SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming follows.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the second reboot of the wall-crawler in the past 15 years (Sam Raimi’s three Spider-Man films, Marc Webb’s two The Amazing Spider-Man films), and while the reaction to his presence in Captain America: Civil War was generally positive, do we really need a sixth solo Spider-Man movie? If they’re anything like Homecoming, then the answer is yes.
With Great Power…
By now, anybody with a remote interest in superhero movies knows Peter Parker’s origin story: Radioactive spider. Murdered uncle. Homecoming wisely assumes viewers already have this knowledge and instead tells a different origin story. Instead of being about how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, this movie is about how Spider-Man discovers what kind of hero he wants to be. There’s only a brief reference to how Peter gained his powers, and no mention of Uncle Ben at all. In their place is a story line that is genuinely fresh and new for the superhero genre: a young hero who got a brief taste of the big league (sparring with Captain America!), only to be immediately demoted back to the minors. In addition, thanks to the unusual deal between Disney and Sony to share the rights to Spider-Man, Peter isn’t a solo hero anymore. He lives in a world where superhero teams like the Avengers are very public about their existence. In previous Spider-Man movies, Peter’s highest heroic ambitions were to be the best hero that New York City could ask for. Now, those ambitions can be much higher: to join the Avengers and help the entire world.
These new twists do wonders to help this new incarnation of Peter Parker feel completely new and gives him a much more singular purpose this time around. Previous movies have seen Peter struggle with balancing his work life, school life, love life and superhero life. While that struggle is still present in Homecoming, it’s clear that Peter’s efforts to prove himself worthy to Tony Stark and join the Avengers takes precedence. It’s mentioned during the movie that Peter has quit his academic decathlon team and other classes in favor of his work on the “Stark Internship.” Peter Parker as an eager youngster doing his best to earn the approval of a distant father figure is a new take on the character. The scenes between Peter and Tony are some of the best in the movie, and Stark was particularly entertaining while awkwardly trying to play the responsible adult as opposed to the flippant rebel. I particularly loved this exchange:
Peter Parker: I was just trying to be like you.
Tony Stark: I need you to be better. I’m taking back the suit.
Peter Parker: I’m nothing without the suit!
Tony Stark: If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.
There’s a lot going on in that simple back-and-forth, with Tony showing some maturity from his earlier, more bombastic days and the juxtaposition of him explaining how the suit doesn’t make the man.
Speaking of a lot going on, Micheal Keaton is great as Adrian Toomes. I don’t necessarily buy the narrative that the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has a “villain problem,” but I do agree that many come across as fairly one-dimensional. Toomes is anything but that. He has a complicated and sympathetic backstory, and it’s hard to fault him for feeling screwed over by those who are wealthier and more politically connected. It’s easy to see how a good man can be driven to extreme lengths in the interest of “protecting his family.” He also had a much more complex moral code than the typical “I want to destroy/rule the world” villain. He acknowledges that Peter saved his daughter’s life and admits he respects him, and I found it very interesting that he chose not to reveal Peter’s identity in the mid-credit scene after Peter saved his life. At the same time, his character isn’t above a bit of hypocrisy, as his very swanky house revealed he wasn’t quite the working-class man just trying to provide for his family that he claimed to be.
Finally, a word has to be said about the prom scene, from the moment Peter gets dropped off at Liz’s house to when he enters the dance. I was genuinely shocked when Toomes opened the door, which was a pleasant surprise since I often seen these twists coming (see: Ares in Wonder Woman). My shock perfectly melded with the shock Peter must’ve been feeling and led to an incredibly tense scene that was only topped by the car ride afterwards. Seeing Toomes put the pieces together and finding out that Peter was Spider-Man was spine-tingling. Wonderfully written, acted, and shot.
