Hollywood appears to have truly reached the nexus of superhero films and, depending on how you look at it, that could be either a good or bad thing. If your favorite comic book superhero is some obscure one-off character, then you’re in luck—you may just get a change to see him or her in a feature-length film.
However, if you’re starting to see a pattern where all these characters are falling into the same formulaic storylines and suffering fatigue as a result, brace yourself: It’s going to be a long couple of decades. Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Homecoming offers nothing new in terms of storytelling and, while that’s not to say this was a bad movie, it is problematic for the future of the superhero genre.
Now, before any of you start typing furiously in the comments section, or worse, close this window, let me say that there’s a lot to like about this Marvel Entertainment/Sony Pictures partnership. First and foremost is Tom Holland, who embodies Peter Parker better than either Toby McGuire or Andrew Garfield. His awe of the superhero world as well as his own powers were truly refreshing, but also became slightly problematic as I’ll go into greater detail later.
I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the brilliance of Batman himself, Michael Keaton, reprising his roll as Birdman for this film… that wasn’t his character? Right, in Homecoming, Keaton plays villain Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. Vulture), a former contractor turned black-market weapons manufacturer. His performance was magnetic and, during the rare scenes opposite Holland, the tension he helped create lit up the screen. As a supervillain, Toomes is incredibly well-written to the point where his motivations were more nuanced than the protagonist counterpart.
Hannibal Burress (Coach Wilson) and Martin Starr (Roger Harrington) were also excellent, because everything they touch is gold. Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming has a strong narrative that rarely loses focus, so I’m sure you’re asking, “What didn’t you like about the film?”
Simply put, I didn’t identify with the film’s protagonist as well as I’d hoped. As I mentioned earlier, Holland’s performance was solid, but the way Peter Parker’s written is problematic. His opposition to Vulture, although understandable and noble, felt excessively simplistic. The awe of his own superpowers and the greater superhero world (primarily the Avengers) conflicted with my own weariness of them. Superheroes, as much fun as they can be, are nothing new anymore; amongst my fellow audience members, I can’t be the only one no longer in awe of these characters. I like most of them, but that disconnect created distance between me and the protagonist.
Homecoming, to its fault or boon depending on your perspective, is chock full of visual spectacle, easter eggs, and callbacks to previous Marvel films. Far from adding to the ambiance, it felt frustrating after a while because I could so easily point out the easter eggs even when I didn’t know the reference; the constant jumps from one to another hindered the story. When a movie tries this hard to prove it exists in a larger universe, it ceases to be a standalone film; that’s one of my biggest problems with the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Far better examples of the right way to go about standalones would be Doctor Strange or Ant-Man.
Rife with Memberberries, this movie references others from the MCU so regularly it’s often at the expense of failing to payoff setups in its own storyline. Nowhere is that more evident than the constant presence of Iron Man. I love me some Roberty Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, but this isn’t an Iron Man film. Sure, becoming an Avenger is one of Spidey’s primary motivations in Homecoming, and it was great to see him with a father figure, but c’mon. They cast the brilliant Marisa Tomei as Aunt May only to severely under utilize her to the point where Stark is the only real parental figure?
That’s one of the many missed opportunities the movie exhibits. We got one throwaway lines about how Aunt May doesn’t like Tony Stark, but why not have more of that conflict on-screen? It’s a perfect opportunity to have the two characters represent the conflict between Peter’s high school life and being a superhero. Happy (John Favreu) was just another example of shoehorning in throw-away characters from the other films. Remember, the guy who directed Iron Man?
Another issue is the repeated plot focus on the Avengers moving to upstate New York (Remember the Avengers? Oh, I ‘member! They were fantastic!). I don’t mind a set piece here and there, like at the start of the movie where Toome’s cleaning up the aftermath of the first Avengers film, but this was over the top. Everything else just makes Homecoming feel like a teaser trailer for Infinity War, which severely detracts from the film.
Many of the interactions during the high school segments missed as well, because the writers were so wrapped up in creating reveals that it detracted from the overall character development. For example, I loved her so much, but did we really have to wait til the end to find out Michelle (Zendaya) also goes by “MJ”? What purpose did that serve? Having Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) as “The Man in the Chair” was a great touch, until they added Karen the “Suit-Lady”. It rendered Ned obsolete unless Spidey loses his suit. Cute casting choice with Jennifer Connelly, wife of Vision actor Paul Benton, but between her and Parker’s supposed “Spidey Senses”, Holland took a few too many hits. And, again, this wasn’t supposed to be an Iron Man film.
But my biggest pet-peeve with the high school storylines were how things resolved with the bully, Flash (Tony Revolori). He humiliated Peter after failing to bring Spider-Man to the Liz’s (Laura Harrier) party and made a point to ask Spidey himself if he knew Peter Parker which went unanswered. You kept expecting Spider-Man to tell him, at least towards the end of the movie, “I do know Peter Parker, and he’s a pretty cool guy.” Instead, Spidey steals and wrecks his car, so we’re supposed to think because Parker’s the good guy that Flash got what he deserved? Rather than payoff from the setups, we get grand theft auto.
I could continue going on, but I’d probably just end up rehashing points I’ve already made, so here’s the real issue with the film: We’ve already seen Spider-Man through two different iteration over the last fifteen years. While the first two Sam Rami films were long enough ago that the current Hollywood deluge has overshadowed them, they were brilliant and hard to top. Needless to say, Homecoming doesn’t meet that level.
If you’re going to reboot a film so soon after the last run was released, you need to make absolutely sure you’re giving the audience something new and better—think Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s not that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a bad film, it just misses the mark in terms of what I think it should’ve set out to accomplish; Peter Parker is now firmly established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but nothing else beyond that.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is now in theaters nationwide.