Movie Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming
So, here it is…Spider-Man’s solo debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. [Solo? Did we watch the same movie? – Ed.] We’ll get to that. Let’s cover the simple stuff first in a FAQ format.
Q: Is this the best Spider-Man movie ever?
A: No. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 still retains that crown.
Q: Is this the best interpretation of Spider-Man so far?
A: This may sound like splitting hairs, but yes…I think it is. Tobey Maguire just never got the humor right while Andrew Garfield got it a little more right, there was still just a bit too much angst. Tom Holland’s Spidey nails the humor really well while handling the drama just as well as his predecessors who focused a bit too much on it.
Q: Is Spider-Man: Homecoming better than Wonder Woman?
A: Many critics would have you thinking so…but in my opinion, no, not by a long shot. Spider-Man does what it does well…and while it doesn’t have the bland vanilla flavor that most recent Marvel films have had as of late (Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange), I’d liken it to Strawberry Swirl ice cream: there’s some strawberry flavor in there, but it’s about 90% vanilla. I’ll go more into this a little later. Wonder Woman not only managed to do its own thing (as DC Films have done) but manages to do so epically…given that it’s still in theatres and still pulling down good money at the time of this writing.
All right, we’re starting to get complicated, so let’s pull out of the FAQ and go into full blown review mode. To dovetail off from the previous A though, while the film is pretty good, there are…things…where I’d almost wish the film was kind of forgettable because, you see, the more my mind goes over the film, the more and more the film starts to fall apart.
So as not to seem like the usual nit-picky nerd, I’ll start with the positive. As I said above, Tom Holland is perfect in the role. Actually, I’d give top marks to the entire cast. Michael Keaton gives us the only MCU villain with any depth aside from Loki and gives us one of the tensest moments/best twists I’ve seen in a Marvel film thus far…if not the best. I also like that each iteration of Spider-Man gives us a younger, more active Aunt May…but I have to admit that I’m starting to feel a little creepy about it. Raimi’s Aunt May, Rosemary Harris, was pulled directly from the majority of Spidey’s history and as such was an elderly woman. The Aunt May from the “Amazing” films was still old, portrayed by Sally Field who was in her upper 60s at the time, but more mobile and active than the previous May. In Homecoming…May is played by Marisa Tomei in her early 50s and as a long-time Spider-Man fan, it feels INCREDIBLY WEIRD to think that Aunt May is hot. While we’re on the topic of May, unlike most critics or long-time fans, I like the final scene of the film…the “What the F---?” moment. Not only is it a hilarious punctuation mark to an already fun movie, but it bucks tradition in a way that is interesting and fresh and opens a whole new avenue of storytelling that we haven’t seen before…and I’m very curious how the sequel will spring from this point. The addition of the Michelle character, played by Zendaya, was actually really great as her character fills the ‘typical high school misanthrope’ that feels like an endangered species these days. She ends up being the source of some of the best humor in the film. Her character isn’t perfect though, but that’s no fault of the actress…and we’ll get to what I mean in a bit once I start discussing the negatives. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention Ned. He proves a great foil to Holland’s Peter and I look forward to seeing more of him as he grows into the role of “guy in the chair”…you’ll know what I mean once you watch the film. Another big plus is the mixing of genres, in this instance combining the Superhero film with the teen movies that made up the bulk of John Hughes’ work. This ends up being a perfect fit for Spider-Man. This mix might work once more for whatever the sequel will be…but Sony and Marvel should be aware that something new will be needed if/when Peter gets to college.
While the changes to Aunt May end up working really well for me, not all bucking of tradition is good…and this is where Spider-Man Homecoming really starts to fall apart. I shouldn’t phrase it that way, because how this movie survives in your mind is going to depend GREATLY on how deep you are versed in Spider-Man lore. If you’re a relative newcomer to the character or have been a long-time fan but have only a low to medium depth knowledge of the character (for example, your exposure to Spidey has only been through the movies or cartoons or just the past few years of the comics), this movie is going to hold together just fine for you. If, like me, you’re rooted in some old-school Spidey…well, you might enjoy it at first…but then the piranhas of your mind start to nibble it to pieces. Take Flash Thompson for example. Flash Thompson in the comics is the popular, high school quarterback figure…the antithesis to Peter Parker in almost every way…just as he’s the antithesis to the nerds who most relate to Peter. In this film, he’s still a bully, but he’s a rich kid bully and a DJ…who’s also on the Academic Decathlon team with Peter…and that’s NOT Flash. Some nit-picking internet trolls go on about race, with Flash here being played by an actor of Guatemalan descent, and yeah, I can kinda see their point, but honestly, it’s something I can accept/adapt to. Race is far less important than character type: Flash is the popular football type that gets the popular girls and the adoration of his classmates and most of the adults because, yay, he’s good at sports. He’s everything Peter will not and cannot be and he’s everything most comic book readers will not and cannot be. [Though, truth be told, with the upswing in nerd culture within the wider based popular culture, perhaps this is changing. – Ed.] Being associated with anything pertaining to intelligence, as he is within Homecoming, is just not Flash. That’s not to say that the character should be inherently stupid, no, not at all, but he should follow the established castes that are present within high school society…in this instance ‘Jocks don’t mix with Nerds’, with the exception that if a jock is indeed smart, they tend to keep it hidden for fear it will reflect negatively on them and their popularity. Sure, we’ve seen that in pretty much every high school film ever (including the previous two incarnations of Spidey) but there’s a reason for that…THAT’S THE WAY HIGH SCHOOL IS.
