Spider-Man: Homecoming Review: Homework and Puberty Finally Ground A Beloved Icon

Photo Credit:http://comicbook.com/marvel/2017/04/03/uncle-ben-role-spider-man-homecoming-revealed/

Is Spider-Man: Homecoming a high school film or a superhero film? What director on Watts has discovered, surely with the guiding hand of Kevin Feige, the MCU’s reigning emperor, is that a Spider-Man film gets to be both thanks to the intrinsic nature of the character. Peter Parker originated as an everyman, something Sam Raimi playfully nailed without nuance 15 years ago. And thus, Peter Parker is Homecoming‘s greatest asset, steered to perfection by the revelation that is Tom Holland, who immediately eclipses Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in his opening scene overflowing with endearing charm. But this is still an MCU film, a fact that sadly puts a ceiling on how high this big screen web head can truly soar.

Homecoming is best when it’s different from the pantheon of Marvel films, something obviously true of every entry in the series. Peter juggles school, extracurriculars, his social life, and crushes, all while donning the iconic mask, swinging around New York, and trying to make a difference. But unlike cinema’s past wall crawlers, this Spidey lives in the shadow of the likes of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., somewhat messily included, but no less entertaining) and the other Avengers. Being a superhero isn’t all that amazing in this Peter’s world. The film smartly spends time showing him as mundanely heroic, stopping bike thieves and giving people directions (he delights in his reward, a churro, for the latter).

That all changes, naturally, when he stops a robbery where the criminals are using alien tech, modified from leftovers from the climactic battle of The Avengers. Collecting these glowing artifacts is Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture (Michael Keaton, chewing scenery despite being slightly underwritten), who blames the powerful, such as Tony Stark, for forgetting the little guy in the emergence of what their world has become since the debut of the superpowered. He makes for an above average villain for the MCU, thanks to the ideas that form his foundation and Keaton’s hamfisted performance, even if above average really isn’t saying much here. Vulture points to Feige and co. correcting Marvel’s villain problem, but not nearly as successful as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did earlier this summer with Kurt Russell’s Ego.

With Tony acting as a father figure of sorts, a fun position to throw him in after all his other appearances in the canon, Peter is told to stand down, confided to being a friendly neighborhood superhero when he aspires to be an Avenger. And that’s where his high school world grounds him. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) are enough to keep Peter’s central conflict both emotionally resonant and totally authentic to what drew readers to Spider-Man more than half a century ago. The spirit of the character is very much intact, with the film displaying a Peter who struggles in just about every aspect of his life, big and small, while remaining endearingly committed to his mission and eternally lovable. Holland is perfect, full of humor and charm with that signature touch of guilt that always threatens to destroy him. He’s impossible not to root for, making this Spider-Man worthy of the flagship status he’s had at Marvel for decades, and one who could possibly take the lead in the MCU as a couple key contracts run out.

Sadly, it’s the script that doesn’t always do him justice. Perhaps a nitpicky issue, but Spider-Man’s costume takes on a life of its own in Homecoming, a la the JARVIS AI introduced in Iron Man. Giving Peter all this extra help, in the form of his high-tech suit and the computer talking in his ear, sort of takes away from the his struggle to find balance as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. There’s too much of an Iron Man influence on the MCU’s Spider-Man, taking away from the character’s very essence, which is also on display here, causing the two to clash. Peter’s arc over the film also revolves too much around his suit, with him eventually being forced to work without it to find the hero within himself. This leads to a routine, boring third act showdown that mirrors a number of Marvel’s other efforts. The ideas that built the Vulture go unexplored while Peter’s arc leaves room for a sequel to pick up where this film left off. The problem is it doesn’t feel like Peter learned all that much here.

For that, Homecoming sits behind other great superhero films, including Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, one of the genre’s only true masterpieces. But it’s still a ton of fun, and Holland is unquestionably the best Spider-Man to ever grace the screen, igniting the way for a bright future for one of the most beloved character’s in all of fiction. Next time, maybe the script can pay a little more attention to who he’s meant to become rather than who he already is. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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