Thanks to Holland's age and MCU's course correction, Spider-Man: Homecoming captures the spirit of its source material with creative precision.
Before the age of comic book adaptations began with Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Spider-Man had secured his indisputable place as the most beloved Marvel hero. His personality is engaging and identifiable, his outlook is optimistic, and the book’s message was a heart-warming life lesson to kids and adults alike. After Sam Raimi’s classic trilogy and Marc Webb’s mediocre Amazing Spider-Man reboot, fans longed for Spidey movies to return legally to Marvel when its cinematic universe is (still) gaining momentum. Because of Sony’s data leak, Marvel Studios struck a sweet deal before adding Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. The reception was raving, and Spider-Man: Homecoming—the third screen iteration of Marvel’s wallcrawler—welcomes fans to the young Peter Parker’s journey in this widening universe.
In light of Disney’s shrewd redemption, Homecoming opens with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) getting corrected on a PC term. The scene is a prologue recalling The Avengers’ aftermath 8 years ago when Toomes is tossed out of his salvage business and goes broke. This occasion marks the eventual debut of Department of Damage Control (after DC introduced its counterpart in this year’s Powerless flop). Under the sanction of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Damage Control takes over the excavation. Toomes, out of his blue-collared grief, resorts to an extreme measure: arms dealing—which depicts the systematic tension between working class and the top one percent.
As the notions of rat race and other social issues are more present in Homecoming, MCU’s connective details continue to be streamlined in the plot. Luckily, I didn’t watch the last trailer so the documentary-like sequence—Peter’s homemade video about his exploit in Berlin—is quite fun to revise the battle of Civil War from his viewpoint. This mission opens his eyes to a new world, reminding viewers of his interest in this line of work. Of course, the one and only Tony Stark/Iron Man appears, charismatic as ever, and also gives off the sympathetic quality of his course to redemption. Because Kevin Feige was aware this is a Spider-Man movie, Stark’s physical presence doesn’t take up Spidey’s screen time at all—though their exchanges are still vital to the story. To gratify Marvel fans, he has a line announcing the universal obsession with Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. That is before Peter must bear more comments about her from the owner of a food store and his customers. Whereas Aunt May doesn’t lend her nephew enough maternal support, Uncle Ben is left out of the movie. With the whole “Mr. Stark this Mr. Stark that” babbling from Peter, Stark appears a lot more than one thinks.
After rewarded with the cool suit from Civil War, Peter sets out to become an Avenger. This central detail undermines the true spirit of his character and Uncle Ben’s famous quote. Yes, in MCU, Spidey’s purpose is a seal of approval.
Conveniently, Peter comes in contact with Toomes’ partners in a bank robbery, so the boy decides to polish his superhero portfolio with a one-man bust. But that’s not all. In this bildungsroman, his superpowers are a marvelously familiar projection of teenage issues: facing pubescent anxiety, having a secret identity, and being a neophyte at his saving-the-day part-time job. To cover all of these aspects, director Jon Watts, who is new to the tentpoles, balanced between the episodes of parties, classes, and crime fighting. His most known film, Cop Car, mines many unusual materials out of a promising idea, and here, Homecoming shares its thematic similitude—curious, eager kids bite off a problem far more sinister than they could chew. Outside, Spider-Man bombarding crooks with witty jokes, using humor as his anesthesia for the violent reality he is facing. On the other side of the mask, his alter ego is a nerd—lovably awkward and irrepressible to prove his worth. In one comical scene, Danny Glover—he voiced Miles Morales in Disney animated series Ultimate Spider-Man—is as cool as coolness can be, playing a street criminal who teases Peter about his pretense of toughness. A nod to the Ultimate comics, Glover’s role is credited as Aaron Davis, who is also the villain Prowler and Morales’ uncle.
