Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
After Tony Stark brings him in to help out with the superhero civil war, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man is feeling on top of the world. He feels like a high school basketball player who’s already been drafted to the NBA. Suddenly his old life of academic decathlons and preparing for college seems inconsequential and just small. He’s basically an Avenger now, right? Well, not quite, as Stark begins to give him the cold shoulder, cautioning him to stay in his lane, focus on helping people around his neighborhood, and not worry so much about the next alien invasion or killer robot horde. But when an ATM robbery goes wrong and reveals the neighborhood criminals are suddenly working with exotic super-weapons, Spider-Man decides this is exactly the kind of case he needs to prove he’s truly ready for the big time.
I think Tom Holland was grown in a lab to play Peter Parker. He looks strikingly similar to the Ultimate Comics version of the character, and is simultaneously able to project both brashness and shyness, humor and intelligence, weakness and strength. He has an extensive dance and gymnastics background, allowing him to actually do Spider-Man-like movements in real life. He even does a spot-on American accent. Tobey Maguire was fantastic as a hard-luck “woe is me” Peter Parker, but he never really got the humor and hopeful aspects right, and Holland is the total package here.
The Vulture is one of Spider-Man’s oldest villains, but never one of his most intimidating. Typically portrayed as a very old man in a wing suit, his one trick was to fly Spider-Man up real high and then drop him. Michael Keaton’s new Vulture bears basically no resemblance to the comic character, but is an interesting new take, as he’s not just a flying villain, but a true scavenger, collecting the detritus of all the big, crazy superhero battles in the MCU over the last 10 years and turning them into weapons and tools to sell to criminals. Keaton is also a great actor, and is completely terrifying in this movie. The scene where it’s revealed that he is Liz’s father is one of the all-time great gasp-inducing movie moments, and the subsequent car ride is amazing. Though he doesn’t have the Vulture costume right then, and is by no means an actual physical threat to Peter, he comes across as incredibly dangerous.
Marisa Tomei, though also far from comic-accurate, is terrific as May. I like this new Aunt May. I like her attitude. I like her fashion sense. I think one of the great downsides of this whole MCU thing is that the next Spider-Man movie will take place after a lot of time has passed, presumably after Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel, and we might not see the immediate aftermath of the ending, where May discovers what her nephew has been hiding.
Most of the action looks pretty good, and not as floaty and fake as CGI characters sometimes look (though it does occasionally). I appreciated that Spider-Man doesn’t need to save the universe or the world or even the city. I appreciated that Spider-Man’s unflinching sense of morality and responsibility is still present here, even if he’s initially driven a bit more by self-aggrandizement than a post-Uncle Ben Spidey usually is. In most Spider-Man movies, the villain dies at the end, but this Spider-Man doesn’t let that happen.
I really liked Donald Glover as the future Prowler: “Why’re you trying to upsell me, man? I just need something to stick up somebody, not shoot them back in time.”
The Captain America videos were great. “I’m pretty sure this guy is a war criminal now, but whatever.”
“I know when branzino’s fresh and that was not fresh, okay?”
I think the underlying themes here are a bit confused and poorly delivered. The essential conflict in Spider-Man: Homecoming is that Spider-Man wants to fast-forward to the big leagues, dropping everything else in his life, and leaving the neighborhood behind. The important turning points are when he goes after the Vulture even though his high-tech Tony Stark-designed suit has been confiscated, and again when Stark offers him an even more high-tech suit along with membership in the Avengers, and, thinking it’s a test, Spider-Man turns him down, choosing to stay on the ground and protect the neighborhood. This is also reflected in the Vulture’s story of being, in his mind, the “little guy,” who has been ignored and spit-on by the Tony Stark’s of the world. In a way, he’s what happens when the heroes are only focused on the big problems and aren’t looking out for neighborhood issues. And I think the subtle hypocrisy of Vulture’s constant refrain of being the little guy who has to do all this just to keep his family fed while in the meantime he’s living in a huge mansion in the suburbs is a nice touch. Yet, I don’t think it all works. The pieces are there but they don’t quite fit together.
For one thing, for this story to work, Tony Stark has to be more of an antagonist. Remember, he represents the wrong choice here, and Spider-Man’s “learn a lesson” moment hinges on rejecting him. So the movie’s choice to make sure to point out that Stark actually was listening to Spider-Man’s reports, that he did take them seriously and brought in the FBI to take down the Vulture, and that he did show up in person to help Spider-Man save the people on the ferry, all kind of undermines that rejection. Better to have him truly ignore Peter, truly not understand the threat of the Vulture and assume it’s nothing, and for Spider-Man to save the ferry on his own and yet still have his suit taken away in punishment. Also, ending the movie with Spider-Man re-acquiring his first high-tech suit seconds after rejecting the new high-tech suit is a ridiculous attempt to have their cake and eat it, too. I thought the interplay between Spider-Man and “Karen” was all pretty funny, but I don’t want another movie of Spider-Man essentially wearing skin-tight Iron Man armor. That’s not who this character is at his core.
As much as I love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, he might be a little too happy? I sincerely appreciate the decision not to re-tell his origin story again here, but they take it even farther and it’s as if his origin story never happened. All the fun jokes about how attractive Aunt May is and everyone openly lusting after her would feel a bit more callous if anyone remembered her husband was very recently murdered. Spider-Man is a lot like Batman, in that both are driven by a need to see that what happened to them never happens to anyone else. And so completely ignoring that, that all this responsibility of his comes from suffering this great loss, makes a moment like Spider-Man being trapped under the wreckage a lot less impactful than it could be.
Amazing Spider-Man #33 is one of the most famous Spider-Man comics ever. In this issue, Spider-Man has been buried by literal tons of debris. It’s way more than he’s capable of lifting, and the situation is hopeless. Meanwhile, his Aunt May is dying, and he’s the only one who can get her the experimental medicine she needs to survive (okay, it’s a bit of a goofy premise, but this was the early 60s). To save her life, he summons strength he never knew he had, and he pushes his way out. They included an homage to this moment in Homecoming, and though Holland’s performance is good enough that it still kind of works, it’s not as powerful as the source material because they focused entirely on what he’s doing and not why he’s doing it. In the movie he remembers Stark saying, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Forget for a second that the suit doesn’t enhance his strength, and wouldn’t necessarily make a difference here, but this reframes the whole thing as both an act of self-preservation and of proving his worth to new daddy Iron Man instead of framing it as a selflessly heroic act needed to save another’s life.
“My friends call me MJ.” This does not work at all. It lands with a thud every time I hear it. Zendaya’s Michele is initially quite successful as just another one of the oddballs Peter goes to school with, but this line implies she may have a bigger role to play in the future, and so in reflection her character is actually disappointingly one-note and could be completely excised from the movie without losing anything.