It’s the sixth Spider-Man movie since the dawn of the new millennium, the second live-action reboot of the character, and the sixteenth entry into the money-printing multimedia monopoly otherwise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s mostly a teen-romance story, and a pleasantly cosmopolitan coming-of-age drama, just with some superhero shenanigans grafted on, like the sentient robotic arms of a mad scientist. (A reference that should clue you in to the fact that, since watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, I’ve been thinking a lot about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, and how much more like it I wish this movie was.)
Oh, here we go.
I’ll stop you there, if you don’t mind. My love for Raimi’s second Spidey instalment notwithstanding, I don’t worship at the altar of those movies in the same way that a lot of my contemporaries do. The first, from 2002, is a functional origin story but little more than that, and the third, from 2007, is a violent crime against good taste and decency. Homecoming is superior to both of them, and, of course, to the two horrific Amazing Spider-Man travesties, although at this point that should go without saying. But if you expect me to not compare a new Spider-Man movie with the definitive Spider-Man movie, then, well… perhaps reviews aren’t for you.
Okay. So what’s it about?
Since his cameo in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is struggling to readjust to his ordinary high-school life and all its attendant lunchroom cliques and upcoming academic decathlons. He’s spending most of his time trying to establish himself as a local do-gooder (a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man, one could say), and using every free moment he gets to literally beg Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to allow him on more grown-up Avengers missions. To be clear: Marvel has somehow convinced Sony to release a movie in which their signature hero pesters their signature hero about being allowed to appear in more of his movies – a wonderful meta-burn, which is almost enough justification on its own to buy a Spider-Man: Homecoming ticket. It is our duty to support that kind of industry snide in any way we can.
Anyway, Peter’s desperate search for approval compels him to take stupid, dangerous risks during his jaunty evening excursions, leaving the web-slinger tangled up in a plot orchestrated by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), aka “The Vulture”, to terrorise New York with repurposed alien technology squirreled away from the Chitauri invasion during 2012’s The Avengers.
Continuity, indeed. For what it’s worth, Homecoming’s association with the broader MCU does it a lot of favours; namely in how it allows the movie to sidestep Spider-Man’s traditional origin story (he got bitten by a spider) and not have to waste time establishing his relationship with Iron Man – the reiteration of which would have been tortuous in a movie already so stuffed with high-school politics, teenage angst, and men in robotic bird suits.
Speaking of which, Vulture is here reimagined as the leader of a group of disenfranchised, disillusioned construction workers, who are still salty about getting screwed out of the lucrative contract which would have seen them clean up New York after The Avengers. As far as villainous motivations go, that’s admittedly petty, but it has a charming working-class contour that seems fitting for Spider-Man, and it’s always fun to see the logistical aftermath of a blockbuster superhero movie.
“Fun,” yeah. So what’s the problem?
The big one, for me, is that I’m a little far-removed from the age when I would have given a shit about detention, crushes, and who’s taking who to the big dance. Homecoming devotes a lot of time to that stuff, and while it’s all perfectly workmanlike and sensible in its structure and execution, it was difficult for me, personally, to mine it for any kind of depth or emotional resonance. An essential component of any Spider-Man story is a girl whom Peter must lustfully gawp at for large periods of time, and the surrounding drama is so uninvolving that I often found myself doing the same thing. (That girl is played by Laura Harrier, who, a Google search informs me, is 27, so I’m covered.)
That having been said, this stuff is consistently the better part of the movie; or, at least, the part that seems to have a real identity, even if that identity isn’t old enough to legally purchase alcohol yet. The rest of the movie feels shallow and disposable, surprisingly inconsequential, and often forgettable. The action is heavily bolstered by CGI that sometimes looks incredibly expensive, but occasionally looks like I knocked it together on my old, dying laptop, and there’s no dramatic spectacle to rival the whole train business from Spider-Man 2, or even an iconic visual sequence like the upside-down kiss from Raimi’s original or Sandman’s “birth” in Spider-Man 3.
Not to come across as negative, obviously, although while we’re here we might as well lob a few more criticisms around. Marissa Tomei’s spicy Italian Aunt May is delightful, but gets less screen-time than Childish Gambino, who plays one of Vulture’s low-level criminal associates, and is consistently undermined by a weird, running gag wherein every New Yorker Peter meets comments on how hot she is. (Yes, Aunt May is usually an old lady, we get it.) I do enjoy that we didn’t have to endure yet another lecture from Uncle Ben, whose absence is thankfully never commented on or explained, but what I don’t like is that the narrative never finds a suitable replacement for the emotional function that angle has in a Spider-Man story.
Is there anything that you actually liked?
Yeah, sure. Don’t get the wrong idea – this isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s very well-cast, for instance. Keaton does a great job with an underwritten villain, and Tom Holland is an absurdly well-chosen Peter Parker. Jon Favreau is always a pleasure as “Happy” Hogan, Peter’s Stark Industries babysitter, and there are some fun turns from Jacob Batalon, as Peter’s dork bestie, and Zendaya as another of his suspiciously-initialled mates. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, of course, but that’s more my problem than the movie’s, in this case.
Don’t worry about Tony Stark’s involvement, either. It makes sense; the movie doesn’t lean too heavily on nods to the established mythology, and he’s mostly there for structure. His presence also allows for that well-advertised sequence involving the Staten Island ferry to neatly subvert your expectations, which is one of the few times that Homecoming’s action amounts to something other than noise and chaos. (Although I found the high-wire rescue from the Washington Monument something of a winner, too.)
So, do you recommend it?
I certainly don’t recommend you actively avoid it, but I can’t suggest you run out to see it with any kind of urgency, either. I was underwhelmed more than disappointed, but then again I’m not exactly the target demographic for this specific style of high-school superhero movie. If you are, then you’ll like this a lot more than I did. Although if you’re that young, you likely haven’t read this far anyway.
For everyone else, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a serviceable slice of adolescent adventuring that probably won’t move you in any meaningful way, but might just distract you for long enough to forget that Sony are inevitably going to squander all this goodwill on those awful-sounding Venom and Black Cat spin-offs. That’s the problem with shared custody: One of the parents is always a dick.
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