Peter is also a student, facing every teen’s greatest foe: time management—a problem that will soon get blown out of proportion in university/college. With inspiration from John Hughes’ movies, Midtown Science and Technology is a believable space of festive moods and racial diversity. School kids worry about their tests, assignments, and the homecoming dance. Occupy this youthful environment are people from Peter’s social circle. His best friend Ned is played by newcomer Jacob Batalon who, together with Holland, gleefully shaped the authenticity of 15-year-old uber-nerds—see LEGO Emperor Palpatine on the 3000-piece Death Star. Though not always as effective as a character, Ned assists and complements Peter’s eagerness to experience proto-heroism by a series of humorous inquiries about his arachnid abilities. And then there’s the crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), whose senior attractiveness gets his cobwebs in a bunch—Watts created a romantic moment looking back to Raimi’s trilogy. Like other movie crushes, Liz is just Peter’s fantasy, lacking agency, and the story sweeps her away when he doesn’t need the distraction anymore. Disney star Zendaya portrayed a character named MJ with an unwelcome appearance as though she sleeps from 4 to 6 after 12 hours of gaming. That hint at Mary Jane makes her fly-on-the-wall impression even more cringy. Still, the worst character is Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori). The lame buffoon is neither physically nor intellectually superior to Peter. Even his name-calling jest shoots into thin air, leaving little impact on Peter and the audience.
In the first half, the webhead is elated with his new suit. That idea tempts him to show off to impress Liz during a party. Unexpectedly, Peter spots Vulture’s underlings (Logan Marshall-Green and Bokeem Woodbine) and chases them through an entertaining sequence paying homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Watts adeptly plays with the web-shooting gimmick—what if no building is in sight? So Spidey just charges ahead through a montage of low web-swinging and running, in which he crashes BBQ parties and destroys tree houses. His first confrontation with Vulture turns out much worse as the sky is the flying villain’s turf. Spidey is no match for Vulture and almost pays for this recklessness with his life.
Motivated to validate himself, Peter dabbles with the suit. He activates an artificial intelligence named Karen (Jennifer Connelly), thanks to a plot device called Ned’s handy hacking. Karen’s interaction with Peter when he’s trapped in a warehouse provides creative slapsticks, but the scene could have used Holland’s face more, even when the comedic and emotional delivery in his voice is satisfactory. With her support, he masters most of the system and triumphantly rescues his friends at the top of the Washington Monument. Despite its simplicity, the set pieces nicely stage Peter’s analytical and physical skills during daylight. The script, however, misses a chance to let Spidey have more fun as the suit boosts his confidence and curiosity.
The energetic ordinaries of the streets—pedestrians and food stores—are constructed with candid awareness to give Spidey a neighborhood to patrol and hone his heroics. The world of MCU becomes palpable as sky-tearing superheroes are apparent in every aspect of life: educational videos, admiration from high schoolers, and civil effects on normal folks. Playfully, Captain America (Chris Evans) appears in several scenes: one as an educational effort to reach teenagers through superheroes and the other poking fun at fans for MCU ritual shenanigans.
With Homecoming, MCU steps up its game in creating antagonists because Keaton’s Toomes is first-rate. After going broke, his response to the injustice is to become a scavenger, hence the name Vulture. Assisted by The Tinkerer/Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus), he furbishes the Chitaurian weaponry and smuggles them on the black market before attaining a winged-suit that can outplay Falcon’s. That sounds like an average villain, but in truth, Toomes is also a middle-class man with a family of which he takes care by all means possible. Keaton’s memorable delivery of murmurs proves his ability to dominate the modest screen time, rounding off the character’s power of deduction in a thrilling scene with Peter. Vulture is a worthy opponent to Spidey because both of them are exemplary for the situation when one can abuse given powers. Once or twice, Peter comes close to the easier way.
About the weakness of Homecoming, Watts’ inexperience is telling in action settings. In this final battle, his geographical direction meets the standard, but a CGI-heavy aircraft at high speed makes the fight harder to follow. Against the murky background of the night sky, details that call for mindful care are missing into the wind. This drawback is compensated by an emotional gut-punch, which is another homage—from The Amazing Spider-Man #33—and treated with legitimacy by Holland’s unpretentious expressions. It’s inspiring and poignant to watch this teenage boy gather strength and willpower to survive the consequence of his overconfidence. This scene alone makes up for all the formulaic tricks, in which humor undercuts emotional moments because the movie is afraid to be sincere.
Because of Holland’s age and the course correction that shifts away from the saccharine of love interest, the new Spider-Man captures the spirit of its source material with creative precision, while the joyous tone keeps the movie fresh. After the Sony-Marvel deal, Homecoming is a well-conceived bridge to fix MCU’s hasty, irrelevant addition of Spidey into Civil War and to piece together the well-balanced perception of this character.
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