Moviegoers have seen five Spider-Man films in a little over ten years, and two talented actors have played the beleaguered, put-upon Peter Parker. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth and latest entry, with a new kid under the mask: Tom Holland, who made his debut as Spidey in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.
The sub-title “Homecoming” is an apt one, and not only because of the school dance featured in the third act, nor the return of Peter to his New York stomping grounds (he was basically in Berlin for much of his Civil War appearance). It’s also because Sony, who made the last five Spider-Man movies, have finally made the wise decision to team up with Marvel Studios, perhaps bruising from the critical drubbing and lackluster box office that greeted their Amazing Spider-Man 2. With this collaboration, Spidey’s parent company (who, let’s face it, know the character best) have been able to fully integrate him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which they began in Civil War. This is something fans have been clamoring for, and it’s a good sign that Sony finally listened.
Because Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very good Spider-Man film.
Owing much to the Ultimate Spider-Man run of comics by Brian Bendis & Mark Bagley, the immediate impression the film makes is how confidently they know and get this character. It’s the same impression the Wonder Woman film made, and it’s heartening for Spider-Man fans of every stripe. Or should that be web? It’s there in the broad strokes: his quips, sense of humor, sense of adventure, freedom and acrobatics while swinging around the city (definite shades of Bagley’s influence here, with Spidey’s long, thin limbs, gangly as hell), multiple struggles with sacrifice– but rewardingly, also in smaller details like Peter’s friendliness with people in his neighborhood; even making a point to pet a cat in his favorite sandwich shop.
They also gets the “teen” in teen superhero right, careful not to neglect Peter’s high school life like many of its predecessors did. He deals with bullies, being one of the not-popular kids (albeit one with a friend), having a crush, having to balance school and superhero-ing, keeping his identity a secret, doing well in class and his extracurricular Academic Decathlon team.
And what a school! The film makes no bones about its inclusivity. There are Hasidic students, gay students, East Asian chess club members… heck, Peter’s best friend, Ned, is played by Filipino-American newcomer Jacob Batalon. Even his regular bully, Flash, is played by Guatemalan-American Tony Revolori (from The Grand Budapest Hotel). And Flash here is not the usual jock; he also has a spot on the Decathlon team, which is a veritable United Colors of Benetton poster.
The rest of the cast is just as colorful, from love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) to Donald Glover as a low-rent criminal who may have a costume in his future. There are also a number of notable cameos and supporting roles by comedians like Hannibal Buress, Zach Cherry, Kenneth Choi, Michael Chernus, Martha Kelly, Martin Starr, and the aforementioned Glover (oh, and villain Michael Keaton used to be a stand-up comic himself).
Though three sets of writing duos share credit for the screenplay it still feels of a piece, and relationships are given their proper weight in order to ground the stakes that will be imperiled by the finale. Peter’s relationships with Stark as mentor, Happy as watchdog, May as parent/family, Ned as bestie/confidant, Liz as love interest, even with his villain The Vulture, are what make this thing tick. Well, that and his relationship with the world as the perpetually down-on-his-luck friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who perseveres to do the right thing even if he gets nothing in return, not even recognition. In fact, it’s likely he’ll get called a menace.
All the actors do good work, standouts being Tomei, who balances May’s liveliness and worry; and Holland, especially in a scene that homages a classic panel from the Spider-Man comics. Holland wrenches a lot of emotion out of whimpers and cries, but rallies to his own aid.
Some words about Michael Keaton and The Vulture: Keaton visibly enjoys himself in this role, perhaps because it seems perfect casting to get the guy who played Birdman (which kind of decried the ubiquity of superhero blockbusters, if you’ll remember) and has a place in movie history as arguably the best Batman. But as written by this team of writers (which includes director Jon Wells), The Vulture is also a very 2017 villain, as Homecoming is a very 2017 film (there’s even a line about the Washington monument having been built by slaves!). A downtrodden blue-collar entrepreneur who feels trampled upon by the bigwigs and fat cats, overlooked and betrayed by the government, Keaton’s character is who Trump targeted in his campaign last year (and yes, it was only last year). His backstory and motivations are clear, he’s played by a great actor, and as such is one of the best superhero villains we’ve seen in a while.
Though this is director Wells’ first big-budget picture you wouldn’t know it: everything moves at a good clip and he gets a lot of mileage from some clever and fun montages, from Spidey stuck in a government facility talking to his Her-like suit AI (voiced by Jennifer Connelly, real-life wife of the voice of Jarvis, who now plays Vision), to Peter asking Aunt May for help in getting ready for the dance by teaching him how to dress and move on the floor. There’s a even a pretty good plot twist in there, which is set up nicely by gaming comics fans against their expectations, a trick The Dark Knight pulled to good effect.
Homecoming is a fun-filled, welcome return to form for one of the comics medium’s favorite sons, and good on Sony for doing the right thing. Hopefully this is the beginning of a fruitful collaboration that will keep reminding audiences why Spidey is the one other superheroes in the Marvel universe look up to.
Photos from IMDb
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