Verdict: We finally have a good Spidey movie. This the best entry since Spider-Man 2, and yet another successful outing by Marvel. Swing into theaters for Homecoming.
The Good: Excellent casting, good balance of humor/action, and a refreshing take.
DC has spent 40 years trying to recapture the magic of 1978’s Superman. The result was multiple failed sequels and two mixed-reviewed reboots. Sony went through a similar journey with 2002’s Spider-Man. Except instead of 40 years, they produced the same amount of films in 15 years. And they had to hand over the keys to one of their largest rivals. But the resulting Spider-Man: Homecoming showed that incessant, near-inane belief in a franchise can still pay off.
Homecoming is absolutely the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2. That isn’t saying much, since Spider-Man 3, and Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 are…not good, at best. Nonetheless, it is an honestly entertaining and charming entry in the Spiderverse. And most of that success lies with Tom Holland.
Joining the celebrated Superhero Casting Hall of Fame is Holland, who is everything Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were, and everything they weren’t. He’s got the dweeby sweetness of Maguire and the comedic quips of Garfield while still bringing a life of his own to the character of Peter Parker. Perhaps most importantly, Holland is only 21. His self-doubts, lack of confidence, and youthful naivety are all the more believable because he’s not a near-30 year old man.
In exact contrast to Holland is the dark wisdom and world weariness of his nemesis Arian Toomes, the Vulture, portrayed perfectly by Michael Keaton. He’s an old man, and he knows it (Keaton is 66). But that age and life experience are not detriments, but rather the source of his strength. He knows how this works, the order of things, and the childish antics of Parker are simply another nuisance in a world that left him behind. The result is one of Marvel’s best villains by far.
Rounding out the batting-1000 castings are Jacob Batalon as Ned, Laura Harrier as Liz, and Tony Revolori as Flash. Each plays their parts to near perfection. Batalon is the comedic center of the film, and shows a range beyond his years. Harrier brings nuance to what would typically be a one-note character. Revolori plays Flash as a modern bully, and does so with a worrying level of competence.
Beyond the cast, Homecoming finds a great balance between humor and action, with neither overshadowing the other. True to form, Holland inserts quips during tense action even when they feel inappropriate, just as a teenager would. The world around him is evenly balanced; the bleakness of Amazing Spider-Man is gone.
The result is a completely new take on Spider-Man in film. It is the story of a young man trying to figure out what his role is, and dealing with relatable and realistic high school problems. He navigates multiple father figures, bites off more than he can chew and wants to take the girl to prom. Just as advertised, it is a John Hughes superhero movie.
The Bad: A little too-Marveled, Aunt May, and some unearned resolutions
It becomes clear very quickly that the movie isn’t sure what to do with Aunt May. There is no Uncle Ben to mourn, and she’s not given a life of her own to occupy (See Big Hero 6 for an excellent example in Aunt Cass). So she shows up when the plot demands, and is otherwise inconsequential.
On the flip side is Tony Stark/Iron Man. While having Robert Downey Jr. grace the screen is always a treat, his presence was distracting at times. There is a lot of time spent on the Avengers, Happy, Tony, the suits, etc. While the connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are necessary and welcome, this new co-parented Spiderverse needs room to grow, and develop an identity of its own. While not suffocating, it felt like one time too many by the end.
It is during the resolution sequence that the film shows some cracks in the foundation. There is significant character growth that isn’t necessarily earned. The lesson isn’t clear: what did Peter and Tony learn to change them? Really not much. This is surprising for Marvel, who typically excels in this department.
The Ugly: Excellent representation, though it still falters where it counts
It is strange how the films about childhood properties and/or teenagers in 2017 seem to be the most representative. So far this year, Lego Batman, Power Rangers, and Homecoming have led the way in diverse castings, with significant parts for women and POC. The supporting cast here is evident of that: Batalon is Filipino, Donald Glover, Harrier, and Zendaya are African-American, and Revolori is Guatemalan.
Now the downside: there is no reason why Peter Parker had to be white. Or, as the internet wanted back in 2010 when Amazing Spider-Man was announced, why Homecoming couldn’t have been led by Miles Morales, the half-black half-latino successor to Parker. While it’s great to see supporting casts becoming more and more diverse, Marvel needs to wake up to the modern age and begin casting POC in lead roles.
A final note: Marisa Tomei is funny. Really funny. Her character’s already small screen time should not be reduced to “ha-ha she’s a hot over-40 woman.” Funny stuff.
Synopsis: “High-school superhero Peter Parker (Tom Holland) aspires to join the Avengers in his guise as Spider-Man, but teenage woes and Tony Stark’s contradictory mentorship only complicate his ambitions. Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, and Michael Keaton co-star.” ~ Violet LeVoit, Rovi