My favourite moment in Spider-man: Homecoming, is when Spiderman is standing on a rooftop in Queens, and gets called out by a dude on the street below to perform a back flip. Spiderman grants their request and performs a backflip for him, the dude on the street loses his mind with excitement. It’s not some big money shot that has already been spoiled in the trailer, it’s not yet another familiar story beat we’ve come to expect from the Spidey mythos. It’s not even that spectacular a back flip. It’s just a friendly neighbourhood spiderman obliging a fan on the street in a really simple way, a deeply human superhero with the common touch to his city and its people.
Spider-man: Homecoming is the sixteenth movie of the MCU (if you are counting) and third cinematic reboot of Marvel’s favourite character. The film rights for the character have belonged to Sony for the longest time. in the early 2000s it was Sam Raimi who took the helm making two genuinely great spiderman movies before stumbling under studio pressure with Spiderman 3, an experience that basically led Raimi to quit the series. Just as The Avengers came out in 2012, Sony rebooted Spidey a second time with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman which was followed by a sequel in 2014 which bombed hard at the box office scuppering Sony’s plans to kickstart their own spidey universe to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were many more films to be released including a villain centric movie involving an avengers styled coming together of some of Spidey’s most famous bad guys. Sony were thinking too far ahead and not thinking about each movie as it came plunging all future Spidey plans into limbo. Until Sony struck a deal with Marvel studios, to share joint custody of Spiderman, rebooting the character a third time and bringing him into the larger MCU.
And so we had the first appearance of Tom Holland’s younger incarnation of Spider Man in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. In which Peter Parker and his alter ego were hammered into the established MCU along with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the flying one with metal bird wings. Now we have the main Spidey centric film, dubbed Homecoming because, it’s a return of Marvel’s most famous and celebrated character under the residing lords of comic book movies.
It’s also set in high school, giving us a much younger version of Peter Parker and his alter ego. Following the bout of Civil War, Peter Parker is getting to grips with his new Spiderman suit, created and bestowed upon him by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr). As he gets to grips with the suit, he tries to balance his life as a vigilante crime fighter with his normal high school life, all the while awaiting patiently for Tony Stark to call him up and offer him a new mission as an honorary member of the Avengers.
Meanwhile, blue collar contractor turned criminal Harold Toomes has been running an illegal operation, scavenging high tech weapons and equipment from the many battles of the Avengers and selling it to the highest bidder. He pulls off a number of heists, flying around the place with a set of big metal wings. Spidey soon becomes involved with this menace to society, desperately trying to warn the grown ups what is happening, but when nobody listens, he takes action into his own hands.
The larger MCU is felt throughout Spider-man: Homecoming, opening with a child’s drawing of the Avengers. Robert Downey Jnr appears quite prominently throughout as a kind of surrogate father figure for Peter Parker, as does Jon Favreau as Stark’s long suffering right hand man Happy Hogan (wait, that’s really his name?). Captain America also cameos in a series of infomercials, which are some of the funniest moments of the movie. More than ever, it feels as if the point of this particular movie is that it is a part of the established MCU. At the same time it is spinning it’s own self contained story based in high school and focused on a completely teenage perspective.
This being the third reboot of the character, Marvel take some liberties to do things differently with the character. We know that Uncle Ben has died previously, but the ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ message lives on through the father/son relationship between Downey Jr’s Tony Stark and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. The spidey suit itself is typical of the iron man suit with lots of hidden abilities and modes, and it’s own AI voice, who talks to Peter at several points (Jennifer Connelly). Tom Holland pulls off the teenage spidey really well, a well to do kid who makes mistakes in his day to day superhero patrols. Desperate to hit the big time as far as superheroing goes but maybe not realising that he is still just a kid and should perhaps not worry so much about growing up so fast.
It’s a nice contrast to the whole ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ theatrics that has been hammered into us enough over the years. It’s still a coming of age tale but the actual coming of age still feels a little further away. There is so much humour to be had from the high school setting and the young cast really have great chemistry with one another. Whether it’s Pete’s nerdy friend Ned, who is absolutely ecstatic to find out his best friend is Spiderman or Zendaya as the weird outsider who seems to have an answer for everyone.
At the same time, Homecoming perhaps tries to cram too much Spidey lore into one movie. For instance, one moment is a reference to the classic Steve Ditko panels, in which Spiderman is hopelessly trapped underneath some rubble. By this point in the comics, Peter had been put through so much bad stuff, the rubble acted as a metaphor for all the things weighing him down. Homecoming repeats the panels. Peter Parker calls out for help, crying and whimpering to himself before gradually triumphantly getting himself free. As likable as Tom Holland is as this younger Peter Parker, I never got the sense in the story that he was ever really put upon throughout Homecoming. He’s still a kid, mostly having fun and getting to grips with his powers. He’s being groomed to be an Avenger! He hasn’t really entered the stage of his life where the true weight of being Spiderman has taken it’s toll on his personal life, where all those repeated failings are weighing down upon him, where the act of being spiderman is drastically preventing him from leading a full and good life. This was something that Raimi’s Spiderman 2 did excellently, telling a really good story about an adult accepting responsible life. Homecoming tries to pack this in on top of the new direction. This is what should be in a classic spiderman film, even though they presumable have a whole heap of new Spidey films on the cards.
Homecoming could be bashed has hashing out the same old Marvel story beats as the other act 1 superhero movies they have created throughout recent years. Luckily it stands more independently, through it’s younger perspective and high school appendage. Michael Keaton is able to do a lot more as the Vulture. As with all great Spidey villains he becomes embroidered into Peter Parker’s personal life, making it more than just a Spidey vs villain of the week smackdown. It’s a more personal confrontation with significant threat and repercussions to Parker’s inexperience.
There is a lot to like about Spider-man: Homecoming – the humour, the colour, the high school setting, Tom Holland as Peter Parker, Michael Keaton growling as a genuinely interesting villain, all the various nods to the larger MCU which admittedly only make sense if you’ve been following all the movies thus far. And whilst Marvel clearly do Spiderman justice as a character, as you would expect them to, there is nagging feeling that they attempt to do too much with the movie in an attempt to put their own stamp on the character. Spider-Man: Homecoming is perfectly decent, it’s just not truly amazing – but as always with this entire franchise, there is presumably room for growth and improvement.