Movie Review - Spider-Man: Homecoming
By Felix Quinonez
August 3, 2017

Be like Spider-Man. Read a book!

The aptly titled Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the endlessly entertaining, if slight, solo debut of the title character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a thrill ride that successfully builds on the momentum of Spider-Man’s show stopping Civil War cameo.

Bolstered by a charming lead performance by Tom Holland and an all around strong cast, the movie comes the closest to capturing the gee-whiz excitement of the early comics since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

The movie hits the ground running and effortlessly knocks it out of the park. It’s no easy task to make a franchise that’s had three different iterations since 2002 feel fresh but Homecoming does just that.

Although X-Men, directed by Bryan Singer, kick started the comic book movie craze, it was really Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire, that took the genre into the stratosphere.

That movie was a crowd-pleasing summer event that opened to a then record-setting $114 million. Although it hasn’t aged all that well, it was, at times, very fun and proved how massive the appeal of these characters can be.

And the sequel managed to top it with a much more interesting villain, improved action set pieces, and more emotional weight. Spider-Man 2 is still a high mark for the genre.

Unfortunately, things took a bad turn very quickly with Spider-Man 3. That movie was so badly received that it brought the franchise to a screeching halt.

But just five years later, Sony decided to reboot the franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb. Although it was initially seen as generally harmless, its reputation has only diminished with time. And the sequel was seen as a cynical attempt to kick start a cinematic universe to rival the MCU.

Because that movie seemed more interested in setting up sequels and spinoffs than telling its own story, audiences quickly turned on it. That movie died swiftly at the box office and laid any franchise plans to rest.

This put Sony in a tough spot. After seeing the success that the MCU had, they got ahead of themselves in planning their own cinematic universe. However, The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s critical and commercial failures put those plans to an early grave.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 somehow got worse reviews than Raimi’s own derided Spider-Man 3. And it made a little more than half at the domestic box office than what Raimi’s Spider-Man did 12 years earlier.

Because of this, Sony had to decide if they wanted to keep the Amazing Spider-Man series going in its current form or reboot it yet again.

But instead of trying to copy Marvel Studios again, they decided to team up with them. The two came up with a plan that was pretty obvious to fans but surely mind-blowing to the kind of executives who make these decisions; work together.

You can find all of the details of the deal online but basically Marvel Studios and Sony will share the character. And the first sign that Sony made the right decision to work with Marvel Studios came last year when Spider-Man showed up in Civil War, directed by the Russo brothers.

He not only fit in seamlessly into the MCU fold but was also an instant scene-stealing fan favorite. And Homecoming builds on that goodwill by giving audiences a fresh take on the character that manages to feel both exciting and familiar.

The movie begins during a flashback scene that takes place during the aftermath of the climactic battle from the first Avengers movie. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) had been hired to clean up the city but is pushed out by Tony Stark’s Department of Damage Control. Understandably upset, Toomes and his employees decide to steal some of the alien technology they had recovered from the wreckage and use it to create and sell advanced weaponry.

The movie then flashes forward eight years, to show the crowd-pleasing Civil War airport scene from a very different angle. Although it doesn’t match, the manic excitement of the original, it is still very entertaining to see things from Peter’s eyes.

And more importantly, it establishes the movie’s very distinct point of view and how it differs from the other MCU movies.

While the other movies usually center on adult, confident, fully formed, albeit still flawed, protagonists, Homecoming is about an awkward teenager. Peter still hasn’t quite figured out his new role in life. And he constantly goes from being thrilled by his powers to being completely overwhelmed by them.

And that is a very important part of why the movie works so well. It’s easy to forget now, but a big part of Spider-Man’s initial appeal was deeply rooted in the fact that he was just a teenager. Because of this, it was always a bit surprising how much the movies have avoided this side of the character.

The high school stuff was basically treated as an afterthought or like something they needed to get out of the way. It almost felt as if they were embarrassed by one of Spider Man’s defining characteristics.

In the Raimi trilogy, high school is treated like a brief prelude and although in the Amazing Spider-Man movies, he doesn’t graduate till the second one, it still just feels like something happening in the background.

In Homecoming, it’s the first time where the character actually feels like the teenager he is. The movie captures the excitement and fun in a way that only a teenager’s point of view really could.

It also reminds us why the character connected with so many kids in the first place.

Spider-Man was the first teenage character who was the hero, not the sidekick, and didn’t have the words boy, kid, or something along those lines in the name. And young readers could see themselves in the character.

So it was always a bit of a shame that the movies didn’t embrace that aspect. Although Tobey Maguire captured the nerdy side of the character, it never seemed like he was having any fun as Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield captured the wise cracking aspect of the character, but he seemed a little too cool to be Peter. He felt more like a character that readers wish they were instead of seeing themselves in him.

But that’s not to say they were bad in the role. Both were great in their own ways. But Tom Holland’s performance captures a very important aspect of the character that the previous movies failed to explore.

Holland really conveys the excitement that a teenager who found himself in his situation would feel. He also captures the melodrama that comes from being that young and still growing into one’s own skin. He swings from ecstatic euphoria to overwhelming despair, the way that teenagers often do. And he really embodies the good-hearted, innocent nature of Peter Parker.

But he is also great at showing the alienation that is often a part of one’s teenage years. He is dying to be part of the Avengers and feels like he’s being left out in the way that teenagers often think that everyone else is having fun without them.

