So here we are again: another reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. This 3rd live action version in the last 15 years has a lot stacked against it, battling the fatigue that surrounds a film industry hellbent on sticking to remakes, re-tellings and sequels. Luckily, these perceived hurdles end up working in favor of what narratively ends up being the most unique and well made entry into the cinematic history of old web-head!
The Spider-Man we meet in Homecoming is a Spider-Man we already know, making this movie almost seem like a sequel. Having seen him previously in Captain America: Civil War we’ve been introduced to his power-set, characterization and overall charm. This may be controversial and a bit unbelievable considering that I probably said this about Andrew Garfield, but Tom Holland is perfect for this role, in particular when it comes to the Spider-Man “era” this movie covers.
Every other Spider-Man has been at the tail end of his high school career or in early adulthood which has always bugged me. The overall connection point to Spider-Man, especially with comic book readers, is how young he is, taking on the burdens that he does while dealing with normal teenage issues. Every other actor that has donned the mantle has felt too old to play Spidey, or put into situations that bypass the adolescence that shapes his approach to fighting crime.
This usually stems from the Uncle Ben problem. Most folks know the adage: “with great power comes great responsibility” the phrase uttered by the assuredly doomed Uncle Ben that spurns Peter Parker to truly become the Spider-Man. This moment is essential to the origin of Spider-Man, but falls into the same category as Bruce Wayne’s parents dying. As viewers we’re aware of this prior to seeing the film and as such, don’t need precious screen time wasted retelling it. And this is where this semi-sequel falling in line with the overall MCU is a boon.
We’re shown a Spider-Man who has already dedicated himself to the craft. This simple fact is the beginning of the subversion of the standard superhero narrative within the film, freed from the burden of a wellworn origin story. Where you’d expect there to be training montages, calls to action and a moment where a parental figure utters just the right phrase to make our hero believe in himself, nearly the exact opposite happens at every turn.
In fact, if you were studying this film by its use of film stereotypes, the heroic journey is undertaken by the film’s villain, Vulture, played wonderfully by Michael Keaton. His arc juxtaposes Peter’s in a way that makes you root for him, even as he haphazardly goes about his business. Think Walter White with more tech and less hats. And to add another layer of unusual narrative, Vulture plays out as a shadowy twin to Tony Stark, mirroring so many of his view and motivations, just to different ends. This two dads taking the place of an dearly departed uncle situation is yet another level of the unusual that makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so fresh and interesting.
Marvel has its formula down. We’re all used to a hero finding his powers, suddenly become the only person that can possibly stop a meticulous world ending calamity. We’re used to moments of self doubt erased by words of praise or a vision of a loved one. We’re used to having a hero, resplendent and adored by the masses, preening right before the credits roll. And again, as with the majority of this movie, the exact opposite happens.
We’ve got a Spider-Man that’s already fought with and against the Avengers, frustrated by sitting on the bench. Being a street level hero, waiting on calls from Tony Stark and skipping out on being a kid just for the chance to tackle something a little bigger than giving direction to Dominican Abuelas is a palpable frustration that really comes across as just more than teen angst. That, coupled with maintaining his secret identity and crushing super hard on a “senior girl” is the Peter Parker we’ve yet to, and for me personally, always wanted to see.
The cast that fills out the rest of this movie is diverse and honestly hysterical. If this wasn’t a superhero movie, I’d expect this to be the cast of a Fast Times remake. You can expect a level of Marvel cheesiness in all of its films but this movie actually has well crafted jokes and situations. But the real standout is Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend and “guy in the chair” Ned. Playing the role of the the aspiring bumbling sidekick, lad in distress and a mirror to the teenage nerdiness of Peter creates and endearing character that audiences will really enjoy. But not half as much as the action sequences.
Again, I’ve probably said this about every Spider-Man movie, but people probably said there wouldn’t ever be a game better than Pong so whatever! The action sequences in this movie are some of the best shot, comic faithful and visually stunning scenes to date. The costume feels so real and Peter’s movements as Spider-Man are just a tick below visually perfect which makes everything that much more believable. Vulture’s suit works well within the story to be both frightening and universe realistic without straying too far away from its comic roots. This movie is amazing visually, begging to be seen on the biggest screen you can find it on.
You can feel the individuality and loneliness of Peter and Spider-Man throughout this movie. He leans on an absentee father figure who constantly berates himself for applying tough love while applying tough love. He even goes so far as to retreat from his friends and family because of what he perceives is an inevitable call up to the big leagues. It’s only when he realizes that everything he’s been fighting, both externally and internally, is what makes him the best version of himself. This self awareness, a refusal to be bound to exceptionalism for personal vanity is what ultimately allows him to become the best version of Spider-Man to date. It’s rare to have the standout in a superhero movie, much less a summer blockbuster, be the plot but even in this CG heavy, action adventure tent pole, the well crafted story is what makes this Spider-Man worth seeing.