MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ fulfills the potential of whatever a spider could

It's not perfect, nor is it in the upper tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is the best "Spider-Man" film since 2004...

| July 5, 2017

Spider-Man has always been one of the hottest commodities of the superhero world. Starting in 2002, director Sam Raimi created one of the first ├╝ber-successful superhero films with “Spider-Man” (though “X-Men” is argued as the first film in the superhero renaissance), starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, the film was a truly down-to-earth, yet completely bonkers take on the story of Peter Parker, a high-schooler from Queens bit by a radioactive spider, granting him super, spider-like powers. After a successful first iteration and even more critically acclaimed sequel released in 2004, the Raimi series suffered a fatal blow with “Spider-Man 3,” an ambitious and well-intentioned trilogy-capper, but sloppy and campily executed film that killed the series. After Raimi clashed with Sony Pictures on a fourth film, Sony opted to reboot the series with then unknown Andrew Garfield in the lead role, substituting then love-interest Mary Jane Watson with Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard in “Spider-Man 3”), played by star-on-the-rise Emma Stone. Directed by Marc Webb, the first installment, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” garnered positive reviews, even if it wasn’t as critically adored as the first two Raimi films. Its sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” also directed by Webb, found itself in the same situation as “Spider-Man 3:” bogged down by too many villains, a campy storyline and killing off such a key character that the series had no real place to go from there. Garnering the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score and box office return of any Spider-Man film, as well as it being one of the last non-X-Men Marvel property not owned by Marvel Studios in their already established Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2014, Sony knew at this point a middle-ground with the Disney-owned studio had to be reached. Finally reaching a deal with Marvel Studios, Spider-Man officially was a part of the MCU, involving himself in the Avengers universe, with Sony retaining the production and distribution rights to the standalone films. Casting Tom Holland, the youngest of any Spider-Man yet, a good sign was posted when his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” was highly acclaimed, making his solo debut in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” all the more promising.

And it works, most of the time.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is adjusting to his new life as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man after his participation in the Berlin brawl during “Captain America: Civil War.” Returning to Queens and to his science/tech high school, Peter struggles with the limitations that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are placing on him due to his young age. When Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers Peter’s secret, and with mounting tensions rising not only at school with Peter’s bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), love-interest Liz (Laura Harrier) and frenemy Michelle (Zendaya), tension at home with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), as well as a perceived major threat to New York City in the form of The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Peter must balance his life, secrets and constraints placed on him while also seeking to save those he loves from the new, grave threat to society.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” isn’t perfect, nor is it the best film in the MCU, but in all aspects, this is the most fun “Spider-Man” film to date. While the original trilogy had more heart and drama, this series, with all its imperfections, really nails it when it comes to creating a true look into what a teenage superhero might actually act like. This isn’t some 30 year-old actor playing a high-schooler, nor does Peter act like an adult. The inclusion of this evolution of maturity for Spider-Man really makes Peter a much more believable and sympathetic Spider-Man, especially for young audiences like myself. And with this, Holland does really great work as Peter here. While my heart will always lie with Maguire’s Spider-Man (minus that scene from “Spider-Man 3,” you know which scene I’m talking about), Holland’s take on the character is an entirely fresh reimagining of what I failed to get from Garfield’s Spider-Man, however admirable his take was. This is a physically and emotionally demanding role that Holland fulfills nicely that makes him a charming, funny and likable Spider-Man through and through.

Another very strong element in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is Keaton’s Vulture. If many of the best MCU films are “nearly” perfect, they typically suffer only from weak villains, and while “Spider-Man: Homecoming” isn’t in that top tier of the MCU, its villain is perhaps the best standalone villain we’ve seen so far. This is a villain that we get to know as Adrian Toomes before we get to know him as the Vulture, which really creates a nice depth with him that makes his wrongdoings even more compelling come the film’s third act. Not only that, Keaton is a powerhouse villain that’s quite menacing in that “old white guy” sort of way that is quite frightening when he goes full batshit. It’s a relatively restrained, surprisingly sympathetic character and performance from Keaton, though. While this film does get quite cartoonish and comic-booky at times, Keaton is a proper, compelling, conflicting villain through the entire thing.

