-Marvel’s take on Spidey is as good as anyone could hope, and brings the MCU to new heights.
Give Marvel some credit, adapting Spider-Man again after already having two franchises in the last fifteen years takes real confidence in the MCU’s ability to generate renewed audience interest in all of their characters. We are only three years off of the disappointing run of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and although I feel that the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ movies are pretty misunderstood, the critical and monetary reception of them was lower than expected. Despite a possible declining interest in the web-slinging hero, Marvel easily incorporates him into their universe, and although there are aspects of this film that do feel like a smaller piece in the overall puzzle that is the MCU, it clearly becomes my favorite in the 16-film franchise on its ability to be unique.
We start in a world where Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is already Spider-Man. We’ve accepted his presence after Captain America: Civil War, and have moved on from the origin story we’ve gotten twice already. In this incarnation, Peter is a sophomore. He’s a little undersized, but makes up for it by being his school’s smartest student. A nerd and social outcast at heart, Peter really only has his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) to turn to when things get hard. Spidey is in an interesting place. He’s developed somewhat of a relationship with world-famous Tony Stark/Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.) but has not ascended to the heights of ‘The Avengers.’ Instead, he stays home in Queens refining his craft and learning to be, as Stark puts it “a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” Even though he’s somewhat aware of his low-scale importance, Peter desires a larger piece of the puzzle, and feels left out of the more adventurous missions that the Avengers get to accomplish. Mix that with teen angst, a crush who doesn’t know he exists (Laura Harrier as Liz), and an overprotective guardian (Marisa Tomei as Aunt May), and Spidey is in a compromising point in his life.
Meanwhile, across the city, local contractor Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has his post-The Avengers New York clean-up job taken away from him by the “Department of Damage Control,” an initiative from Stark and the U.S. government to minimize the effects of having colossal Superhero fights and prevent citizens from getting too close to any alien technology or debris that was left behind. Sensing that he’s been screwed, Toomes and his crew begin stealing alien technology from these DODC clean-up missions, and weaponizing them for sale on the black market. Toomes himself has made himself rather intimidating by creating a mechanical, alien-influenced aerial suit with weapons, and if you’re familiar with Spider-Man lore, you’ll know he’s “the Vulture.” Spider-Man sees this operation being run, and when he’s ignored by the higher-ups including Stark, he takes this up as a chance to prove himself, inserting himself between the dangerous Toomes and his monetary goals.
The movie is, frankly, near-perfect. My only complaint is a second act that slows down just a bit much to the point that it exposes some of the missing dramatic weight that it needs to tide us over during slower scenes. Other than that, I just want to talk about how much this movie impressed me, and how it was the first time the MCU really brought out the “fan” in me.
I feel the need to repeat this in every MCU movie review I do, but I have been a pretty big critic of them to the point where I hold pretty unpopular opinions by criticizing films like Captain America: The Winter Solider, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange, essentially just saying they’re closer to being average than they are to being great. However, this year has given me two of my five favorite MCU movies in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II and now Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I can happily say that some of my venom (no pun intended) toward this series has been extinguished.
Tom Holland is a really good Spider-Man. I don’t think he’s better than Tobey Maguire because we know so much more about Tobey’s Spider-Man in terms of dramatic weight, but I think Holland is on-par with Andrew Garfield in that they both do a really nice job. I can’t really gush about how much I like Holland because I think there are way better elements to this movie than him, but I think he is a solid, serviceable Spider-Man that shows a different, cheeky youth to the character. He’s probably the most comic accurate, and that’s great. I just don’t think he really distances himself from the other two. He’s is different, however, and that’s enough.
The real winner in this film is Micheal Keaton.
You can always repeat the mantra that I truly believe, that “comic books films are only as good as their villain.” I think that it applies, and a lot of what makes this my favorite MCU film is what Keaton brings to the table as the villain. Just for starters, it’s so refreshing to have a villain that doesn’t pose a world-wide threat. He just wants to make some money and it only affects the local community, not the world at large. The film is openly smaller in scale than most of the other Marvel films, and that is a huge win for the tone and style.
In addition, Keaton has made a villain that is extremely relatable. He’s a hard-working guy who has his business swept out from under him and turns to the black market to give his family the life that they deserve. He actually loves his wife and daughter, and is willing to bend the rules to accomplish as much as he can. He doesn’t do a ton of unnecessary killing, and really just wants Spider-Man to stay out of his affairs, there’s no personal vendetta that seems unearned. In a series of scenes where Spidey and the Vulture end up closer to each other out of costume and begin having a measuring contest with each other as they figure out the other’s identities, one of the Vulture’s warnings is that he just wants Spider-Man not to interfere. There’s not a necessity for him to needlessly kill Spider-Man. Plus, a certain twist that occurs with the Vulture is the best scene in the movie and wildly tense. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what scene I’m talking about, and it’s just incredible film-making. There’s a ten minute chunk of this movie that’s as good as any moment we’ve ever gotten in a Spider-Man movie.
Having a more relatable villain with a true purpose elevates the entire film around that, as it forces Spider-Man to make tough choices. In a way, this is a high school movie, a coming of age tale for one of the world’s most famous heroes. He doesn’t always make the right choices, and Tony Stark is sometimes there to scold him about it. The character relationships are earned, the teen angst is earned, and although the action scenes aren’t great, the villain/hero dynamic here outweighs any need for explosive CG fight-fests. This is the perfect scale-back for the MCU in that it decides to be a bit smaller in importance.
It’s not the best Spider-Man movie, not by a long shot, but it does outperform the two Amazing Spider-Man movies. It’s not that Holland is better than Garfield, but it’s that the movie is tighter and better directed. The more light-hearted nature of the film makes it so that it can’t quite be as good as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 + 2, but it doesn’t have to be. Those movies were made for an adult audience, they changed the superhero landscape, and they had more mature themes. There’s isn’t the continuity of having James Franco, Kirsten Dunst, etc., to carry over from film to film, but this incarnation of Spider-Man gets as close as it can because it decides to be something different. Without an origin, without the needless rehash and stepping on the toes of other films, we instead get a brand new Spider-Man, brand new villain, and brand new themes. Because it is able to differentiate itself, it won’t forever lie in the shadow of the masterpieces that are Raimi’s 2002 and 2004 films. I really enjoyed this movie, and think that Marvel should take a hint that a more personal story like this will lead to more success in their future installments.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Director: Jon Watts (Cop Car, Clown)
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, and Robert Downey Jr.
with: Jon Favreau, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, and Donald Glover
RT Score: 92%