Up next is this film’s connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe…and boy do they REALLY want you to know this is happening in the MCU. To the movie’s credit, from the trailers and the posters, I really thought this movie was going to be Iron Man 4 guest starring Spider-Man and this doesn’t turn out to be the case (what you see in the trailers is pretty much all you see of Stark…aside from one of the closing scenes). But I can certainly see the arguments that have arisen lately on how the MCU might be a little TOO dependent on Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Hey, while we’re on this topic, anyone else notice how much of a dick Tony’s been in his last 2 appearances? He’s really been living up to the whole ‘rich kid takes his toys and goes home when things aren’t going his way’ cliché. In Civil War, when he gets beaten by Cap he whines about how his father designed Cap’s shield and demands that Cap give it back. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Stark takes back the high-tech spider-suit introduced in Civil War because Peter “didn’t deserve it”. Wow…someone’s totally judgmental. And context is supremely important here: when Tony needs members for his side of the Sokovia disagreement, yup, Spidey deserves the best tech he can provide…but if the kid messes up while “training”…yoink. It just left me feeling very “screw you rich boy”. This dovetails into a mini-rant (we’ll get back to the MCU stuff in a bit)…but one thing the movie illustrates very well is that this is the very beginning of Spidey’s hero career (while thankfully skipping the origin). And you can see that in how Spidey handles himself through the arc of the film…but this comes in direct conflict with how Spidey was portrayed in Civil War…which happens two months prior to the events of this film…where it looks like Spidey, while new to the larger stage at which Avengers stuff happens, is fairly well adapted to his own powers. This begs the question…how did he get WORSE at web-slinging and wall-crawling over a mere 8 weeks? This goes unanswered. Back to cramming the MCU down our throats, yeah, the movie takes almost any opportunity to do this, whether it’s Tony Stark’s presence…or Happy Hogan’s for that matter, the Captain America PSA videos scattered throughout the film, the constant mentioning of other heroes in dialog…background and foreground…this ends up reeking of a lack of confidence, the same kind that plagues Marvel’s Distinguished Competition wherein they shoehorn in Batman wherever and whenever they can. Guys, this is SPIDER-MAN…YOUR BIGGEST PROPERTY. Sure, the last 3 films have met with mixed results but come on…your biggest property deserves your confidence not a seemingly panicked response where you feel you need to prop him up with anything and everything you can find.
Another problem is the complete lack of a spider-sense in the film. Sure, sure, I can see where within the story that would have given rise to a problem or two…but come on. This is Marvel Studios. For them to accept any script that depends on instances where the use of a spider-sense would’ve ruined the narrative flow or, hell, the lack of any spider-sense at all is, well…kind of unforgivable. In the instance that happens, you get new writers. [And it must’ve happened multiple times, because there’s no less than SIX writers on this damn film. – Ed.] It’s one of Spidey’s most iconic powers! That’d be like having a Superman movie where he didn’t have heat vision, taking away the Batmobile in a Batman movie or Ant Man’s ability to communicate with ants. Yes, I get that Marvel/Disney has released all sorts of articles/press releases saying that Spidey’s spider-sense will come into play during Infinity War…but come on. That reeks more of a whoops than anything. We can remember more details about Spider-Man when he’s in a group-centric movie as opposed to his own solo film? Take a deep breath folks, that’s bullshit you smell.
Last one…and this focuses on Michelle. Not the character, not at all…as I said above, she’s well written and Zendaya plays her as a fantastic misanthrope with a razor sharp wit. That’s fantastic and I can’t wait to see more of her. It’s what the movie tries to turn her into by the end of the movie. Turns out, her last name is Jones (you won’t know that from the film though, which is EXTREMELY light on the last names). So, by the end of the movie, she informs her Academic Decathlon teammates that her friends call her “MJ”.
**RECORD SCRATCH SOUND**
No, no, no and no. Fuck you movie. Michelle Jones DOES NOT get to be Mary Jane Watson. No. I can understand shying away from Mary Jane given her prominence in the Sam Raimi films…but this kind of twisting of a character is about as close to sacrilege as you can get to Spidey fans. Mary Jane has an iconic place in the Spider-Man mythology…the same place that, say, Lois Lane has within Superman’s. And just as you do not mess with Lois…you DO NOT mess with MJ. Keeping Zendaya’s character just as ‘Michelle’ is totally fine. Hell, she and Peter can even end up together in the next film…cool. But no. Not as “MJ”. “MJ” is Mary Jane…the end. I’m usually a very tolerant nerd, as I hope many of the articles on this site point out, but like I said, you don’t mess with Superman’s Lois, Flash’s Iris or Green Lantern’s Carol…and you damn sure don’t mess with Spidey’s MJ.
In spite of all the negatives listed above, well, I can certainly still recommend this movie. In fact, the less Spider-Man knowledge you have, the more I encourage you to see it…you’ll likely enjoy it the most. But for those of us that have deep roots in Spidey…well, it all starts off fun…but the more you think about it, the more the film crumbles to pieces. Even with that though, this movie proves to be a fun start and a good foundation to build upon. No franchise is perfect on its first outing…and neither is this MCU Spider-Man, but with such a great cast in place, a fantastic and fun tone, I’m certainly very interested in seeing where they go from here.