, but it excels at the smaller things.
The second reboot of this iconic superhero falls in-line with events unfolded in Captain America: Civil War. If you haven’t seen it, perhaps you should. There is no origin story here – Peter Parker has already been bitten by a radioactive spider, he’s already lost his Uncle Ben, and he’s struggling to understand his place in this new world of extraordinary superheroes. Peter, like many teenagers before him, believes he is ready to take-on the world; in this case that means joining The Avengers and fighting real crime. His mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has other ideas. Stark wants Parker to slow down, to become a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”
While he’s not returning stolen bikes or foiling ATM robberies, Peter is a typical high school teenager dealing with peer pressures and crushes. He is taunted by bully Flash (Tony Revolori) and sometimes lesser-so by Michelle (Zendaya). He has his eye on senior pretty girl and fellow academic decathlete Liz (Laura Harrier), but he’s so uncomfortable in his own skin he can’t quite connect with her. His best friend and spidey-confidant Ned (Jacob Batalon) is constantly pushing Peter to reveal himself. These relationships not only make Spider-Man: Homecoming an interesting coming-of-age superhero movie, but also a really great high school movie as well.
Parker’s evening romps around town as Spider-Man eventually earn the ire of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a former Avengers-battle salvager turned illegal arms dealer. By using stolen alien technology, Toomes creates and sells high-power weaponry and moonlights as the villain Vulture. His motivation is completely plausible and fitting within the MCU. Spidey thwarts the Vulture’s arms deals one too many times, including one of the film’s climatic action scenes aboard the Staten Island Ferry, but it isn’t until a surprise twist that these characters fully lock horns and their complex relationship is revealed. Keaton is especially menacing versus Holland’s innocent doe-eyed gaze in the film’s best scene, which just-so-happens not to be an action sequence.
Those action sequences are where Spider-Man: Homecoming might fail to impress audiences spoiled by a decade of mega-CGI blockbusters. Despite being Marvel’s flagship darling and Spidey being somewhat of a low-tech superhero, the CGI is shockingly cartoonish and annoyingly unrecognizable in close-up action sequences. The finale is borderline unwatchable. I’m not sure where the blame resides.
Luckily for Spider-Man: Homecoming, the film succeeds at fulfilling its namesake in numerous forms. Yes, there is an actual homecoming dance, but the title stands for Spider-Man’s return to his light-hearted comic book roots. The film momentarily shifts an entire film universe predestined for the cosmos back down to Earth. It’s fun and funny, a departure from the increasingly darker tone and overloaded casts of superhero movies of late and back to the standalone character films that set this genre in motion. From eager teen to level-headed hero, Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man is a meaningful journey sorely missing from previous films. This is Spider-Man’s return to the throne as the king of Marvel superheroes.