Aside from Peter and The Vulture, the rest of the characters remain fairly undeveloped, unfortunately, with only Ned coming close to any sort of depth. That being said, the performances from the rest of the cast are quite admirable. Tomei does a really nice job reimagining the Aunt May character as more of an actual aunt character, rather than a wise, great-aunt figure the previous series’ pulled for. While she isn’t given much t0 do, it is a very nice, funny and likable take on a character that I want to see more to do with Peter’s story than she is here. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the film, though, would come in Zendaya’s character of Michelle. While Zendaya does give a really entertaining performance as the careless, often-vulgar frenemy of Peter, she’s not in the film that much and has absolutely no depth outside of her love-hate relationship with Peter and Ned, and a slight┬áinference to her later involvement in the series. For as much as Zendaya is advertised as the new female counterpart to Spider-Man, she really is given zero to do in this film.

And then there’s Iron Man, who perhaps has been more advertised than Spider-Man has been on the posters for the film. While I am very excited to have Spider-Man a part of the MCU, as well as having Marvel Studios’ magic touch on the series, I think the inclusion of Iron Man in the film is a bit heavy-handed in the film, making the film feel less of Spider-Man’s than a film with “Spider-Man” in the title should constitute. While Stark is in no way overbearingly present in the film, I still felt that many of his appearances were too invasive and a bit out of place for a movie like this. It certainly isn’t as bad as it could be, but I really wish that Spider-Man had just existed inside Spider-Man’s own world, at least for his first film. Stark is better heard about than seen in the film.

Unfortunately, due to how early the screening of the film was for Charlotte-area critics, we weren’t able to see the film in the 3D or IMAX 3D format, but knowing Marvel Studios’ recent record with the format, I can only imagine that the film is beautifully grand in the 3D format. While the direction from Jon Watts is stunning, bright and sometimes stomach-taking, this only adds to the fit for the format. Not every movie is made for the 3D format, but when a film is shot with the format in mind, much like Watts obviously did here, I can only imagine how stunning it truly is on the biggest screen possible.

If anything, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” just feels inconsequential, which I would rather it be than completely contingent on its success, but the film never feels like the massive-scaled, trademark Marvel Studios film I was hoping they would make with the possession of the Spider-Man property, but that in and of itself is a somewhat paradoxical criticism on my part. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” doesn’t really fulfill the MCU promise that it could’ve, and yet I applaud the film for going in a more intimate direction than any other MCU film has in the past. Granted, I blame much of this on my expectations for the film, and for Marvel to go past my expectations into something unique, if a bit less compelling, is still a win in my book.

I also applaud “Spider-Man: Homecoming” for being the most diverse Marvel Studios film to date. The film betrays the typical stereotypes that a standard superhero film would go for. The bully is a small Indian kid, while the love interest is a mixed-race girl, and the best friend is a Filipino boy who doesn’t fit the Hollywood image of a studio-produced high schooler. This is a film that reflects the reality of everything New York City stands for and it rules.

The best thing about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is how it properly sets up what the series will be in the future, and how it hypes audiences up with the promise of what’s to come, rather than guessing from some post-credits scene about which villain is coming next. I care about these characters and really want to see how they’ll be developed in the future, and if you can make me excited for a sequel on character alone, without having to cheaply tease at something, that’s impressive. It doesn’t particularly excuse them from underwriting many of the characters I want to know more of, but it does leave the promise of what they will become as this series progresses.

Is “Spider-Man: Homecoming” perfect? No. But is it the most fun you’ll have in any “Spider-Man” film to date? Damn right. I really appreciated the reinvention of the character and the universe that this character lives in, rather than simply cashing in on yet another reboot. Holland’s Spider-Man is funny, charming and very likable, contrasting the darker nature that the previous two iterations took. Throw in a truly spectacular villain and some exciting, if smaller than normal sequences in the film and you have a film that succeeds on its merits alone. While many of the more interesting and mysterious characters are left unwritten and the film does try a bit too hard to include itself in the MCU, this is an incredibly fun, very new take on a very tired series. It might not be my favorite MCU film, but it’s the next film in the canon that I am most excited about, and when a second reboot can do it, I think I can safely say they got the formula right this time. Let’s hope they can hold onto it.

3.5/5

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures. (Seriously, a studio actually made this poster. Isn’t it awful?)

Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, Bokeem Woodbine, with Marisa Tomei, and Robert Downey Jr.
Runtime: 133 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Also available in Dolby Cinema, RealD 3D and IMAX 3D.

Columbia Pictures presents, a Marvel Studios/Pascal Pictures production, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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