by Philip Price
The thing that will forever allow “Spider-Man: Homecoming” to stand apart from the previous five iterations of the webslinger is that it is very much its own movie. ‘Homecoming’ stands on its own and doesn't feel the need to repeat any of the beats from either Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield's stints as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Rather, ‘Homecoming’ picks up after the first ‘Avengers’ film, carries us behind the scenes of ‘Civil War,’ and onto Peter Parker's first solo adventure where, as a sophomore in high school, he's already been bit by the radioactive spider and learned of the abilities he's adapted since that fateful encounter. ‘Homecoming’ is a movie that embraces Parker's youthfulness in its character dynamics and his eagerness to become a hero in its action scenes. Most vital though is that ‘Homecoming’ isn't the origin story we've all come to know, but it is still a movie about how Peter Parker truly becomes Spider-Man. Somehow, with six credited screenwriters, it is the screenplay that stands to be one of the strongest factors in the film’s corner when it comes to setting itself apart from a character that has had two previous actors portray them and five previous incarnations on the big screen over the last 15 years. Most startlingly is the fact this isn't a film based around a bad guy who is trying to take over the world or a villain who is trying to obtain a large sum of money to take over the world or even an antagonist who wants to steal a device that will help them take over the world, but rather this is, funnily enough, a movie that is born from the repercussions of Tony Stark's actions and one of the many enemies he's made in the process. As much as Sony and Marvel Studios have pushed the presence of Robert Downey Jr.'s Stark in the marketing for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” Downey Jr. is rarely on screen, but his influence is everywhere. From the opening frame of the film we know this is a Spider-Man who exists well within the same world as Thor and Hulk. From what motivates our villain to act in the first place, what is born out of those motivations, and how it has come around time and time again for Stark and his peers to have to dispel them “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a result of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in more ways than one which is, thankfully, very much to its benefit. Thus, what we have is a movie that is very fun, yet another enjoyable entry in what is a TV series on the largest scale possible, and while ‘Homecoming’ is as fun as one could hope and entertaining as all get out it never reaches a point of greatness that pushes it into the realm of exceptional.
Speaking to the screenplay, it is brought to us by an amalgamation of well-known Hollywood writers including the team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Frances Daley who have previously collaborated on comedies such as “Horrible Bosses” as well as Chris McKenna and his writing partner Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) and finally Christopher Ford (“Robot & Frank”) who worked with director Jon Watts on his previous feature, “Cop Car.” How this thing ultimately turned out as cohesive as it does, never mind how good it did, will forever remain a mystery, but this was seemingly a writers room and/or draft revision upon draft revision that actually worked and recognized the areas where improvement was truly needed and then properly focused on it. Properly being the key word there. For, with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the greatest impact it will leave doesn't come from the major action set pieces that deal with the Washington Monument or the Staten Island Ferry or even Tony Stark's invisible plane, but rather they come from the interplay of the core group of characters the film presents us. As 15-year old Peter Parker, Tom Holland is first and foremost fantastic in the role and this is coming from a guy who grew up on the Maguire films, but never really warmed to his portrayal and someone who enjoyed Garfield's darker take on the character if not largely because it wasn't Maguire. Holland is full of hope, optimism, and energy and his solo debut matches that energy with its relentless pacing and joyful tone. As stated, Holland's Parker is a super hero who yearns to play with the big boys, who feels a determination to prove himself where other characters in the MCU might not, but more than anything it is the fact ‘Homecoming’ allows the seeds of Parker as a young man and the conflicts he'll face as one of the youngest super heroes in The Avengers to really bloom. Watts and his team of writers are intent on showing us the constant sacrifices Parker must make to *maybe* achieve what he believes he truly wants at this point in his life. We see Parker forced to leave a party being thrown by his high school crush, we see him missing out on school activities he genuinely cares about, and we see him getting so caught up in it all that he begins to lose sight of who he is without Spider-Man. Holland balances this tinge of sacrifice with the joy that being Spider-Man and having his abilities would naturally bring to what is essentially a child with an ease that has never been glimpsed in a live-action portrayal of the character.