…Comes Great Responsibility
For as much as I enjoyed the movie, though, there were a few things that bothered me. As mentioned before, much of the conflict in the movie revolves around Peter trying to balance his life as a student and nephew with his life as a superhero. Quite frankly, I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the decisions that he ended up making. Far too often he seemed to prioritize his work as Spider-Man despite constant examples for why he should be more cautious. When he intervened in the ATM heist, he almost got the sandwich shop owner killed. When he intervened in the gun sale during Liz’s party, he almost died. Even after Stark told him to leave it to the big boys, he set off a series of events that led to an explosion in the Washington Monument and some of his classmates nearly dying. One would’ve thought Peter would get the message that by the time he gets his suit taken away and Stark has shown that he is listening to the warnings that Peter has been giving (he called in the Feds, after all), but Peter doesn’t and very nearly gets himself killed in the movie’s climax.
His school life could’ve been so much better if he wasn’t so singularly focused on proving himself to Stark and joining the Avengers. Flash’s bullying could’ve been permanently ended in a flash (sorry) with a simple Spider-Man appearance at Liz’s party. Speaking of Liz, how do you turn down a secret pool party that your crush invites you to? Lastly, at the eponymous homecoming dance, why does he still feel the need to take on Toomes by himself? Call Happy to tell him what’s up and let Stark handle it himself. He’s already shown he is listening to Peter by calling in the Feds on the ferry and Iron Man would be able to take care of the Vulture in seconds without nearly the risk of loss of life. Bonus points? You get to spend an evening hanging out with your crush and not getting on the bad side of a murderer (albeit an accidental one). It just sometimes felt like I was watching a horror movie where I kept screaming inside my head, “Why are you making such a stupid decision!?”
And the cherry on top of all of this? After such a singular focus the entire movie and sacrificing so much just to try to join the Avengers… he turns them down at the end. That was one final, huge decision that I completely didn’t understand for Peter. What had changed to make him think he wanted to stay apart from the group? If anything, it would seem like he has less ties to his home life now with his crush moving away. It felt like a completely random and unearned decision at the end.
One other thing that slightly bothered me throughout the movie is wondering what exactly are the Avengers doing all this time? I understand it’s hard to create any stand-alone superhero movie in the MCU now without a certain amount of wondering where the other heroes are, but the Avengers are starting to come across as a little bit lazy. They’ve faced two major world threats in five years (one mainly of their own creation). What else have they been doing all this time? They’re not helping out with world-threatening events in the Agents of SHIELD TV show. Super dangerous alien technology weapons trading is apparently below their radar. This is Stark’s backyard, where is he? Is Vision just sitting around perfecting his recipe for paprikash? Heck, where are the Defenders?
Lastly, I thought the reveal of Michelle as “MJ” was a little too cute, and her character a little too confusing in terms of too many archetypes thrown together. When we first meet her, she’s a loser with no friends. But then we see her at the popular kid’s party that even Peter wasn’t initially invited to (despite her apparently being interested in him). Later we find out she’s smart enough to be on the academic decathlon team, a great artist and politically active. I’m not at all saying that somebody can’t be all these things, but considering how little screen time her character was given, it seemed like an attempt to just throw too many character traits against the wall to see what stuck instead of picking one to develop. It also seems like a mistake to saddle her character with the MJ nickname. Mary Jane has some pretty established characteristics that seem to be at odds with what we know about the Michelle character. Comic book fans can be very protective of iconic characters and often don’t take kindly to reinterpretations of them. I can’t see any compelling reason why they would want to take what appears to be a completely different character and give her such an iconic nickname. It seems like it can only cause problems.
All in all, I really enjoyed the latest incarnation of Spider-Man, and can’t wait to see where they go from here. The shared universe deal with Sony is a little worrisome, as it sounds like there might be a chance of movie overload and universe confusion. Still, Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker, and putting him in high school and framing him as a “rookie” superhero in a world where superheroes are seemingly becoming a dime a dozen puts a fresh new spin on not only Spider-Man but all other superhero movies. The movie did a great job of mixing action, humor, and drama. Perhaps more importantly, it did a great job of acknowledging the shared MCU universe without obsessing over it. This was Spider-Man’s story, but there was still mention of the Sokovia Accords and appropriate appearances by the “war criminal” Captain America. If Spider-Man is slated to be a bigger presence in the MCU post-Infinity War, then we should be in good hands.