But the rest of the cast is generally strong too. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is a total delight. He not only offers plenty of comic relief but also a lot of heart. It’s clear that he and Peter care a lot about each other and the two actors have great chemistry.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is also great as a sort of father figure. It’s clear that Peter needs approval from Tony and they are great together. They really capture the father-son dynamic. But luckily, Robert Downey Jr. was not overused the way the trailers made it seem that he would be. During the lead up to the movie, many people jokingly referred to Homecoming as Iron Man 4, but that was not actually the case.

On the other hand, Michelle “MJ” Jones (Zendaya) is a bit one-note but generally entertaining and is reminiscent of Ally Sheedy’s character from The Breakfast Club. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not as well developed.

Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is predictably underused. This is not surprising but it is disappointing considering the fact that Tomei is such a great actress.

Liz (Laura Harrier) is an interesting character, but unfortunately the movie shows her almost exclusively from Peter’s point of view. She’s rarely seen outside of his gaze. And although she and Holland are both charming in their roles, it’s hard to really feel invested in their relationship. It’s not that they don’t have chemistry, it’s that they don’t really interact much.

Like many other movies before it, Homecoming believes that telling the viewer that these two have feelings for each other is an adequate substitute for showing it. It seems that they like each other because they’re supposed to or because it’s in the script rather than actually having feelings for one another.

We’re constantly reminded that Peter has feelings for her but never actually shown why. His crush seems to be motivated by the fact that she’s pretty rather than any sort of genuine connection. And while it’s completely plausible that a teenage boy would like a girl in his school just because she’s pretty, especially an older one, it doesn’t make for a very interesting relationship.

In contrast, for all its flaws, it’s hard to deny the fact that at the center of the Amazing Spider-Man movies there was a genuinely moving relationship between Peter and Gwen. (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) The two of them had palpable chemistry, and the movie actually shows them falling for one another. And because of that, their relationship is the heart of those movies.

Another slight disappointment from the cast was Flash Thompson. (Tony Revolori) A lot was made of the fact that Revolori, an actor of Guatemalan descent, would be playing a character that has normally been portrayed as a white jock. And it seemed like it would be an important role. But it almost feels like more time was spent on casting the character than developing him.

He is just a typical, one-note bully whose motivations to pick on Peter, if he has any, are never made clear. The closest it comes to revealing anything resembling depth for the character is that he seems a bit jealous of Peter. And while that may be more than enough motivation for a high school student, it again fails to add anything interesting to the story.

On the other hand, in The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s clear that Flash (Chris Zylka) is actually lashing out because he’s hurting. And when Peter’s uncle dies, he tries to reach out to him, the way a genuine person, not a one-note character, would. And by the end of that movie, they actually seem to be on a path to becoming friends.

And although Michael Keaton is generally entertaining and has some strong scenes, at times he veers too closely to a cliché comic book villain. And his motivations seem too vague to ever really make a big impact. There is also a big reveal in the end of the movie that fails to create the suspense that it shoots for.

Without getting into spoilers, the movie tries to create a personal connection between Peter and Toomes (Keaton) but it feels too contrived. It aims for heartfelt emotion but falls painfully short of its mark.

And at times, there seems to be two different stories fighting for control of the movie. There is the more typical superhero movie that, while entertaining, is never as fun or moving as the John Hughes-like high school drama that lies beneath the surface.

Not surprisingly, Spider-Man: Homecoming fits perfectly in the MCU wheelhouse. Homecoming is an expertly crafted superhero movie that hits all of the right notes. There is plenty of suspense, slick action, and a lot of humor. Spidey, swings, fights and does whatever a spider can in exhilarating set pieces. But in these parts, the movie seems to be working within a mold rather than breaking out of it.

It’s when the movie deals with the teenage life and problems of Peter Parker that Homecoming really comes alive. It’s impossible not to care about Peter and his friends and feel invested in their lives. And the movie manages to make a decathlon competition seem like one of the most exciting parts of the movie.

In fact, the scene when Spider-Man has to save his classmates at the Washington monument is arguably just as exciting as the climactic final battle/Plane rescue scene (although that was pretty amazing too). And watching Peter get help from Ned, “the man in the chair” is easily one of the movie’s highlights and something that could never be found in any other MCU movie.

Unfortunately, like Amazing Spider-Man 2 before it, at times it seems that Homecoming gets too preoccupied with setting up future spin offs. The movie gives us cameos of Shocker, Mac Gargan AKA Scorpion and even Aaron Davis (Donald Glover.) In the comics, Davis eventually becomes the Prowler, but he is also the uncle of Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. So even his seemingly casual mention of a nephew is actually the movie’s calculated attempt to plant seeds for future installments. But at least they weren’t as blatant this time around.

Another odd choice was to have Peter’s suit include an AI. Although it provided some funny moments, it almost seems a bit contradictory. As a rookie, Peter is prone to making a lot of mistakes, which he learns from. And those lessons are a very important part of Peter’s journey to becoming a hero. But because the AI provides an unnecessary safety net, it almost negates a defining aspect of the character.

Ultimately, Homecoming is an exciting new chapter for the character that manages to course correct after the previous iteration’s missteps. It’s fun and full of humor even if it doesn’t necessarily register on an emotional level.

-- Felix Quinonez Jr. is an independent comic book creator living in Brooklyn, NY.

His self-published comic books and graphic novel have been sold in stores in NYC and online. He is the co-editor and contributor of a comic book Anthology called Emanata. That book features the work of many other talented creators from all around the country. You can check out his comic books and read more of his writing at The Neon Bulletin