Originally published on Creators.co on July 9th, 2017 as “7 Highs, Lows, and Missed Opportunities of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’
We arrive at the third version of the popular Marvel character, Spider-Man, to make it to the big screen. This time screen right holder’s Sony Pictures have partnered up with Marvel Studios to revitalized the character in a Marvel Cinematic Universe realm. This time the iconic character is played by Tom Holland. Although this is his first Spider-Man movie, it is not his first appearance as Spider-Man. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man first appeared in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. It was a small role but it signaled some good things ahead for the titular character. Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheroes (certainly my favorite in Marvel’s lineup) so even though the trailers really didn’t wow me, I was still looking forward to the film.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has a number of flaws to it that do hold the movie back from what it could have been. In spite of those flaws, I think Spider-Man: Homecoming is a nice change of pace for the character. The movie is fun and has a few really good performances by the main stars. Let’s take a look at, the highs, lows and missed opportunities of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
(Warning Mild Spoilers Ahead)
The Origin and The Relationship To Tony Stark
One of the controversial elements of the first Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man movie was that it retold the origin of Spider-Man. Amazing Spider-Man covers a lot of the same ground that Sam Rami’s first Spider-Man did. Personally, I thought it a well-done origin story but it wasn’t needed a third time. Homecoming doesn’t retread that same ground. Make no mistake though this is an origin film still. We might not see Uncle Ben’s death or the spider bite but Homecoming is all about building Peter up as the hero from his humble beginnings wearing a sweatshirt as an outfit to proving himself to Tony Stark. Foregoing the buildup to Peter becoming Spider-Man means the story can focus solely on Peter learning about being Spider-Man. It changes up the rhythm and beats of the pacing. In this sense, Homecoming feels fresher.
The relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker is the beating heart of the story. Peter wants to be like Tony. The entire film Peter is constantly trying to prove himself to Stark by trying to take down the main villain, the Vulture. Tony doesn’t always give him the time of day which drives Peter to make rash decisions. As seen in the trailer, Tony tells Peter “If you’re nothing without the suit then you shouldn’t have it”. Whereas past Spider-Man movies dealt with the development of Spider-Man by having him learn about responsibility, here Peter has to learn it isn’t the suit that makes a hero.
This line also works in the development of Tony Stark/Iron Man as a character. There is the reoccurring theme throughout the Marvel films over what defines Tony? Him? Or the Iron Man suit? Marvel has properly built Tony up as a character to be more than just a suit (which is a lot of what Iron Man 3 covers). Even though he isn’t in the movie as much as he should be, it is interesting to see Iron Man become this mentor to the young hero.
Not Playing Up Key Themes
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie, I don’t think it’s a great movie and that’s partly because of not making full use of thematic elements. The big thematic element that doesn’t get played with as much as it probably should is the class warfare conflict that is part of this movie’s DNA from the opening scene. Adrian (the Vulture) is a blue-collar working class criminal. He is driven to that lifestyle after he feels cheated from the rich and powerful individual like Tony Stark. Peter comes from a similar background to Adrian but instead works with Tony. Adrian finds Tony hypercritical. Adrian hates Tony. This is a potentially powerful dynamic. I don’t write this because I think Homecoming should make a political statement or preach about class warfare, I write this because this creates deep emotional conflict. Deep emotional conflict makes for a more intense conflict and in turn a more engaging movie. Since it’s at a surface level the conflict works but I don’t feel myself getting as emotionally invested as I could have.
Michael Keaton As The Vulture
Michael Keaton of Batman and Birdman fame plays the Vulture. Michael Keaton brings a humanity and a sinister edge to the Vulture that typically Marvel Studio films lack. While the Vulture isn’t maybe up to a Loki level (yet) he is certainly the best MCU villain other than Loki. Keaton is perfectly cast because you believe him as a blue collar worker and is able to pull off the transition to villainhood in a believable manner. I still think Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus from Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 2 is the best Spider-Man movie villain but Keaton is certainly the best since.
As much I enjoy Keaton’s Vulture I think he doesn’t have the most memorable confrontations with Spider-Man. There isn’t the “train fight” scene from Spider-Man 2 here (that fight scene is still one the best done in comic books movies). The fights between Spider-Man and his foes are good but the beats of each fight don’t stand out. The lacking factor in the fight scenes is a sense of suspense and a bit of intensity. The action here feels the “safest” of all the Spider-Man movies. That isn’t to say this movie has boring action, it just doesn’t stand out as much as you would expect nor as much as it probably should.
As Spider-Man fans I think we are pretty lucky, Tom Holland marks the third actor to play the role of Spider-Man and successfully follows up the great performances of Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Holland being younger allows a real innocence to be injected into the character. He is good at making quips but he is also good at making himself feel vulnerable and scared. He is a kid after all. Holland doesn’t try to copy any of the previous actors and stands on his own as a unique take on the character. I am excited to see what Holland does next with the role.
High Schooler Characters
One of the big selling points of director Jon Watt’s take on Spider-Man was this was going to be set in High School. Marvel wanted to make a John Hughes style of high school comedy with a Spider-Man movie wrapped around it. I like this approach. However, it doesn’t always work and what doesn’t work is some of the dialogue given to the high schoolers. This is a movie that feels like it was written by a group of adults that think they know how teenagers talk. The teens say cool a lot and that somehow passes as John Hughes teenage dialogue. Other bits of dialogue range from cliches from the 1990s to some poor attempts to be like “a modern” teenager (this problem really shows in Zendaya’s character) It runs against what John Hughes did in his movies for teenagers. He wrote teenagers as people that were in High School, not a movie “high schoolers”. Edge of Seventeen is a good example of how to write teenagers in a modern sense. If Spider-Man: Homecoming is making a conscious choice to make a John Hughes-style comedy (in one form or another) then you have to write teenagers well. Outside of Peter and maybe his friend Ned, this movie doesn’t do that well.
Homecoming also showcases how to properly do setup for future films without bogging down the movie currently at hand. Homecoming has several appearances by other Spider-Man villains throughout the movie but they are quick and never divert away from the main plot. If you’re not a big Spider-Man comic book fan you might not pick up on some of the small little bits of setup. Universal should take some notes when approaching their future Dark Universe films.
The beginning of this movie is a bit sluggish and it takes a little bit to really get into the meaty parts of the narrative. But, once we get there it makes it more than worthwhile. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie that doesn’t reach its full potential. I think most online love this more than I do. While I don’t think this is some amazing comic book film (this year has offered better ones like Logan, Wonder Woman, or even Lego Batman) it is nice to see people embracing the Spider-Man character again. Homecoming sets a good foundation for future movies to piggyback off of and continues the strong string of successful comic book movies that we’ve had this year.