That said, Holland's Parker has something neither Maguire nor Garfield did and thus is the reason I'm hesitant to compare the performances at all. That special something though is Ned (Jacob Batalon). Ned is Peter Parker's best friend and the only person outside of Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau in a great little supporting turn) that know his secret; that know he is Spider-Man. This fresh, new dynamic to the Spider-Man story is one that allows the character to not always feel so burdened and torn between the life he feels a responsibility to and the one he truly desires with the given love interest. Does that mean ‘Homecoming’ doesn't feature a love interest? Of course not. Enter the unattainable Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior who also happens to be the captain of the academic decathlon team that Parker, Ned, and a host of their other friends are on including Michelle (Zendaya) and even the sometimes agonizing, but mostly tolerable Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori). Holland's Parker is beyond intimidated to even look in Liz's direction, but it's clear from the get-go that Harrier's love interest is more layered than the standard damsel in distress and that she has her stuff together and knows a guy like Parker does too-even if he doesn't always seem to make the best decisions for himself. It is in the setting of this typical high school that we see a majority of the conflict in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” play out and as one might expect much of that conflict deals with Parker not being in his Stark-made costume. It is in these scenes that the movie flourishes with touches of comedy that really hit including both re-occurring bits (those awkward broadcasting class announcements are perfection) and banter between the characters (both Batalon and Zendaya really kill it with their timing). Of course, a hero would be nothing without a worthy villain and as the MCU stepped up their bad-guy-game in their other production this year, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” they continue that trend with Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes AKA The Vulture. Toomes is not your average baddie in the sense of world domination or anything that includes a blue beam shooting into the sky, but rather this is a complicated man who fell on hard times and did the best he could with the hand life dealt him. There is a rawness to Keaton's performance that simmers through the CG wings he wears half the time he's on screen. There is a correlation between his arc and that of Tony Stark's that the movie isn't afraid to acknowledge and that it doesn't retreat on when it really comes down to it. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is admirable in this way and the performances from both Holland and Keaton keep this rather complex relationship all the fresher and engaging.
Where Watts can handle the interplay between the characters to continuously compelling extents and elicit a tone that is sincerely, and I can't say this enough, a lot of fun-it is in the technical aspects of the production that it seems things get away from the director. Whether it is because Watts, like Marc Webb before him and a handful of other indie directors since, was plucked from his modest debut and plopped into the throws of blockbuster filmmaking or not the truth of the matter is that ‘Homecoming’ isn't always the prettiest film to look at. And that isn't to say a film has to look good to be good (though it certainly doesn't hurt), but more that this is very much a spectacle of a movie-one where large portions of its entertainment value rely on massive set pieces-and while I again admire ‘Homecoming’ and Holland for giving us a Spider-Man that is still getting a handle on how exactly to operate as Spider-Man it's hard to make exceptions for a film with a budget of over $170 million that still has special effects shots featuring our titular hero that look like something out of “The Matrix Reloaded.” It's not that it is a shortcoming that is glimpsed often throughout the course of the film and I realize the creative leads on the project only have so much say when it comes to final visual effects, but it leaves a sense of falseness in the viewer's eye that is difficult to shake. We want to believe that what we're seeing is in some shape or form really Holland as Parker flipping and swinging through the city, but to so easily notice that much of the time this is a full CG character is disheartening. The action scenes themselves do what they are intended to do and there are certainly aspects of the Ferry sequence that feature ‘Homecoming’ at its best, but again it feels like the scope of the project too often got away from Watts and that he was forced to concoct a sequence in which he wasn't sure how to approach. Still, that the character elements are what work over the action in a super hero movie really says something about the film itself and I can only imagine that if Watts gets another shot with this franchise he'll bring his new experience to the table. All of this to say that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is an origin story in the different sense of the new world it's hero has entered, but while Peter Parker is still very much figuring out his role in the MCU so is his movie. ‘Homecoming’ lacks a strong sense of definition in that it feels more like filler than a definitive point in the overall arc of Spider-Man. It walks an interesting line as it seemingly has everything anyone could want from such an experience and yet it never crosses that threshold in your gut that tells you you're watching something special. There isn't anything wrong with fun, especially when it does indeed deliver as much fun as ‘Homecoming’ does, but that won't rank it among one of the best in the current MCU line-up. On the other hand, it does have one of if not the best post-credits scene in a Marvel movie thus far, so there's that.