In February 2015, when Sony Studios announced that Marvel Studios and Disney would share rights with Sony to Spider-Man, I, along with the rest of the world, rejoiced. Just recall the outrage when DC Comics announced that Ben Affleck would play Batman then flip it. I imagine that the screams of joy will only be forgotten when such news is announced by 20th Century Fox about the X-Men. My exuberance was tempered by the idea of yet ANOTHER reboot. “Damn, I don’t want to see ANOTHER origin story. Hasn’t Uncle Ben died enough times!?!” I also secretly hoped that Marvel would keep Garfield.
Alas all magic has a price, and my hopes were dashed when it was announced that Tom Holland would star as Spider-Man. Holland is British, and it is hard to find a crap British actor. From a layman’s point of view, in terms of training from childhood and a general respect for acting as a profession, British actors have the jump on their American counterparts. They are usually more consistently excellent. Still I don’t remember Holland even though I have seen movies that he starred in such as the superb dystopian How I Live Now and the dreadful In The Heart of the Sea (read the book).
I do remember Holland’s first appearance as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, which I adored. My first impression was that he was a child soldier, and I was horrified that Tony Stark would use a child to further his agenda. Would I be able to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming without feeling queasy? So I’m restarting the whole process feeling less enthusiastic than I did after Raimi’s film trilogy. Am I too old for yet another reboot even if that reboot is being manned by a brand that I trust?
No! Spider-Man: Homecoming was awesome, and the best cinematic take on the masked hero! I was a little concerned that 2 hours 13 minutes was a lot of movie to introduce one hero, even one as popular as Spider-Man, but the time flew by. The summer hit was hilarious and funnier than most films released as comedies. There was plenty of action, an amazing cast and a solid story although maybe the titular character would have been a wee more cautious if Uncle Ben had died again on screen, but I’ll sign a waiver though as an old fuddy duddy property owner, I cringed at his adolescent enthusiastic carelessness. For hardcore Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) fans, there are plenty of references to prior films: Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron (my least favorite) and Captain America: Civil War, but for those of you who are reading this and think that I am speaking a different language, you can enjoy the film without doing over nine years worth of homework.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a coming–of–age movie if John Hughes had lived long enough to join the MCU. The blockbuster also borrows briefly from one of my guilty pleasure genres, found footage, to set the stage for when the events of this film unfold in the context of the bigger picture. It is set in New York (though not shot there), specifically Queens, and it had me at bodega cat! As a born and bred New Yorker who was as much of a nerd as the kids that go to school with Peter Parker, I can vouch for the film nailing the atmosphere of a diverse group of focused teens whose idea of naughtiness is accidentally breaking something or sneaking out to hang out during a class trip to DC. They’re good kids, but they are also clever. The film casually taps into historical awareness and political protest, which is characteristic of high school life, without screeching the fun to a halt. That accountability is part of the texture of the film. There is a sense of community and neighborhood that accentuates the conflict’s stakes. Every character is motivated to keep their community moving forward, but apply that motivation in healthy and negative ways.
One characteristic of the MCU is the idea of class playing a significant role among villains and heroes. While the audience is enjoying explosive major fight scenes, there are real people on the ground dealing with the fallout of these battles. Spider-Man: Homecoming’s hero and the villain are on opposite trajectories with how they react to this changing world. Peter is still idealistic and unquestioning, has faith in the system represented by Tony Stark and wants to leave his neighborhood and join them. Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, feels literally the opposite, and while his actions are wrong, the audience knows from watching Captain America: Civil War, if Tony Stark is the system, he is right. Peter should probably run the other way regardless of how charming, appealing and innovative Stark is.
The constant ironic two-dimensional propaganda of Captain America, another native New Yorker, reminiscent of his early service during WWII as contrasted with his current (unjust) fugitive status in the MCU sets up a future dynamic where Peter will have to decide whether he will shore up a corrupt system or adhere to his moral instincts. Despite their extreme differences, Peter and Vulture are still part of a small community, and regardless of where they are in the country, they retain a loyalty to each other that goes beyond the usual dynamic between most protagonists and antagonists. The MCU has always resembled our world closer than the DC Extended Universe so this growing reluctance to shore up a benevolent authoritarian is a promising development for future entries. Peter is in high school where he is taught about the history of the Sokovia Accords, but his lived experience and the casual resistance around him suggests that Spider-Man may end up on the right side of this division among The Avengers, which is a nice portent of a future departure from the original story.
Spider-Man: Homecoming did a terrific job of casting Keaton as Vulture. Because I watch too many movies, I expected the plot twist for his character. Keaton’s film experience, particularly his featuring roles in Batman, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Founder, add an extra layer of subliminal history to his character that is missing for most villains in the MCU. Relative unknown Jacob Batalon has an incredible amount of screen time as Peter’s best friend and rises to the challenge. There are brief comedic moments by Hannibal Burress (the comedian who dared to joke about the most famous serial rapist to go unpunished to date), Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks, Adventureland) and Zendaya that keep the film aloft. Donald Glover has some nice understated moments with Holland. There is a surprise reappearance of an old MCU character that we haven’t seen in a long time, which may explain why Stark stopped being as villainous as he was in his last two appearances. I highly recommend that you keep a sharp eye on Kenneth Choi and his surroundings for a delicious Easter Egg. Marisa Tomei is lovely, but under-utilized; however given her last scene in the film, future appearances should be very interesting.
I had only one quibble with the film. I watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has improved every season (the first season was the worst) until it is now must see TV, but I thought they, and not the US Department of Damage Control, helmed by the remarkable but sparingly used for possible exciting future developments Tyne Daly, did clean up after the Battle of New York. They were definitely still providing that service after Thor: The Dark World. It is actually the first time that I recall the MCU referencing the DODC. It is not necessarily inconsistent, but it did give me pause right at the beginning of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is another fun entry in the MCU, and if you are looking for a solid summer blockbuster, see it. Most importantly, the film promises that future standalone Spider-Man movies won’t be as inherently flawed as its predecessors. Hopefully Thor will step his game up in the fall.
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.