It’s finally happened.
What was once the fervent dream of legions of vociferous fanboys is finally a reality. We have Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sharing the screen with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. After a spectacular (yes I went there) debut in Captain America: Civil War it’s fair to say that hopes were high for young Tom Holland’s first solo outing this year.
It wasn’t quite fighting a battle on as many fronts as, say, Wonder Woman but it wasn’t without its challenges. It still had to function both as a worthy entry into Spider-Man’s cinematic canon and as a contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that maintains the standards and gratifications that audiences have come to expect, and delivers something sufficiently different from the preceding 5 Spider-Man movies, while also delivering on the “what if John Hughes made a Spider-Man move?” premise.
Make no mistake, true believers, while the film takes place in a lived in MCU, this is still very much a Spider-Man flick.
The film’s greatest achievement (and there are many), is how authentically it captures the quintessentially high school atmosphere. The heightened reality of Sam Raimi’s films led to the few scenes set in high school bordering on caricature and Marc Webb’s films looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch shoot that happened to be set in a high school. This version of Midtown High feels lived in and populated with kids from a range of ethnic, cultural, sub cultural and counter cultural backgrounds.
Likewise Tom Holland (whose teenage years aren’t that far behind him) plays the most convincingly teen aged Spider-Man we’ve seen so far, with a jubilant mixture of naivete and sincerity with a few hints of bullish overconfidence that always comes around to bite him.
This is a capable Peter Parker who’s getting to grips with his newfound powers, but he’s still very much a year one Spider-Man. For example, we see some of the best web slinging ever committed to film, but we also see a few wince-inducing face plants. For every punch he lands on a bad guy, he takes at least two. While the film does a great job of showcasing Spider-Man’s abilities, it also recognises that Spidey’s story is and should always be that of the underdog.
Which brings us to the presence of Tony Stark / Iron Man. Fans who were worried that Spider-Man would become a supporting player in his own film will take comfort in knowing that the character is used sparingly and intelligently, serving as a mentor while also providing a sense of context and world building. In attempting to do the right thing following the events of The Avengers (2012), he has unwittingly become the architect not only of Peter’s fate but that of Adrian Toomes / The Vulture.
If you’re familiar with our podcast then you may well know how wholeheartedly and vociferously I love the work of Michael Keaton. To have my favourite Batman show up in the MCU as a villain was a colossal gambit that could easily have imploded but Keaton plays Toomes with an earnest blue-collar charm that makes him one of the most nuanced and sympathetic MCU villains. After having a lucrative government contract to clean up the city in the wake of the Battle of New York pulled out from under him by Stark’s Damage Control outfit, he decides to go into business for himself creating weapons made from re-appropriated tech from the Chitauri, Dark Elves and Ultron.
His justification narrative argues that he’s no more immoral than Tony Stark, who lest we forget made his fortune on weapons and he may just be right. But then, Spidey has never gone in for moral grey areas and Peter’s unwavering sense of what’s right leads to some compelling and beautifully acted conflict with Toomes.
That’s important, too! Because while his powers have come and gone and his suit has gone through numerous incarnations Peter Parker has always been defined by his sincere, earnest and incorruptible desire to do the right thing. That’s one element of the character that the film absolutely nails.
While the film introduces some new tropes, mainly in the form of a tech-heavy suit and Peter’s very own J.A.R.V.I.S; Karen (Jennifer Connelly), there is never a decision, movement or line of dialogue that doesn’t feel like 100% authentic Spider-Man. ‘Homecoming‘ also represents the cinematic debut of Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and the friendship between the two characters is absolute cinematic gold; their chemistry leading to innumerable moments of comedy and camaraderie that leave one wondering why this character has never been seen on film before.
We also get the cinematic debut of Liz Allan, played by Laura Harrier who makes a great impression in what would typically be considered an unrewarding role. Some fans may bemoan the lack of a Gwen Stacey or a Mary Jane Watson in the film but I for one am glad that she’s there.
While the film is able to neatly sidestep some of the more tired tropes of a Spider-Man film, it also throws the baby out with the bathwater on a few occasions and there are a few vital parts of the infrastructure of Spidey’s story and MO that I would have liked to see established in this continuity. Likewise, while I’m glad that we have a younger, cooler, more savvy Aunt May in Marisa Tomei, I could do without all the knowing “look how hot Aunt May is now” jokes.
But whatever gripes I have are very, very minor nitpicks.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty much everything you could ask of a Spider-Man film while also being a wonderful debut for Marvel’s flagship character in the MCU.
Welcome home, Spidey!