THE SHORT REVIEW: Spider-Man Homecoming is definitely enjoyable for many reasons, but in some ways the characters behind the masks have been let down.
[SPOILER ALERT… don’t shout at me.]
Let me be clear, I really enjoyed the new Spider-Man movie. There are plenty of reasons why you’ll walk out of the theatre wanting to see it again. That being said, I left feeling a little uneasy. Why wasn’t my response to Spider-Man: Homecoming the same as The Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 1 & 2, or Avengers Assemble, or Captain America: Winter Soldier? I think I have an answer: Spider-Man has become too cool for school.
But first, the good news. Spider-Man’s proper introduction to the MCU (disregarding Civil War’s teaser) was welcomed by everyone, including me. With Tom Holland as the titular character, Spider-Man/Peter Parker is now a younger, wittier, and cooler incarnation than McGuire and Garfield’s run. I’m remaining cautious, though, because 2002’s Spiderman and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man were actually quite well-received by critics and fans. Where Holland’s predecessors failed were in the sequels (minus Spiderman 2 ) and Holland hasn’t had that opportunity yet. Yet this isn’t going to devolve into a discussion about the best rendition of the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger. Perhaps that’s for another post.
What’s great about this new Spider-Man is, by far, the comedy and the cast. Holland is genuinely funny and sincere in his portrayal. It’s nice when an actor appears to enjoy the role, and that’s been apparent from a lot of the MCU’s heroes. Also, the casting is fantastic: Martin Starr (Silicon Valley), Hannibal Buress (Broad City) and Donald Glover (Community, Atlanta), just to name a few, ensures a hell of a lot of laughter throughout. A personal favourite scene is Parker’s battle through the suburbs of New York, a great acknowledgement by the film-makers that Spider-Man as a hero is almost laughably useless without the skyscrapers.
Add to that, Michael Keaton as Vulture. Up there as one of the best villains thus shown in the MCU, Keaton and that green-eyed mask of his is genuinely frightening at points. Plus, straight-up threatening to murder the 15-year-old Parker and his family was cold. Adrian Toomes’ (Vulture’s real identity) draw to crime on the back of his distaste for everything Stark has done is what viewers needed; a reminder that villains create heroes, but heroes also create villains. It grounds Homecoming in showing us that the ideological arguments taking place in Civil War aren’t just among Cap and Iron Man, but among ordinary folk. The world truly is changing in the MCU and seeing the effects it has on the non-super is a good way to really bind the universe together in reality.
So, let’s dig our heels into the ground and talk about where I think Spider-Man suffered in this film.
Peter Parker is an outsider. Psychologically, it’s part of the reason he chooses the life he leads, and it’s Peter Parker who we really care about. Bullied, underappreciated by those around him, and with a difficult domestic life, Parker dons the red suit to take on the responsibility he was given. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, I struggled to see a Peter Parker that truly deserved to wear the mask, even as the film was drawing to a close. He bailed on the team’s Decathlon, but they won regardless. He was irresponsible with his love-interest, but still managed to take her to Homecoming. He hijacked his Stark-donated suit, but made an AI friend and was offered an even better suit at the end. As essentially a coming-of-age superhero film, Parker should have battled with his chosen life as Spider-Man and his life as a teenager more. He sometimes came across too likable and it seemed too easy for him to get away with things.
Spider-Man is already a winner because it’s Parker’s ideal version of himself. That’s the point. Viewers don’t need to be sold on the hero any more, they need to be sold on the person behind the mask, and that’s what Tony Stark is trying to teach Peter when he says “if you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it”.
Vulture suffers similarly. Toomes is, above all, concerned for his family’s safety. However, the film makes no real effort to put his family in harms way. We don’t really see Vulture’s breaking point in the film, where his warped morality spirals destructively and Toomes goes from doing villainous things to becoming a villain. Hopefully, and likely, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Vulture and there’s still time for him to go full crazy.
Perhaps this can be summarised in one critique; the film plays it safe. Now that the events of the MCU are truly affecting the world they reside in, it may have been a wrong move for Homecoming to not give Parker’s actions too much responsibility, even though it’s the actions of superheroes that creates characters like Vulture. A lot of the narrative takes place at too safe a metaphorical, and sometimes real, distance. Personally, I want to see more of Peter Parker on ground-level.
That being said, there are definitely more plus points about this film than there are bad. Spider-Man: Homecoming will be one of the Marvel movies you’ll watch a lot, and it’s truly exciting to imagine what the sequels will bring to the MCU, especially with such talent at the helm.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas NOW.